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Information spreads so quickly, especially online, that one botched public moment or exposed mistake can quickly escalate and pile into a mountain of controversy. When a business’ reputation takes a hit, it’s absolutely vital to take corrective measures as early as possible and learn how to improve as a company, ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. Otherwise, the issue in question could become a permanent aspect of the brand’s reputation.
Mistakes are natural and the consequences of visibility on the internet, so what matters is how you respond. Take a look at these four steps for bouncing back against a damaged reputation, internally and publicly. Remember to treat the steps as a recipe, as committing to every single one will give you the best chance to turn your situation around.
Isolate and Acknowledge
One of the least efficient responses to a controversy is a corporate statement that outraged individuals perceive as out of touch or “not listening”. Far too often someone in a higher position will produce a cheap, phony response meant to be an end to the matter, but if this response isn’t very carefully worded and researched it will only serve as another offense.
Authenticity is the best policy for weakening the initial blaze. Everyone knows that people make mistakes, after all. Amazingly, a business that admits this fact and seeks to improve and make things right is rare enough to inspire deeper loyalty than it garnered before the controversy.
When controversy hits, ask: “What have we been accused of?” “Did we really do it?” “How has our image among customers changed as a result?” Though it may be frustrating, do research online within the communities that are most upset with your business. Isolate the particular issues they have, and make them as specific as possible. Only when you have the clearest possible idea of why they’re upset can you make a statement that will show your sincerity and make them feel listened to. Then, commit to any necessary public or private change, which we’ll discuss next.
Turning A New Page
Image via Flickr by Blue MauMau
Sometimes the wound to your reputation is relatively minor and a simple acknowledgment, apology, and promise to do better will suffice as long as it’s genuine. Other times, you may have to take the lesson learned and implement it in evolving your brand. For example, when Dominos struggled with a low reputation they started focusing on improved, specialized quality for their audience of pizza lovers. However, instead of just subtly changing their pizza, they shifted their branding and commercials to acknowledge their unhappy customers, saying “We listened”.
Part of turning a new page means knowing when to stop fighting. The internet is a bevy of cold judgment and some people will never be satisfied, no matter what you do. Put simply: turning a new page means changing what you’re doing to right a wrong, and stop apologizing, even if a persistent minority suggests that you haven’t made amends. This is very common, especially among large businesses, so as long as you’ve done the right thing, know that you can’t please everyone.
Create A Content Block Policy
Though it can cause some fuss, businesses have the same rights as anyone else to block or delete comments, ban accounts, lock forum threads, and take other measures to limit people’s ability to tarnish their business. Turning off comments entirely is a fair option, or choose to keep everything in a moderation window to be independently approved, denied, or flagged. Just stay consistent in your rules, so you aren’t accused of favoritism.
It might sound honorable to never restrict user content and opinions, but the sad truth is that many people won’t offer the same respect given to them. If your fair and amiable responses to angry customer reviews end up deleted, why should you allow nasty and unfounded complaints in the comments of your own posts? That said, a policy of when and when not to take measures like this is essential.
For a universal example, never hide or delete the comment that has received the most attention. Doing so will upset everyone who reacted to it and draws suspicion. Times like this are when you should engage as best you can, bringing the conversation offline if possible. Rules like this will vary depending on the business and its target audience, but come up with something soon, ideally before controversy hits, and be certain that it is understood by your social media managers.
Push With Positivity
Don’t focus all of your efforts on cleansing your brand of the negativity it faces. Adding more happy customers, testimonials, etc. can be just as helpful for moving past the issue. Come up with events, activities, offers, engaging content, etc. that will make your customer base happy and allow you to communicate the fact that you’ve improved. This can distract unaffected customers from the fuss, creating the impression that things are running uninhibited. Offended customers, meanwhile, will begin to soften their approach.
Speaking of offended customers: when you build or rebuild your reputation and network, one of the most powerful groups you should focus on are the individuals who were upset in the past but who have accepted your apology. This type of up, down, and up again reputation has stood the test of time and, for psychological reasons, can make previously unhappy customers some of your most ardent defenders and supporters.
Remember that this advice is for a business that has either made a mistake or is faced with a misunderstanding. These steps are not for businesses who intend to knowingly abuse the market or make unethical practices, with a plan to minimize blow-back. Not only is this behavior unacceptable and a detriment to one’s industry, but it’s also a foolish gamble that can backfire and turn you into one of the most hated brands in your area of expertise.
Don’t give your competition the fuel needed to zoom past you and claim the success you could have had. Reputation roadblocks are perfectly natural, and if you respond to them better than the average business, you’ll be able to happily look back on that troublesome time from a place of greater success and online respect.