Protecting Company and Executive Reputation – Introduction
Not so long-ago today’s headlines quickly became tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. In 2023, protecting company and executive reputation is important, everything is online, and everything is available to everyone 24/7. Comments to and about your business are there to stay, whether they are via mainstream media websites, blogs, social media channels, review sites or anywhere else online. Managing the narrative, regardless of how vast and nebulous it may seem, is no longer optional for brands and businesses. Our guide will take you through the steps you need to take to manage your online reputation and exactly why it matters.
Why is a company reputation important?
The world – and the way we all communicate – is in a near constant state of flux. This often leaves companies and brands on the back foot when it comes to the narrative that others are busy crafting.
If you don’t know what people are saying about your executives, your C-suite executives and company leaders or your brand in general, then you are not in control of your company reputation. And you need to be.
What makes a good company reputation?
There are myriad factors that come into play to construct, maintain and protect a positive company reputation.
The simplest breakdown of the necessary components include:
- Robust and measurable corporate social responsibility.
- Financial stability.
- Quality services and/or products.
- Stellar customer service from demonstrably high calibre employees.
- Trustworthy and impressive corporate leadership.
- Excellent communications, both internally and externally.
Controlling the online narrative
Companies can control information on their own website and marketing collateral. The risk lies with unmoderated Internet users, influences, reviewers, bloggers, journalists and opinion generators.
The recent rise in micro-influencers also means that an opinion/review/critique of a brand, company, product or person can go viral quickly. There is also much more cross-pollination with social media platforms.
Since Meta bought Instagram, Facebook posts show up on both, Twitter displays TikTok videos, Truth Social posts and opinions from all around the world in an endless timeline of potentially damaging content.
For companies, the most important content is that which shows up when people Google or search for their brand name. Negative reviews, news stories and commentary pick up traction and generally make their way to the top of the results page.
What a negative online reputation really costs a business
The latest report from Weber Shandwick entitled The State of Corporate Reputation in the 2020s: Everything Matters Now is clear about the financial cost or a poor reputation, clearly shows that corporate reputation is an “invaluable asset with an appreciable impact on a company’s bottom line.
On average, the report finds that 63% of a company’s market value is linked with its reputation. There is a further group of executives within the report findings that attribute 76% of a company’s market value to its reputation and actively leverage this for greater financial returns.
A company’s CEO is its biggest brand ambassador
Endless research backs up the fact that the reputation of a company’s CEO is directly linked to shareholder value and business growth. CEOs are often the star of the show for the general public – they’re the voice they hear, the face they see and the opinions they absorb.
Building a company reputation must incorporate the CEO (and potentially other key C-suite operatives) and their ongoing influence on what people think about the brand.
The lines between the public and private spheres are blurred more than ever before, and while CEOs may have been able to keep their views away from the outside world in years past, today they are very much front and centre.
Who is responsible for the online narrative?
There can be considerable internal confusion over which business function should take responsibility for reputation monitoring and maintenance. Is it marketing? PR? Internal comms? HR? Management? Legal? All of the above?
And when should you make a move when it comes to negative content? Many businesses still only act when there is a crisis. We are here to explain why being prepared and proactively managing your business reputation is a far better way to take charge.
Yes, it’s important to understand when and how to act when and if negative commentary gets out of hand and becomes damaging, but it’s also important to understand how to build and manage online reputation.
To avoid or at least limit any reputational – and therefore financial- damage from negative online content, every business needs to be prepared to identify and deal with the problem.
While some content can be left alone with minimal, if any, damage caused, some negative comments may need a legal challenge. There is a fine line between accepting negative commentary on social media in the guise of ‘free speech’ and recognising damaging trolling or even threatening online behaviour.
This guide will help you identify potentially damaging content and how best to deal with a reputational crisis to protecting company and executive reputation. We will also look at preventing a crisis from ever happening in the first place and the practical and legal options available if you decide to challenge content online.
There is no one size fits all approach to this, but there are structured steps you can take in order to craft the best online reputation management strategy for your company’s needs in protecting company and executive reputation.
29 Online Reputation Facts you Need to Know
- Google controls more than 5% of global search engine traffic with Bing following at a very distant second (just over 3%).
- More than 5 billion searches are made on Google every single day – equating to more than 3.1 trillion in 2022.
- On an average search, the first page Google rankings account for around 95% of traffic for keyword searches, such as your name or your company name.
- Less than 10% of people will bother to click through to Page 2 of Google.
- Google analyses around 200 separate factors to determine where links will rank.
- Research from Datareportal shows that more than 43% of Internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 cite “researching products and brands” as one of the main reasons they use the Internet.
- The top 3 results on the first page on Google earn more than half of all click throughs.
- More than 9% of customers read reviews before spending money when shopping online (up from 97% in 2018).
- More than half of shoppers read reviews online while shopping in brick and mortar shops to make buying decisions.
- 98% of consumers say that reviews are now an essential resource for making buying decisions (up from 89% in 2018).
- 95% of consumers use Amazon reviews, 93% turn to retailer’s own websites for reviews, 68% brand websites and 65% reviews on search engines to make buying decisions.
- 96% of buyers purposefully seek out any negative reviews (up from 85% in 2018).
- 76% of consumers use online reviews when browsing listings for local businesses.
- Business reviews are seen as most important in certain sectors: Healthcare, Service Businesses, Trade Businesses, Automotive Services.
- Facebook is losing its grip as a barometer for local businesses with trust in the platform falling to 46% in 2022 (down from 54% in 2020).
- Just under half of consumers say they trust reviews as much as recommendations from family and friends.
- Just under two thirds (60%) of consumers believe that a business is more trustworthy if it has lots of reviews rather than a few or none.
- 84% of millennials say they don’t believe in traditional advertising.
- Google is the most trusted reviews platform across all industry sectors.
- Aside from traditional review platforms, more consumers are moving to YouTube (35%), Instagram (32%), TikTok (20%) and local news to research businesses.
- 76% of consumers say that they ‘always’ or ‘regularly’ read online reviews when deciding whether to use a business.
- 98% of consumers say that they ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasionally’ read online reviews before making buying decisions.
- In 2022, 95% of consumers left an online review
- 65% of consumers left reviews for a business after being directly asked to in 2022.
- 88% of consumers will more than likely use a business if they can see for themselves that the business responds to all reviews, whether they’re negative or positive.
- 81% of consumers now say that reviews are ‘very important’ or ‘important’ when it comes to selecting businesses within financial services and the legal sector – this is up from 66% in 2022.
- 38% of consumers expect a business to have a star rating of at least four stars before they would buy from them.
- Consumers are aware of and are looking out for fake reviews, with 40% citing over the top positivity as an indication that it’s false and 47% citing reviews that have no comments but do have star ratings (up from 31% in 2022).
- Consumers respond best to emails when being asked to leave a review.
The Pressures Facing Businesses in 2023
While the core principles as to how best to deal with online reputation management remain unchanged, it is worth noting that the world of business today is very different to even a few short years ago.
Escalating geopolitical and domestic tensions combine with ongoing economic uncertainty to create a perfect storm for UK businesses in 2023. The political tumult of the last few years has left businesses concerned about the future, while Brexit has made it exponentially more complex to trade in Europe.
COVID-19 may be over as a pandemic emergency, but cyclical bouts of emerging strains continue to impact workers across all sectors and the Russian war in Ukraine contributes further stress to global stability. The impact of all the above on supply chains and the economy present new challenges for businesses looking for ways to thrive and continue protecting company and executive reputation.
Technology is changing the conversation
Outside of geopolitical challenges, businesses are also rushing to accommodate the rise of AI apps. While these may not yet be mainstream within every business, the impact made by ChatGPT and associated AI apps is likely to change the way we work over the coming years.
The changing face of technology and fast-moving changes in the social media space present their own challenges, particularly when it comes to curating the online narrative about your business.
Navigating changing times as a business
Regardless of the confluence of pressures impacting them, businesses need to continue doing business. However, the consideration of their broader responsibilities must also factor in to maintain protecting company and executive reputation
Decisions must be made regarding how and when CEOs and business leaders comment or respond to political and economic situations. According to IPSOS Reputational Council 2022, there is now a “heightened stakeholder expectation with regards to Environmental, Social Governance (ESG).” High profile businesses are now hardwiring ESG considerations into the backbone of their company activities.
The question of social media – to post or not to post?
Against the backdrop of all of these considerations is social media and whether it’s an appropriate and effective way to communicate for businesses. In many ways, businesses have never been under so much scrutiny and every social media post can turn into a headache in terms of reputation.
What is clear is that stakeholders, customers and the general public expect to see business leaders exhibit traits such as empathy, authenticity and transparency more than ever before. These are now a requirement for a company’s corporate identity.
What happens if a company does not respond to negative comments?
Some businesses may be tempted to retreat into a dignified silence in the wake of negative content about them. However, this could be a costly error. While it is not possible to avoid ever getting a negative review – this is part and parcel of running a business – avoiding a response is reputationally damaging.
By training your team to respond adequately to all comments and reviews, whether positive or negative, you can stop potentially damaging situations from spiralling out of control, helping in protecting company and executive reputation.
In worst case scenarios, neglected customer feedback can pile up and eventually form into law suits, causing untold reputational and financial damage in the long term.
Avoiding social media altogether can also be problematic for a number of reasons. Being visible on social platforms enables your business to build reputation, followers and advocates and develop a voice online. In a crisis this is particularly important and enables a business to provide information and become part of the conversation. Businesses and brands will no presence or voice will struggle to balance the narrative and will not have an existing group of followers or advocates.
What are the Benefits of Managing Company Reputation
The benefits of a positive company reputation cannot be overstated. If potential customers believe in your brand and see that others do too, then they are far more likely to entrust you with their money, protecting company and executive reputation
Customers are generally willing to pay higher premiums to work with companies that have a strong reputation. And, on the flip side, this kind of reputation also helps the company attract and retain talented and loyal employees. In fact, research proves that companies with a poor online reputation end up spending an average of 10% more on each person they hire.
The role of online customer reviews as part of a company’s overall reputation also cannot be overstated. Endless studies show that around 90% of customers use reviews to make decisions over where and when they spend their money.
What makes a company’s online reputation?
A company’s online reputation is built from perception of the business based on information that can be found online which may be both factual and opinion based.
Every company’s reputation is its greatest potential asset, but also the most intangible. By using the kinds of online reputation management strategies, we outline in this guide, businesses can significantly improve their corporate reputation to:
- Build more trust in the brand.
- Attract more customers.
- Boost profitability.
- Attract and retain talented staff.
Building trust in your company brand
Most customers will make up their mind about your brand based on your general reputation. This will then determine whether they want to engage your services or buy your products.
If a potential customer comes across negative media coverage online about your business, poor customer reviews, negative social media comment or even a lack of information or presence online, then they are far less likely to become your customer.
In order to be well regarded and have a positive reputation and keep protecting company and executive reputation, it’s essential for your brand to be considered trustworthy, honest and likeable. Regardless of how you want people to view your business, the focus has to be on how they actually do view your business – any discrepancy between the two needs to be worked on.
Attracting customers in a digital world
A strong, professional and curated online presence is absolutely essential to attracting customers today. Most people are online a lot of the time – that is where they find out about businesses and brands, where they make judgement calls and form their own opinions.
Creating a social media presence that is brand-centric and carefully managed helps to ensure your business is targeting the right people in the right way. This should always form part of your reputation strategy.
A positive reputation impacts the bottom line far more than most business owners realise. A study by Harvard Business School on Reviews, Reputation and Revenue shows that for every increase in rating on a major review platform, the business could expect a 5 to 9% increase in business revenue.
This is hugely significant, particularly to small businesses and shows exactly how important online reviews are to the company’s reputation.
What impacts a company’s reputation ?
Before you can get control over your company’s reputation, you need to understand what goes into it.
In the simplest terms, pretty much anything and everything could feasibly impact your company’s online reputation. This includes the reputation of your CEO and executives, any media coverage of your business services or products and all social media channels.
Therefore, it is not possible to come up with a finite list that applies to every single company. However, the following factors impact every business:
- The quality of services and products on offer.
- The quality of customer service and employees.
- The safety of services and products.
- Financial performance of the business.
- Regulatory compliance.
- The reputation of the CEO.
- The reputation of suppliers and third parties linked with the business.
What happens if a company does not have a positive online reputation?
It is likely that any company without a strong reputation will struggle to attract new customers and to retain existing customers. Furthermore, a single negative review catching people’s attention online could do some serious damage to a business that isn’t shored up with a reputation management strategy.
Without a positive corporate reputation in place, everything is more difficult, and it is likely that you will face a constant uphill struggle to remain relevant and competitive in your sector.
Monitoring your Company Reputation Online
Igniyte have been managing and building business and individual reputations online since 2009.
According to Forbes, 97% of business owners say that online reputation management is important. But we also know that a significant number of business owners only start to worry about their business reputation when there’s a crisis. Perhaps a negative review has been picked up by customers on Twitter, or perhaps an unflattering interview with their CEO has come to light.
Dealing with a reputational crisis is, of course, important. But arguably, it’s more important to understand exactly how you stand at all times in order to prevent the crisis from occurring in the first place.
Online reputation is omni driven
When protecting company and executive reputation it is important to understand that a company’s reputation is Omni driven by all kinds of different factors. There is no single factor that impacts your business reputation over others.
Lines are blurring as technology becomes more complex and the opportunities for people to talk about your business online increase all the time. This means that it is no longer enough for a business to concentrate on just a couple of key drivers underpinning its reputation.
A multi-channel and integrated approach must be taken to include the quality of the workforce, products and services, financial performance, internal culture and external communications. All of these combine to create the online reputation of your company.
This means that protecting company reputation must include a flexible approach and a variety of strategies.
Pro-active monitoring of the online conversation is vital
If you are not actively monitoring what people are saying about your brand or business online, you are risking your bottom line and your reputation.
A business’ online reputation is absolutely crucial to its success. But if you do not really know what people are saying about your brand, then you’re operating in the dark.
The quickest way to kickstart online reputation monitoring and protecting company and executive reputation is by using Google Alerts. This is free, easy and accessible. All you need to do is set up alerts for your brand or company name – and any associated names or keywords – and you will be notified by Google when someone uses them anywhere online.
Google Alerts are an excellent tool for a macro view of the online reputation of a business. But social listening is just as important.
Implement ‘social listening’
Social listening just means keeping on top of what people are saying across social media networks and across any industry forums or review sites that are linked with your business.
While manual social listening is possible, it is extremely time consuming and all too easy to miss something important. That is where social media monitoring tools come in. There are plenty to choose from, all designed to help you remain fully aware of your brand image.
For protecting company and executive reputation these tools can help you leverage any positive customer feedback, deal appropriately with any negative comments and implement strategic damage control.
Most tools allow you to manage reviews and comments posted on loads of platforms ranging from Facebook to Google Play Store as well as managing all communications across every social network you use – including LinkedIn, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, among others. They won’t be able to access private pages or profiles set to private however.
Most social media monitoring tools utilise AI powered sentiment analysis in order to automatically categorise customer emotions. It also all kinds of useful features to disseminate information internally to the correct departments to action. It is important to remember that the tools will enable managers to identify issues or trends both negative and positive and prioritise tasks. Some manual checks are still sensible as tools wont pick up nuances for example sarcasm..
Automation can also be used to ensure that recruitment decisions are made with the best interest of the company in mind, based on AI driven algorithms. For example, Yoono is an automated intelligence gathering service that allows companies to get a better idea of the people they are considering working with.
What is your normal?
When the monitoring processes are place, the next step is to understand how to effectively measure progress.
To do this, you need to first establish what is ‘normal’ for your business. This becomes the baseline from which you can develop a strategy. By working out the average percentage of neutral, positive and negative comments and coverage over the course of a few months, you will be better placed to analyse the data in order to get the complete overview.
You may be able to relate the data back to specific events within the company, for example, or even trace it back to a specific forum post or social media comment.
How do you determine a company’s reputation?
Online comments often derive from complaints that have not been handled appropriately. Remember that, while Google Alerts is a handy (and free!) tool that anyone can set up in seconds, it does not pick up every individual social media post.
Therefore, if your business has a large online audience spanning multiple countries and platforms, you will need to monitor sentiment across each channel.
Do not fall into the trap of focusing solely on negative comments and posts when reporting social activity and sentiment online. Flip the strategic goal into increasing positive mentions by improving processes and services that are being criticised. Without these fundamental changes in response to negative reviews and comments, you will not be able to shift the reputational dial in any meaningful way.
Igniyte measure and monitor reputations with a range of bespoke and industry software and can also benchmark with our Reputation Index which takes in account a number of key factors online.
Responding to Comments Online
By following these steps, you will be able to ascertain a baseline of ‘normal’ coverage of your company or company executive online. This will allow you to clearly identify the origins of any negative sentiment and inform the steps you take to deal with it.
Consumer-facing companies should pro-actively monitor reviews in particular in order to deal with issues as they arise. Failure to handle a customer complaint in a timely and appropriate way will more than likely lose that customer for good.
This is an avoidable error. Always respond appropriately to customer comments online, whether they are negative or positive. Here are some tips and tricks to consider when formulating your response.
Always show respect
Dealing with customer complaints can be tricky if they are aggressive, rude or unfair. However, you should always be clear that you want to resolve the issue and that you accept that errors may have been made by the company. Avoid entering into online debate – offer a clear route to take the issue offline to discuss.
Craft bespoke responses
Any kind of impersonal response that is obviously copied and pasted will not go down well. This is guaranteed to increase the frustration of the customer and is likely to get picked up by others. Instead, apologise directly for any mistakes made and tell them you want to resolve the issue. The more personal you can be with the customer, the more satisfied they will be. They will feel listened to and that you will do something to help. Often, this is all people want.
Retain a professional stance
Answering individual complaints doesn’t mean losing your professionalism. Always retain the company’s credibility when responding to a negative review or social media post. Remember that everything you reply will be read by a wide audience and can feasibly sway potential customers for or against your business.
Don’t be tempted to cheat
It may seem like the most obvious way to deal with negative reviews is to simply remove them and replace with positive reviews. This just doesn’t work. Customers can see right through this tactic – remember that it’s always obvious to the people that matter. It is not possible to delete negative reviews (unless in breach of review platform guidelines). Attempts to do so suggests lack of transparency and willingness to take responsibility.
Steer the issue offline if possible
The ideal scenario is a polite and informative response that persuades the customer to continue the discussion offline. This isn’t always possible but if you can ask the customer to private message you, then this is preferable to playing out the whole scenario on a public forum.
Transparency and trust in online reviews
The Trustpilot transparency report is great to keep protecting company and executive reputation as it gives insight into the importance of trust between companies and reviewers online. It shows that 46.7 million reviews were left on its platform in 2021, while there were more than half a million views of business profiles. Maintaining the integrity of these reviews is obviously key, and this report shows the myriad considerations that go into doing just that.
The Trust and Transparency Committee at Trustpilot is constantly improving the platforms abilities and methods to detect fake reviews and identify patterns of misuse.
Find the appropriate policies for flagging negative reviews
Each dedicated review platform will have its own processes for flagging fake reviews. For example, Google gives multiple options for flagging and fixing inappropriate content and reviews.
The criteria specifies that you can only flag content that violates Google’s policies. rather than content you just don’t like that is relevant and factually accurate. Check each review platform for their policies to find out how to go about flagging inappropriate or defamatory reviews.
Tools to Monitor Online Reputation
Set up a Google Alert for your company and executive name and associate keywords. You’ll get an email notification every time an online mention is picked up.
Easy to use social media listening with customizable search streams will monitor any social platform. Paid and free options with 30-day free trial.
Research, monitor and engage – leading social listening tool with access to the most historic and real time data.
Social listening, media monitoring and media relations.
Monitoring tool that also supports content and outreach opportunities.
Great for review management. Includes detailed analytics to help you spot trends. Includes a text message widget.
Location specific so ideal for companies with brick-and-mortar outlets as well as online channels.
Setting up search queries – best practice
Queries should include main handles, hashtags and keywords:
- Brand or company name as both handle and mention (i.e., @igniyte and #igniyte)
- Product or service name(s) (i.e., #imac #ipad)
- Names of CEOs, senior executives etc
- Names of partner companies or brands
- Slogans or catchphrases
- Branded hashtags (i.e., #letsdolunch – Domino’s Pizza.)
It’s also wise to set up a separate query for major competitors based on the above guide.
You may also want to include industry/ audience specific keywords:
- Industry hashtags or keywords (i.e., #onlinereputation, #PR,)
- Community or group hashtags or keywords (i.e., #cipr)
- Platform-specific hashtags or keywords (i.e., YouTubers)
- Location hashtags or keywords (i.e., #leeds)
Managing a Reputational Crisis Online
Crisis management for businesses includes three specific focus areas:
A company in crisis
If your business is well prepared prior to an online reputational crisis hitting, then you are in a much better position to implement an effective response. This will mean a quicker recovery and limit any damage caused.
Particular industry sectors and individuals are more vulnerable to these kinds of reputational crises. These include financial institutions, transport and logistics companies, pharmaceutical corporations, oil and gas companies and international brands of all types.
Sometimes it only takes a single negative online comment to make a lot of noise in a short space of time. Should negative coverage or comments about your business go viral before you can get a grip on it, the following measurements can be used to assess the potential damage.
Who’s actually seen the negative post/Tweet/comment/article?
If a single account has Tweeted about your business but they only have very few followers, then this is unlikely to cause an issue. In this case, it is not worth your time. However, check back regularly to ensure that the comment hasn’t been picked up.
Is the content going viral?
If it becomes apparent that the comment has caught the attention of the crowd, you will see more posts and comments appearing. This is where swift reaction is key, and your plan can be implemented.
The power of the press
The UK press is influential online as it tends to rank highly everywhere. If any negative comment or story is picked up by the press, it is important to issue a company statement and kickstart your crisis plan.
Managing a reputational crisis online
If your company finds itself faced with a barrage of online comments and opinions, or increasing press coverage, it can be difficult to find a way through the negative noise.
Attempts to push out positive press or social media activity can backfire and cause more of a pile on. This is why it is incredibly important for your company to have an agreed communications plan that has been shared with all relevant internal parties. Your staff need to know what they should and should not say when responding to questions.
Getting clear guidance in place before a crisis hits is key to effective management. It is important to identify and manage risks to reputation before they become a crisis. By accurately assessing the threat to your company reputation, you can recognise and tackle organisational cultures that incubate crisis.
How is company reputation most strongly influenced?
According to Reuters Institute Media Research 2018, the biggest influence on company reputation is mainstream media. The external perception of your brand or business is about what people believe to be true and not necessarily the empirical truth.
Senior level staff need to be equipped to deal with reputational crises and a tactical, strategic approach is needed.
Practical steps to crisis communication
Short statements are always good, as are direct apologies. An “I’m sorry” is likely to go a long way to restore trust. Apologies do not have to include admitting fault, instead should address the situation and clarify next steps to remedy for your customers or general audience.
Use social media to signpost readers to your company statement, should be empathetic, honest, and straightforward. Ensure that all messaging, both on and offline, are consistent.
Unclear communication can cause reputational damage, not only to the external audience, but also to staff and stakeholders. It’s not always possible to avoid a crisis, but it absolutely is possible to have a strategy in place to minimise any fallout and restore trust.
By implementing a crisis communications strategy, you will be able to prevent further damage to your online reputation and keep protecting company and executive reputation if a crisis does hit.
Who should take the comms lead in a crisis?
The strategy should be clear and inclusive – every member of staff should know their responsibilities and duties in rolling it out. The way in which businesses communicate and manage a crisis often impacts their overall reputation significantly – in a positive or negative way.
All crises have the chance of impacting reputation so the strategic approach must encompass both. Well trained senior executives, rather than the CEO alone, should be tasked with handling various messages as designated by the Comms Leader. This allows for a spread of expertise across different fields.
News travels super fast in the 24 hour/365 days a year information age with social media channels in particular driving the news gathering agenda. This democratisation of newsworthiness means that consumers have the same level of influence as corporate and even Government decision makers do.
Why do events spiral into a crisis?
A lack of planning and low awareness of risk are the most common factors for a simple event becoming a full-blown crisis and damaging a company’s reputation.
Without appropriate monitoring of coverage, a company will be ignoring a host of warning signals that could inform their strategy. Add to this the prospect of disempowered employees turning whistle blower and an unvetted casual workforce driven by gig culture, and there is a recipe for potential disaster.
To avoid such a crisis, businesses should implement a dedicated reputation management group, encompassing communications, marketing, legal, HR and leadership employees.
This group should be responsible for monitoring public sentiment, external issues and trends, analysing their impact on the business and implementing adequate plans, strategies and processes to manage the risk.
Reporting Inappropriate Social Media Content Online
Social media is in a constant state of flux, and it is extremely important that your business understands the current zeitgeist. For example, Twitter’s hold as the number one platform on which to communicate with customers is slipping due to the Elon Musk takeover in 2022.
The rules have changed and advertisers have left, with some major companies backing out altogether. This means a surge in interest from fledgling platforms, such as Post, Mastadon and former Twitter owner Jack Dorsey’s Blue Sky Social. The latter is currently invite only.
It remains to be seen which platform will take Twitter’s crown in this area, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on for businesses looking for the best way to deal with online content.
Twitter does still have some guidelines in place regarding inappropriate content, as do the other main platforms.
Click here for Meta’s Community Standards.
Click here for Instagram’s Community Guidelines.
Click here for the Twitter Rules.
Click here for YouTube’s Community Guidelines.
Click here for TikTok’s Community Guidelines.
Click here for Google’s extensive help centre.
Click here for LinkedIn’s Professional Community Guidelines
When and how to challenge content online
Similarly, if the content is on a review website, blog or forum, check to find out whether it contradicts the site’s guidelines. Contact the site directly to report the content as soon as possible.
Search engines Google and Bing also have tools available for reporting inappropriate content. For privacy information and to protect online content, it’s essential to understand the various options available to you.
Google: Legal requests on Google’s owned platform
Challenging Online Content
The longer negative content remains online, the greater the damage that can be caused to your business or brand. This is even more important if the content is displayed on a high-ranking UK media site as it means more people will see it.
However, you cannot ask to remove content simply because you don’t like it. For Google to consider removing content, it must be proven to fulfil certain criteria.
What kind of content will Google remove?
The following criteria are likely to result in Google removing content, if the steps to request removal are undertaken correctly:
Information that could lead to financial harm or identity theft.
This kind of content violates the service agreement with Google and the platform will therefore remove it. This could be credit card numbers, bank account details, signatures and associated data.
Information that is deemed sexually explicit
Sexually explicit information posted without consent will be removed by Google and other search engines if it meets certain criteria. For more information click here.
Information that falls under the Right to be Forgotten
Originally, the Right to be Forgotten only applied to EU member states under 2018’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Since Brexit was enacted in 2020, the UK has adapted the EU’s GDPR rules to form the UK GDPR, administered under the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
Depending on your business and where it trades, it is worth understanding both versions.
Under Article 17 of the UK GDPR, individuals have the right to have personal data removed under certain circumstances. This is a relatively complex piece of legislation with various exemptions. Click here for more information and a run down of how it applies.
Removing negative content online isn’t easy
It’s not a simple process to remove content from Google or other search engines. However, if there is negative content out there affecting your brand or business, and it can be proven to fit the criteria laid out by the platform, it is possible.
If successfully removed, the negative content will no longer display in search results, meaning that people will not see it.
Challenging negative content online legally is normally only possible under certain circumstances.
There are routes to remove social media profiles, professional profiles, review sites, press articles and blogs where they are in breach of UK law or platform regulations. At Igniyte we work with clients to help them with challenging unsubstantiated and defamatory content about their business, brand or individual staff members, addressing copyright issues, removing negative images or company information, advising on the legalities of removing links to unwanted content, dealing with Internet trolls and how best to protect against them and general safeguarding against threats to their online reputation.
When to go Legal in a Crisis
As we have seen, there is no one size fits all approach to a reputational crisis. Effective monitoring will mean that you are able to make the decision about if or when to go legal when it comes to challenging negative content.
The potential damage to your business from negative content depends on a number of factors. These include the volume and breadth of the negative posts and the audience that they are reaching.
An example case study
A single bad Facebook post will be buried under a few positive posts. This can easily be handled by your social media team and the user monitored for future comments.
If more users begin to comment on that post, this is your opportunity to jump in and respond politely. If it is a complaint, apologise and address it and then continue to monitor the user.
If those users expand the post’s reach through tagging and sharing, then it is time to escalate your contingency plans internally.
If the volume of posts continues to increase and it looks like the post is going viral, prepare a statement and try to contact the instigator of the original post directly.
If comments and content are becoming abusive or threatening, now is the time to consult a media lawyer.
If the negative coverage is from press articles and you believe that the journalist is harassing your company or breaching the Editor’s Code, then it’s time to complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).
How to avoid an Online Crisis
When considering how best to manage your online reputation and keep protecting company and executive reputation, it is important to be realistic and systematic. Not everything can be controlled and there are a number of elements that will always be out of your hands.
Anyone can post something negative about your company or its workforce at any time. A workable and successful online reputation management strategy understands this and concentrates on preventative steps to minimise the risk and impact.
To Protect company and executive reputation monitor the online chat
As we have explained, monitoring the online conversation about your business, brand or executive is the starting point for your strategy. It is essential for you to spot a potentially damaging comment or post.
Create a crisis management plan
Identify areas of risk – these may include a variety of factors as discussed previously including regulation and compliance, staff and executive behaviours or supplier contracts. Ensure policies, contracts processes in place for each area and that these are owned and regularly reviewed by designated individuals in the business. Have a plan to manage the risks and detail potential scenarios. Plan the steps the company must take if an issue becomes a crisis. Specify individual roles and communicate clearly with the relevant parties internally. At a minimum, the plan should include a statement for the press, a nominated spokesperson, a social media plan and an internal communications plan. While this might seem overkill for small companies, it will be more than worth it should it be necessary.
Communicate effectively internally
Everyone inside the company needs to understand the plan and their role which will aid in protecting company and executive reputation. Do everything possible to avoid a scenario where a crisis hits, people panic and exacerbate the fallout unwittingly.
Boost your customer service training
The point of this step is to ensure that everyone across your business represents the company with the same message. This applies to all kinds of internal customer facing teams, from social media management to offline customer service representatives. All employees should fully understand the customer service process so that they can spot a problem as and when it arises. This will collectively mean far less chance of negative comments on disparate sites causing problems.
Take a cohesive approach to online reputation management
Along with ensuring a positive and consistent customer experience, it is vitally important to include a workable internal communications strategy. All of these parts need to work together to protect your company reputation in ways that matter.
A reputational crisis can arise from internal mistakes as well as from external Internet comments. For protecting company and executive reputation there are steps you can take to minimise the chances of this happening.
Manage Executive reputations to Protect company and executive reputation
The reputation of key executives – and particularly the CEO and any other public spokesperson – must also be part of this strategy. Ensure that you are monitoring conversations online revolving around key individuals as well. Discussions around company values and executive behaviours may be appropriate.
In addition, their personal social media profiles should be monitored to ensure that nothing negative, offensive, contentious or defamatory is posted. If the press notices something that falls under those categories, the company could quickly find itself deep in a reputational crisis.
Manage employee buy-in
Keeping staff morale high is also important for a company’s reputation. Your employees will always be your biggest and most vocal brand advocates and can be a powerful marketing asset.
By creating a robust and effective internal culture and treating staff well, you are far less likely to end up with disgruntled employees letting off steam about the company on social media or elsewhere on the Internet.
Implement a clear social media policy
Every business should have a clear social media policy that is communicated to employees. You cannot control what your employees do outside of work time on their personal social media channels, but you can keep them advised of best practice.
Informing employees of the consequences of posting inappropriate content is necessary for all companies to keep protecting company and executive reputation. The social media policy should be written in Plain English and updated regularly.
Consider the following points withing your social media policy:
Posting about the company on social media
Set guidelines on what employees can and cannot say about the company online, even if they are being indirect. Even a negative comment about their day at work could feasibly be picked up by the press if they work for a high-profile business.
Posting about clients or customers
Employees must be informed that their social media profiles can be accessed by anyone, including the company’s clients and customers. A flippant comment about a specific client could have serious ramifications for their future with the company.
Posting offensive content
Even if content is not about the company, its customers or clients but is offensive, racists or defamatory, then it could backfire.
Posting confidential information
Social media continues to blur the boundaries between private and corporate life, and this can lead to accidental transparency where it should not exist. Ensure that employees remember that work information should be treated as confidential at all times. Any private or confidential information that does make it online via social media could lead to a data breach.
What people see about your company online forms your corporate reputation. And it is that reputation that existing and potential customers, stakeholders and employees will use to inform their own perceptions.
The conversation that exists about your brand online is nebulous, constantly forming and difficult to control. It has an enormous impact on the success of your company.
Monitoring and being part of this conversation is in your best interests. In this guide on protecting company and executive reputation, we have explained how and why you should monitor the online conversations about your business, brand, and high-profile executives.
Whilst you should consider having a presence on all online channels available it is important to focus on those that accurately reflect where your audiences are, your industry and the nature of the communication.
There are practical steps you can take to combat unwanted or negative content shared about your company. While you can manage much of this internally if you plan strategically, it is also important to take legal advice in some circumstances in order to keep protecting company and executive reputation.
Igniyte is a long-established and experienced online reputation management company. We have been working with online brands around the world since 2009 with tailored Communications, PR, and technical solutions along with practical advice. We can work with you to create, manage, lead and encourage positive conversations about your business online. We know which tool and tactics will then promote these to appear high in search.
Furthermore, we work with a number of legal consultancies in partnership for defamation and libel cases.
We pride ourselves in successful and tailored solutions which achieve results, and repair and build positive online reputations for our clients, regardless of technology and communication changes.
Managing Director at Igniyte – The Reputation Experts
Roz is an industry spokesperson on all areas of online reputation management and our resident digital media expert. She regularly writes about reputation management research, online reputation risk and industry best practice.