Holistic reputation management: the road to collective impact
Nowadays reputation management & media monitoring go hand in hand. After all, without monitoring it is impossible to get insight into what is going on, without insight focus is lacking, and without focus there is no control. And that is exactly what you want; control. When you are in control, you can act proactively, even in reactive situations like crises. When you are in the lead and acting proactively, you can protect and build up the reputation of your company, as this allows you to anticipate correctly and work preventively. How do you make sure this role as a communications professional becomes visible within your organisation and that your entire company learns from this as well? This is what we will focus on this part of the four-part series about Reputation management.
Make sure you don’t have to put out fires at every turn. As a communications professional, you play a key part in improving prevention and anticipating on unwanted situations in your company. After all, you want to contribute to the success of the entire organisation and create a transparent and unambiguous communication. It is therefore important to share the targeted activities you undertake (for example in case of crises) internally. This includes activities that are ‘visible’ due to media coverage that hasn’t taken place, such as preventative communication with stakeholders.
Be clear about your role
The role of corporate communication has grown into a multi-faceted function with an increasingly longer list of demands. These days communication professionals are expected to not only protect the reputation of their company, but also to proactively help build it. More so, they are expected to be full-fledged discussion partners that challenge and contradict the board and should not be afraid to ask questions. In other words: it’s time to step up your game and take control.
Your role has taught you that protecting and influencing reputation is no longer a ‘thing’ of Corporate Communication, but of the entire organisation. From CEO to customer service, every utterance, every decision, every touchpoint stakeholders have has an impact. The makeability of reputation is a thing of the past, and you can no longer disguise anything as an organisation. This brings in a 4th role: the role of connector, with a focus on ‘educating’ the internal organisation, so that everyone is on the same page. This way the organisation starts operating from a holistic perspective. Professor in Corporate Communications Cees van Riel emphasizes the holististic concept: “Reputation has to be more or less institutionalised in a company”.
Include internal stakeholders in the process
The importance of the holistic approach is clear. But how do you create attention for this and in general? Be clear and transparent in your communication and include all stakeholders. Tell them what measures have been taken in times of crisis and why. Also show how it affects and influences each separate department. Train and give internal stakeholders insight into the communication and reputation and the role they play in this. Show them that your employees (and management) are an important figurehead of your organisation and that they have a lot of (positive) influence. Make sure they realise this and make this concrete with examples from LinkedIn or Twitter posts and the impacts these have on the reputation of the company.
“Awareness is the first step to get attention and to make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Convince them of the holistic approach: 3 key factors
More companies than ever before are willing to invest in their reputation, they clearly have seen the light. Acting ethically and credibly is of great importance, and if a company fails to do this, the entire world will know in a heartbeat. Even companies like Facebook, Uber and Airbnb, with their “fail fast” mentality, have realised that reputation is essential after several widely reported scandals. Sharing these cases internally helps to convince the management of the importance of reputation as a responsibility of the entire organisation. 3 important factors for this responsibility are full transparency, credibility and leadership.
#1 Full transparency
Being transparent about business management is a trend that has been going on for a while. There is no getting around it. It makes a real difference when you are transparent about the actual activity and also map it. Simply saying what you are about and making promises won’t get you anywhere. Right now transparency also goes a step further than insight into the annual figures and strategy. People want to know how processes go, whether they are ethical, and why you make the decisions you make. For example, be open about the full production process and how the employees of your company are treated.
Independent supervisors are also gaining an increasing amount of power and therefore it is impossible to avoid being open and honest about your processes. This was recently emphasized by a study by RTL Nieuws on rules concerning animal welfare, the use of medicine, and the environment. Several inspection reports showed that hundreds of products are falsely sold as organic. The reputation of the organic sector is directly influenced by this.
#2 Be credible
Also, the macro trends surrounding brand purpose (e.g. what do you stand for as a company?) and trust allow your credibility to grow. Every organisation can say they are doing this and that, but this is not at all credible when they don’t offer any proof. The motto is: ‘Practice what you preach’. In order for your promises and activities to be credible, they have to match and be conveyed in all layers of the organisation. It makes little sense to be transparent about your sustainability policy on your website and media communications and the actions you take, if you do not apply this to your daily operations.
# 3 Show leadership
CEO reputation is becoming increasingly important as well. The Reputation Institute has even devoted a separate research to it last year. And with good reason; it helps to convey #1. It is no longer enough to be transparent in media communications or to be credible in your customer service . Yes, of course these elements are important and they contribute to the ‘being on the same page’-principle. But if you want to add power to this, it is important to show your leadership, take a clear standpoint and to convey this as a CEO. Of course congruence with points 1 and 2 is essential in the message you communicate.
A good example of this are the actions of the then new CEO of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, after the government in Londen decided to ban Uber from the city. Next to an open, honest and an emotional email to its employees, in which he takes ownership, concrete steps were taken to improve the image of the company. This resulted in a renewed license in London in 2018.
Holistic reputation management is therefore of the utmost importance. In this, the impact on society, ethical actions and taking a clear position are crucial themes. Based on this trend, we also see that CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) gets a different meaning and encompasses much more than the general public thinks. You can read more about this shift and how to deal with this in the fourth and final part of this blog series.