The Wrangling of Reputation

Protecting the intangibles of an organization requires monitoring, promoting, suppressing, and recovering.

Kale Hungerson
May 25, 2018 · 6 min read

In 2010, Telsa received a federal loan worth $465 million, and Elon Musk prioritized the payback of this loan, paying back the entire loan nine years ahead of schedule. Why? Reputation.

Tesla realized (albeit, slowly) that the market optics of such a loan was creating more damage than not, and the decision to pay back the loan was prioritized to minimize damage to Tesla’s reputation.

The reality is that all organizations have a reputation to uphold, and different organizations require specific strategies and tactics to maintain, improve, or mitigate influences on that reputation.

Reputation management is the point of truth: between whom you say you are, and whom people believe you are.

Reputation management whether online or not, is about monitoring, promoting, suppressing, and recovering from information that influences reputation.

As an example, Starbucks is facing a reputation issue and has opted to address it via a policy which allows non-paying guests to sit in cafes and use restrooms. This policy is a reaction to an incident where the company has been accused of bias when two black men were arrested for sitting without buying anything as they waited for a meeting. Also, Starbucks will close 8,000 stores for racial tolerance training.

Reputation management isn’t easy and stressful situations can arise at a moments notice, as in the case of Starbucks, where a single teammate made a profound error which sent the entire organization into a tailspin. The situation with these two patrons is an example of a large-scale and extremely public, national reputation crisis.

Eventually, fractures turn to cracks, and many organizations aren’t performing reputation management to build advocates; thus, protecting themselves from the large-scale issues all brands eventually face.

A simple example of low-level reputation management are reviews, many organizations are entirely complacent in monitoring, promoting, suppressing, and recovering when it comes to reviews.

The Starbucks on 7th Ave in New York has a 3.4 rating with 105 reviews, is this acceptable for a luxury coffee brand that charges 10x more than competitors? Is this inline with the Starbucks brand and experience-driven culture? Is this rating an accurate reflection of the reputation Starbucks articulates via marketing efforts? In whole, probably not, this single location most likely isn’t performing, and the status of the larger brand is being pulled down by this fracture.

It is essential to monitor all information relevant to a reputation, as it is the footprint of our organization’s performance and perception, and indicates how far we are from our mark in whom we are trying to be.

Outreach is a software organization that aids in sales automation and enablement and they recently secured $65 million in funding, which is a great feat. A press release has been published and is circulating.

It’s vital to promote items that enhance an organizations reputation, and $65 million in additional funding is an indicator of success. Understanding your stakeholders, and the triggers that move reputation according to that particular group is essential in reputation management.

Outreach successfully secured additional funding from investors, which means the credibility received from the funding organizations could be amplified to benefit the reputation among existing and future customers. Outreach is emphasizing the investment by promoting how it will impact the velocity of the organization for customers.

It is critical to review reputation as if it were a Rube Goldberg Machine:

Rube Goldberg machine is a machine intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overcomplicated fashion. Often, these machines consist of a series of simple devices that are linked together to produce a domino effect, in which each device triggers the next one, and the original goal is achieved only after many steps.

At times, a piece of information that is influencing reputation can positively impact one group of stakeholders while at the same time, negatively impact a different group. Being cognizant of this will allow you to make the best decision for the organization.

As an example, the federal loan Tesla received was most likely positive for shareholders and in queue customers as additional capital funds would expedite production and output. At the same time, public perception of Tesla would diminish; therefore, tipping the scales to pay back the loan expeditiously.

Beyond monitoring and promoting, suppression is a critical component of wrangling reputation; unfortunately, it sounds as if you’re trying to hide reality, but that isn’t the case. A keyboard is a powerful tool and the people behind them have a significant impact on setting fires to a brand that can quickly get out of control; you’re attempting to suppress the fire until it can be “put out.” Organizations that monitor and suppress situations are much more likely to convert distraught customers into customers, or at a minimum isolate the issue into a manageable position.

The digital landscape has provided armaments for frustrated customers, and the expectation is a response, anything less isn’t tolerated; therefore, act fast, engage, and take the conversation offline and provide visible closure. To find the best and worst examples of suppression, go to Trip Advisor and review hotels with high and low rankings, specifically isolate the worst possible reviews and observe responses.

The final component of proper reputation management is recovering. Imagine your organization is you, and you trip and fall in the middle of a dance competition in which you organized while promoting yourself as the pre-determined undisputed winner. How do you recover?

A robust recovery includes the following: acceptance, ownership, review, reevaluation, response, and advancement. Being able to recover, or having a plan or the steps in place for recovery during reputation miscalculations is essential. When reputation is harmed, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world; it is the recovery that determines the actual toll of the negative influence on reputation.

Facebook’s recent reputation issue surrounding its 3rd party ecosystems access to data via Cambridge Analytica is an example of recovery. A point of recovery is when the maximum visible negative influence has occurred, and recovery is the only option left.

Facebook accepted the issue; Mark Zuckerberg took ownership of the breach of trust, Facebook reviewed the fault, reevaluated their operations, responded publically in multiple capacities, and is now moving forward.

In whole, reputation management is critical to all organizations and not applying effort towards reputation management creates a dangerous blind spot.

If you aren’t thinking about reputation, you’re hurting the organization’s viability by not applying effort and thought to what-ifs. A simple task to prepare yourself and team at the executive level or departmental level is the development of a risk register which provides a list of the risks, their likelihood, and the response required. A document such as this should be updated on a monthly, or quarterly basis. It’s the most basic “emergency preparedness” kit and the smallest effort required to be less reactive.

If you’re going to build reputation management into the repertoire of your business, you need to consider content curation, review sites, forums, social media, competitive websites, and press releases and managing the monitoring, promotion, suppression, and recovery across these mediums.

The goal of holistic reputation management is to protect the intangibles of a brand, ensuring you’re building the characteristics of your organization in consumer minds.

The next time you read the news, stop and think about the impact of the information and the stakeholders influencing or being influenced, these are opportunities to learn the powers that change the reputation.

Remember, reputation is the widespread belief that someone or something has a particular habit or characteristics, but it’s up to you to establish and protect that reputation.