*A version of this article appeared in Decision magazine in June, 2019
As we prepare to emerge from this corporate cocoon, how businesses manage their reputation online has come under the microscope like never before, explains Martyn Rosney, Director at Reputation Inc.
We are in the middle of a global corporate digital transformation that has been fast tracked not by ambitious CEOs, CTOs, or COOs but by Covid-19. We are embracing video calls, new internal messaging platforms and a whole suite of new tools that will change the corporate collective and set the tone for the next decade.
This is not a revolution, it is an evolution – albeit one at extreme pace. Businesses have had about 20 years to put their best foot forward online, and enhance their reputation both on the ground and in the cloud by investing time, energy and resources into creating reputation programmes that match their real world aspirations with their online actions. As we continue to move through the roadmap to recovery, there are some things for businesses to consider when it comes to their reputation in this new corporate world.
As online engagement continues to rise, make sure you walk the talk
With more people engaging and consuming content online, companies are being forced to re-evaluate how they engage with their stakeholders. There has been a move from selling a product and service, and a push to a more storytelling and narrative driven approach. Being able to empathise and engage on a personal level with your online following, keeping them connected, entertained, and even making them the central aspect of your communications through user-generated content, can promote a positive reputation for your business. As we move to the post-pandemic phase, this level of communication is a key consideration as a more permanent fixture in future online communications.
However, the need to walk the talk is crucial for any online communications strategy. The recent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to light the importance of personable communications, but also the importance of walking the talk. The NFL, once so fully against Colin Kaepernick for his actions in highlighting the injustice faced by people of colour in the U.S., faced a public backlash when they came out in support of the movement in recent weeks, a complete contradiction to their stance of just a few years ago. Companies were rightly called out for insincere online statements attempting to gain online support that were quickly rendered worse than useless when transposed with imagery of all-white leadership teams. If companies want to put to gain purpose points, they have to have the internal practices which support this purpose, or else the reputational backlash could be extensive.
Employee wellbeing as a central tenet
Ask yourself the question, “What did I do for my employees during Covid?” You might have had nice perks and purposeful quotes on office walls, but how staff were treated during the lockdown is your new employer brand and this will come to life on Glassdoor, Twitter and online articles if you did and do the right thing but the same also applies if you did the wrong thing.
As shops and restaurants begin to open, and business begin to return to their offices, one thing which will remain as a staple of the future is remote working. Over the last few months, employees working remotely will have been exposed to a whole new experience that will have had a profound influence on their wellbeing – both positively and negatively. Employee wellbeing will have been an integral part of any business strategy during the pandemic – with a mantra along the lines of ‘keeping us together while apart’.
Now, as we move to a post-lockdown world, employees of all levels will have learned a lot about the communication lines and the importance of staying connected with staff. While it may be personal catch-ups with staff to online social events such as quizzes on Zoom, keeping up with employees, listening to them and keeping their welfare front-and-centre of the post-Covid world should be top of the priority list for every business as employees continue to work remotely and then gradually move into the physical working space in due course.
Data security is more important than ever
As the online world continues to take shape as an imperative for businesses, the need for data security and protection of confidential information is now a crucial reputational risk for business to assess and work to mitigate. The general public are more in tune with regards to potential data breaches, and they can have severe reputational consequences, with EasyJet’s hacking of 9 million customers details, a true case-in-point. For business, it is imperative to think about the internal and external reputational risks of a potential security breach, and to be always prepared for such a potential situation. From secure cybersecurity practices to extra protection for employees who may be working remotely, protecting your data is worth more than any potential saving if a breach were to occur and reach the public domain.
Putting your best (virtual) foot forward
As restrictions came into place across the country, many businesses had to redefine how they operated and engaged with their key stakeholders. Innovation has been the name of the game as companies moved to remote working, stores enhanced their online shopping experience, gyms and fitness centres organised online classes, and restaurants opened for takeaway orders, and that is just a few offerings. How brands have responded during the pandemic will now be a cornerstone of their future reputation, with their online presence a key part of that as we have moved from physical to virtual. These new ways to engage with your key stakeholders will continue to be of great importance as we begin this new way of working, with online a more important outlet than ever before.
How brands have responded to the challenges of the past few weeks will be a cornerstone for future reputation. If you think you could have done better, then ask yourself why? You cannot simply communicate your way out of it. Companies that have let their stakeholders down and taken reputation hits need to commit to a solution and communicate that commitment.
Recovering the reputation lost, and even building a better reputation, requires actions that are well communicated.
If you are proud of how your company faced the biggest existential crisis of our lifetime then tell your story – bring it to life online, through social media and employee created content. Some companies have built excellent new relationships with customers and stakeholders online, so maintain them when we get back to the real world. Businesses that have gone above and beyond to react in a responsible, socially-conscious, sustainable and people-first way will be remembered by audiences and job seekers from all demographics and backgrounds once Covid-19 has passed.