The growth of the Internet, social media, review sites and online forums has had a fundamental impact on organisations across the world. The systems we use to run our businesses have allowed us to make processes more efficient, saving us time, money and resources. However, an increasing reliance on electronic media has exposed companies to a new range of online issues – from IT risk to reputational damage.
Companies are realizing that online reputation is an important asset and one that needs protecting. According to ‘The Reputation Report’ – a survey commissioned by Igniyte, which looked at how much emphasis businesses in the UK place on online reputation – an overwhelming 88% of respondents believe that having a positive web presence is important to the people who use their services.
Of the 500 business owners and higher decision makers surveyed, more than half said their businesses had been adversely affected by negative content online. Content posted by competitors was identified as the most common cause for concern, followed by malicious postings from disgruntled former employees. Bad reviews, unhappy employees and negative media coverage were also found to be commonplace issues faced by businesses today.
This guide is designed to help companies of all types and sizes understand how to manage their online reputation in a strategic and thoughtfully planned way. It explains how to maintain an effective online reputation, provides a range of useful tools and resources, and explores some real-life scenarios.
“Whether true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do.”
Victor Hugo – Les Misérables
Importance of reputation online
Online reputation management is fast becoming essential to organisations worldwide. Indeed, in today’s digitally-focused world, it is acknowledged as a much sought-after strength – one that can make or break a company.
Company reputation online is largely how a business is perceived on the Internet. It is determined by how a business conducts itself publicly, and by what customers, competitors, journalists and other commentators say about the company, its products and services.
Companies should take steps to influence and control what appears about them online. This helps to ensure the ethos of the business is accurately reflected, and avoids unwanted information appearing in the search engines.
Of increasing importance, is the need for businesses to build a sustainable online presence.
A poor online reputation may result in a number of serious concerns for companies, from loss of face to loss of revenue. Many companies are still neglecting to take advantage of the many benefits of the Internet and social media. By failing to develop, and subsequently manage, a positive online profile, companies are less likely to impress customers and associates, and are potentially at risk of losing sales and status.
A common misconception is that reputation management is only necessary when there is a crisis situation. But rather than waiting for a crisis, companies should be working proactively – to create the kind of robust, solid reputation that will help them deal with potential problems should they occur.
Strategic risk and reputation
In a global survey of strategic risk management practices, undertaken by Forbes Insights on behalf of Deloitte, more than 300 major companies around the world were studied. The results demonstrate that business executives’ understanding of strategic risk is changing.
According to the survey, conducted in 2013, reputation risk is now considered the number one concern faced by businesses worldwide.
“Reputation risk is now the biggest risk concern, due in large measure to the rise of social media, which enables instantaneous global communications that make it harder for companies to control how they are perceived in the marketplace.”
“Reputation is now rated as the highest impact risk area – not just overall, but for most individual sectors as well. Three years ago, reputation was already the top risk area in financial services – and remains so today. However, in the energy sector, for example, reputation risk wasn’t even in the top five three years ago, but today is number one – perhaps fueled by headlines about fracking, oil spills, and the Alberta tar sands. A similar rise in reputation risk has occurred in life sciences and healthcare – likely driven by healthcare reform efforts in the US and ongoing concerns about the skyrocketing cost of pharmaceuticals and health services.” Exploring Strategic Risk – Deloitte (2013)
Your Google page one
From time-to-time, search engines change the way they rank websites, so it is important to keep a close eye on your search results. Try typing the name of your company into Google, using private browsing, and review what appears. What might feature on page one of Google one week, may not show in the search results the next.
Including your search terms within the title of your company website i.e. www.companyname. com and/or web page titles i.e. www.websitex. com/companyname will help improve your listings on search engines.
Social media networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Flickr, Pinterest and Instagram all rank well if the profiles include key phrases, and contain the company name and relevant content within them.
Online news stories from local, national and international press will boost the profile of your business if the company name is contained within the story, and more so if it is contained in the title of the story. Likewise, in positive comments posted on blogs and online forums by company executives.
Company information websites, directories and high ranking profile sites are useful tools to help promote your business online, for example the Institute of Directors, Wikipedia, Chambers of Commerce, government sites, trade associations, official company registers and other affiliated sites.
“A good reputation is more valuable than money.”
Publilius Syrus – Latin Writer (1BC)
IT risk and reputation
A study commissioned by IBM and conducted by the Ponemon Institute in July 2013 found that ‘business and IT disruptions that result from business continuity and IT security failures will cost organisations an estimated average total of $19.6m (£11.7m) over the next 24 months.’
The ‘Understanding the Economics of IT Risk and Reputation’ study, reputed to be the largest independent research paper of its kind, surveyed more than 2,300 business continuity specialists and IT security practitioners from 20 industries across 37 countries. Respondents were asked to evaluate a list of six common threats including: human error, IT system failure, cyber security, IT security, data loss and disaster scenarios; and six common categories of costs including: reputation and brand damage, lost productivity, lost revenue, forensics, technical support and compliance.
While human error was identified as the most likely common threat, reputation and brand damage was recognised as the ‘single largest potential cost’. “… reputation and brand damage represents the single largest potential cost to the organization of the six common cost categories examined …”
Understanding the Economics of IT Risk and Reputation – IBM Corporation (2013)
Interestingly, the IBM study found that around two thirds of the respondents surveyed, believed that their leaders did not realise that business and IT disruptions could potentially damage reputation and brand image.
Online issues currently faced by companies
‘The Reputation Report’ brings to light that one in five business leaders are unhappy with the way their companies are portrayed in their Google page one results. This coupled with the fact that only a third of bosses believe they have the skills they need to manage their company’s online reputation, suggests there is an inaccurate misrepresentation of businesses across the Internet.
Just as media trends change, so do online issues faced by companies. The use of social media is growing; customers are using online networks to voice their opinions; media organisations publish their news worldwide; IT risks are increasing; and privacy concerns are rising. Here are some of the most current online issues faced by companies today:
The ‘Exploring Strategic Risk’ report, published by Deloitte and cited earlier in this guide, states that half of the survey respondents were ‘active or extremely active users of social media’. Of these, 63% said that ‘confidentiality concerns’ were their ‘top risk’ when it came to social media.
Social media can have a real and lasting impact on a company’s reputation. Information can be distributed and published on the Internet within seconds. Organisations using social media to promote their business are potentially at risk of confidential, false or defamatory information being circulated online. If the information goes viral, the chances are the company concerned has lost control.
Protecting company reputation is difficult for any business facing negative reviews online. With more and more searches being made over the Internet, it is important to take steps to monitor what is being said about an organisation online. Popular review sites rank highly in Google, making their content very visible to customers and the general public.
Have you Googled the name of your company? Many companies are surprised by the results – which are not always positive. The vast majority of information about companies appearing online is published on independent websites or blogs, which companies have little, if any, influence over.
And, as more customers use social media to make enquiries, post comments and discuss products or services online, negative reviews may also have one positive effect: to alert you to problems you were unaware of, allowing you to take action and rectify the problem before it escalates.
So, what happens if a journalist publishes a disparaging article about your company or service online? A good journalist should seek opinions from all parties involved before they produce an article, but this does not always happen.
If the article is true, there is very little you can do to remove it from the Internet or links to it on the search engines. You could try approaching the journalist if it is an aged article, but this may draw attention to you once more. The best approach is to concentrate on getting some positive press circulated, which will take time. If the article is false, there may be procedures you can follow for its removal.
Companies with sustained media campaigns are generally more successful in clearing ‘bad press’ from their page one results. These stories have to compete with other, and more well established content. By publishing unique and relevant articles on your corporate website and social media networks, you will be strengthening the company’s Internet profile and improving its Google listings.
The Internet is an open communication tool, and unfortunately, if an individual or group starts an online campaign about your company, there is little you can do to prevent it. If the material published is slanderous you should report the initiator to the authorities. However, the damage may already have been done, and the reputation of the business may be at risk.
Monitoring the Internet for defamatory content can be time-intensive and frustrating work. Many review sites, media publications and blogs have a policy not to respond to general enquiries about removal of content. Often, it is up to the individual or company to persuade the original author or blogger to remove the comment directly.
Another option is to use the Google Removal Tool to attempt to remove the offending material from the search results. Google will only do this where the content is clearly defamatory, of an adult nature, or through legal procedures.
Are you prepared to deal with a crisis should one arise? Being vigilant and monitoring for online mentions relating to your company name will help alert you to any potential problems. But what if your company is facing a crisis now? Companies need to respond quickly, after all, inactivity can be as damaging to an organisation’s reputation as misguided action. If matters are very serious you may need to consider employing a specialist online reputation management company to assist you through the crisis.
Not Actively Monitoring for Company Terms
Not actively monitoring for comments and images across search engines, social media sites, blogs and forums, is perhaps one of the most common mistakes made by companies operating online. Monitoring sentiment helps businesses analyse customers’ behavior as well as competitors’ activities.
By setting up Google Alerts for your company name and relevant search terms, you will be notified of mentions, when and where they are published. More sophisticated reputation monitoring systems are available. These provide wider coverage and will alert you to a more in-depth level of mentions on the Internet for your company name and relevant search terms.
The results of monitoring can be very powerful and through them you will be able to tailor your marketing, deal with potential issues, satisfy your customers, and better manage your online reputation. Any negative comments can be countered with positive posts, helping to drive unwanted material down the search engines.
Lack of Company Digital Presence
A lack of, or a poorly managed, digital presence can be just as damaging to a company wanting to succeed online, as a poor reputation. Organisations need a healthy profile in order to compete online. If a Google search reveals not only relevant listings but results with unwanted comments and links, a company’s reputation may be at risk and the value of the business damaged.
So how do you create a profile that will rank on page one of Google and help you to build an effective company reputation online?
The next chapter of this guide explains just how.
“If you lose dollars for the firm by bad decisions, I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless.”
Building an effective company reputation online
Aside from removing or suppressing any unwanted content or dealing with defamatory comments – which by no means should be ignored – there are many strategies you can put into place to achieve positive content online. This will help enhance your company’s digital profile, attract visitors to your company’s website, and leave them with a positive brand perception.
Take control of your online profile by creating a strong portfolio of digital resources – corporate websites, online brochures, blogs, and social and professional media profiles for platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Ensure these are regularly refreshed with unique and relevant content: publish articles about your company on other industry blogs, circulate news releases to the media, and take advantage of social media to launch products online.
Make the Most of Your Resources
Managing your company’s online presence is vital if you are to maintain a positive profile for your business. Select keywords and phrases for your business carefully – these are the words or phrases that someone would type into Google when looking for the type of service you offer, or indeed for your business directly. By including key phrases in the articles you publish online your company will be more visible in the search engines. Articles should be written in a ‘natural’ way, not teeming with keywords.
Social media is a really useful and cost effective tool for organisations looking to promote themselves online. Potentially you can reach a much larger audience than through more traditional methods. It is also a great communication tool. You can keep customers informed daily with details of new products, launches and offers. You can respond to customer enquiries directly, and importantly, you can make them aware you are dealing with an issue – should one arise.
Monitor Sentiment Online
It is important to track what customers, potential customers, journalists, competitors and others interested in your business, are saying about you online. Setting up Google Alerts is one way to do this, but also by ’social listening’ – paying attention to what is said on social media networks, and industry forums too.
Monitoring social media networks and any related blogs is especially important for companies who deal with customers online. Being aware of mentions of your business across the Internet will help you to identify what your customers are saying, when they are communicating, and the channels they are using to do so.
You will gain an understanding of how your product or service is perceived in the marketplace and whether you need to take steps to improve its positioning. Consumer-facing companies should proactively manage reviews and ensure they deal with reoccurring issues that customers are commenting on.
Establish a Social Media Response Strategy
Social media is evolving as we speak – not only is it being used by companies to promote brands and sell goods worldwide, it is also being used by customers to express themselves.
‘The Reputation Report’ suggests that one in ten companies have been affected by social media posts.
A social media customer service response strategy is important to implement if you want to keep your clientele happy – at all times.
Encourage customers to come directly to you with any issues, rather than setting up an independent online community. Rather than trying to remove comments from the Internet, a better approach would be to resolve the problem, and inspire the customer to contribute something positive.
Executive Reputation Management
Chief executive officers, directors and senior employees are central to helping an organisation promote itself online. Their Internet profiles can be a key factor in helping win new business and increase revenue.
Individuals who actively promote themselves as experts in their field can help to build on a company’s reputation. If you are fortunate to have a member of staff who is also an industry leader, utilise their skills and networks to promote your business to a wider audience. Encourage senior executives to create professional profiles, which will enhance the company’s digital assets, such as websites and online profiles.
Although the European Court of Justice ruling – The Right to be Forgotten – applies to individuals and not companies or brands, it is worth considering this directive if your company is facing online allegations against one of your senior executives.
Employees are potentially a company’s biggest advocates. In a survey by Weber Shandwick Asia Pacific, of 2,300 employees worldwide, more than half of the respondents have “defended their employer to family and friends or in a more public venue – such as on a website, blog, or in a newspaper.”
On the other hand, employees have the potential to destroy a company’s reputation. Be aware of what your staff are posting online. Produce a social media guideline document and circulate this internally. Reprimand employees who openly post disparaging messages, and be vigilant to any inappropriate staff behaviour, as this may inadvertently lead to poor online reputation by association.
Control Your Page One Results
Take control of your page one as it accounts for around 90% of traffic for a search of your company name. Having your own websites and online profiles populating page one for your company’s keywords and phrases, means traffic is more likely to come your way. It also reduces the likelihood of any unwanted material or comments from ranking.
“Sites listed on the first Google search results page generate 92% of all traffic from an average search. When moving from page one to two, the traffic dropped by 95%, and by 78% and 58% for the subsequent pages.”
Chitika Online Advertising Network
Privacy leaks are a growing hazard of the online information age. Perhaps one of the most famous examples is the case of Edward Snowden, the former CIA contractor, who exposed the US spy programme. Snowden leaked details to the media, which impacted on both US and UK surveillance programmes.
The leaked information revealed that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was responsible for ‘hacking’ computers worldwide. It also alleged that the NSA was spying on European offices in the US and Europe and had even intercepted the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s, mobile phone.
A ‘political storm’ resulted, which led to tension between the US and some of their allies in Europe, Asia and South America. Public concerns were raised over how secure private data is, how easily it is accessed, and by whom.
“In January 2014, the Guardian newspaper and Channel Four News reported that the US had collected and stored almost 200 million text messages per day across the globe.”
How to promote your company online
When Igniyte commissioned a survey of 500 business leaders on the subject of company reputation online, we found a growing awareness around the importance of maintaining a positive profile online. Of the respondents questioned – all of whom were either business owners or higher decision makers – an overwhelming 88% believed a positive company online presence was important to the people who use their services. Here are some suggestions about how to promote your company online:
Newspapers have high authority so ensure you are actively pushing out positive PR to trade publications and press. Invest in communication support and take advice on building good relations with authority websites and press.
Social media sites offer great potential for networking with influential people and organisations. Create company profiles and ensure content is professional and reflects the ethos of the company. LinkedIn Groups allow you to create and join professional groups and connect with business professionals within the same field. Use Twitter to develop direct dialogue with like-minded businesses.
Corporate Social Responsibility is integral to many company strategies, and although not necessarily the primary driver to get involved in a community project, the outcomes will provide you with an opportunity to promote your business, and boost your reputation online.
Being associated with a recognised trade or professional organisation opens doors to a range of services from business development to policy and best practice. As well as being a platform from which to share ideas, membership can also benefit a company’s online profile.
Most trade organisations publish information about their members on a public website. If your company is listed in official journals and trade directories, make sure you link to these through your website, and mention them on your social media networks.
Igniyte uses a sophisticated reputation monitoring system, which helps companies to analyse customers’ presence both online and offline. It is more flexible than other more commonly-used analytics platforms; the software provides a revealing insight into 70 million different sources worldwide.
We monitor for both positive and negative comments and images across search engines, social media sites, blogs and forums. We help you analyse both your, and your competitors’ activities, which provides an insight into how your customers perceive your business.
The power of reputation
It is more common for ‘bad press’ to hit the headlines than good news stories, but it is not always the case. The following case studies illustrate how different types of stories – from scandals to improved trading figures – can impact on a company’s reputation.
Actions of Former Chairman Impact on Co-operative’s Corporate Reputation
The scandal-hit Co-operative Group reported losses of £2.5bn for 2013 – the worst results in the organisation’s history. According to the BBC, the majority of the losses ‘stemmed from the Cooperative Bank, which amounted to £2.1bn.’
After an inquiry into £1.5bn of capital losses at the bank was instigated in June 2013, and the media storm surrounding the behaviour of the bank’s former Chairman, Paul Flowers, the bank acknowledged a rise in customers switching accounts.
The Co-operative Bank prides itself on being the ‘only UK high street bank to have a customer led Ethical Policy.’ But is this enough to protect the bank from further reputational damage?
Though it is, no doubt, the governance of the bank that is to blame, it was the public actions of the former Chairman that dominated, and continues to dominate, the news.
Dorchester Boycott over Human Rights
When the Sultan of Brunei, owner of the luxury hotel chain The Dorchester Collection, announced a new Sharia penal code, it sparked an international boycott of some of its more prestigious hotels.
The country’s new laws, which came into force in April 2014, criminalise pregnancy outside of marriage, failure to perform Friday prayers, and the preaching of non-Muslim religions. A new phase of corporate punishments is also expected to be implemented, including stoning to death for homosexual acts, and public flogging for women who have abortions.
Celebrities, politicians and business leaders worldwide have condemned Brunei’s new laws. Stephen Fry, Richard Branson and the Mayor of Beverley Hills are just some of those who have joined the boycott.
The Dorchester Collection is owned by the ‘Brunei Investment Agency’, an arm of the Ministry of Finance of Brunei. Government websites have high authority in Google, and any associated websites are likely to rank well. Despite this, an online search for the key phrase ‘Dorchester Collection’ shows news and articles relating to the boycott are the first natural listing, and above Wikipedia’s entry.
The full page of articles listed for the key phrase ‘Dorchester Hotel Boycott’, is a serious cause of concern for the hotel chain.
Good News for Troubled Security Firm G4S
From failing to provide sufficient security at the London 2012 Olympics, to a tagging-scandal which saw the group excluded from new UK government work in 2013, G4S’s reputation has, in recent years, diminished – along with its share price.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has even been criticised for its association with the troubled security company. The Foundation, which has shares in G4S, is accused of supporting an organisation which provides security services to Israeli prisons, where human rights allegations and issues of neglect have been raised.
Growth in emerging markets, however, has helped improve the revenue – and the online reputation – of the world’s largest security group. The news is helping to move some of the negative articles, which have been littering the company’s page one results for the last few years, down the search engines.
G4S is said to be ‘overhauling’ its business, and with demand in developing regions growing, Reuters also reported that G4S shares were up.
Samsung v Apple
Technology giants Samsung and Apple have been locked in a battle over copyright for years – and while the legal row has been settled, the affair has damaged the reputations of both companies.
A senior writer for CNET, the technical product review site, commented that “Apple and Samsung each won damages in the most recent round of their patent-infringement fight. But their victories, deemed modest by legal experts, may have come at a far greater cost, hurting the image and reputation of the world’s leading makers of mobile devices.”
Ironically, both companies are reported to be losing their market share as competition from two major Chinese rival firms – Huawei and Lenovo – grows. According to an article in The Times, the smartphone giants “both went backwards in the [last] quarter, accounting for 47% of sales, compared with 50% a year ago.”
Igniyte case studies
Case Study One
When Igniyte first began working with this client, the business owned none of the content appearing about them on page one of Google, the vast majority of which included negative links. Less than a year later, the company now controls more than 70% of their page one results, with the other 30% of mentions relating to positive PR and news articles about the business, featured in publications such as Business Week, Bloomberg and Business Insider.
How did Igniyte help? Igniyte worked with the client to create a range of new online profiles; provided PR support; promoted the client’s online profile; and helped collate positive reviews from real clients who had previously had a good experience with the company.
Case Study Two
A UK-based marketing agency facing scam blogs, false profiles, trolls and anonymous bad reviews, had numerous negative listings on page one of Google, which were causing serious harm to the business.
How did Igniyte help? Within six months Igniyte had successfully challenged and removed all the unwanted and false content. As a result, the business has seen a significant increase in sales, and the new websites and online profiles created on behalf of this client are generating new leads.
Case Study Three
An e-commerce business, relying entirely on online sales, approached Igniyte about an issue relating to poor quality links on the first page of Google for their company name. Sales were in decline and dropped by 7.5% during the period the content was featuring.
How did Igniyte help? Igniyte worked with the company to increase their PR activity and helped the business dominate their Google search results with positive content. As a result, sales have already increased by 9.5%.