Article by Pierre Zarokian
There is a school of thought that says companies who have a good reputation earn it through good deeds, while companies who do not have one, or who have a bad reputation, earn it by committing bad deeds. The argument is that people can smell a lemon regardless of how much fresh paint is put on it.
This way of looking at it is generally correct, but a competitor, an ex-employee, or someone that just doesn’t like you for some reason may post negative content or reviews online that are completely fabricated. It is because of the general trust in online reviews and comments that they can be so devastating to those being attacked.
It’s possible for a company with a bad reputation to repair it and make it beneficial again, but companies with a good reputation should proactively build up that reputation through focused efforts, and those efforts need to be effectively targeted in order to work well.
Control Your Reputation
There is no replacement for being genuinely liked by your customers and not doing things that hurt your image. For example, BP could hire every single PR firm in the world but people would still associate them with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. On the other hand, had they not done any PR, the reaction would have been a lot worse, and people would see them as even more cold and callous than they already do. But BP apologized, so even though their reputation was hurt, the damage was mitigated and was less than it could have been.
Although a reputation can evolve by itself, targeting good PR to the right people and actively building up your company’s reputation is invaluable. Even if you never do anything wrong to acquire a bad reputation, how will people know about the good reputation you deserve unless they read about it in the paper, hear about it on social media or see something about it in their Twitter feed?
And if you have damaged your reputation in some way, you need to be able to let people know that you are sorry for what you did and that you are doing everything you can to fix it. That was the basis of the much-mocked “We’re sorry” commercials by BP. These commercials were somewhat successful in that they helped mitigate damage, but they couldn’t help fix a PR disaster that big. Luckily, most PR disasters are not as big as the Deepwater Horizon spill and they can be fixed with an aggressive PR campaign.
Reputation Evolves, But Not Naturally—So, How Does It Evolve?
How can something evolve, but not naturally? Isn’t all evolution natural? When I use the term “naturally” I use it in the context of “by itself and without influence from outside forces.” This means that if a company’s reputation evolves “naturally,” it evolves over time due to things outside of the company’s control.
Your company’s reputation is affected by what your company does and how people see it, and some of the things that they see (and even some of the things that your company does) are outside of your direct control so you do not have much input on these things. But this is not natural evolution per se because you can anticipate how people will react to your actions and how you will be seen when you perform those actions.
Control Your Reputation
We began this chapter by telling you to control your reputation and we want to expand on and reinforce that concept. Although there are some things that are out of your control and sometimes happen unexpectedly, you can still influence how people see you. How they feel about you and how much they trust (or distrust) you will be dependent on your actions and how they see them and in what light they see them. If you do something that benefits the community or makes your company look good otherwise, people will see it and it will improve your reputation most of the time. However, you still need to make sure that it gets enough coverage in the media.
Otherwise, you could be donating millions of dollars to charity but nobody would ever know because you do not do appropriate PR work. Similarly, if you do something bad, you could get lucky and it might not get covered , but in the day and age of the internet, it usually does get covered. It appears on search engine results pages and people searching for your company might see it. Taking control of your reputation and making sure that only positive results show up on search terms is not something that is insurmountable, but you may need an outside agency if you do not know how to do it yourself.