All companies are vulnerable to reputation crises, regardless of their sector, size and location.
Avoiding social media is no guarantee of immunity – even a tiny medieval bookbinding business in deepest Almeria could be susceptible to reputational damage if its employees decide to sue their boss for the respiratory disease they’re suffering after years inhaling the glue used to bind the books.
Any crisis will be reported on social media, where it can be picked up by the traditional local media and have a huge impact on the company’s reputation.
And that’s just at the small scale.
When it comes to big companies, most of whom are present on several social networks, not all of them have fully grasped the fact that the reputation crisis they’re inevitably going to face (there are only two types of company: the ones that have experienced a crisis and the ones that are yet to experience one) will have to be dealt with using online management with a digital focus.
These days, every crisis is digital.
Reputation crises: the digital era
In a VUCA context, it’s impossible to turn a blind eye to our hyper-connected, hyper-transparent world, even if your business is medieval bookbinding. This digital world is where we gamble our reputation, but it’s also where we have to work to rebuild it. Why?
It seems reasonable to assume that social media isn’t going anywhere and that people will be talking about us and our brand whether or not we have a social media presence. We have little choice but to accept that, when it comes to advertising, consumers trust their friends, relatives and neighbours more than brands, as this study shows.
Lack of trust in the media, public institutions and political parties is at the root of the problem. On top of this, social media algorithms trap us in our echo chamber. They amplify the messages that often reach us directly from dark social channels. By that, we mean WhatsApp.
The golden hour is no more
In this digital world, hyper-connection via our mobile devices has made us hyper-vulnerable. We’re at risk of becoming cyborgs unable to handle ESG+T risks (environment, society, governance and technology) if we don’t radically rethink the methods we’ve traditionally used to restore our reputation. The golden hour is no more. And it’s only a matter of time before a disgruntled employee or some other stakeholder obliges us to go beyond regulatory compliance.
These days, reputation crises are no longer limited to the media. We must also use digital channels to accept responsibility, apologise and explain what we’re going to do to fix the problem, adopting a people-focused approach at all times.
There’s nowhere to hide. You don’t have an hour to weigh up your options. Your reputation can be trashed in minutes. Often, the first battle will be waged in the digital sphere.
If you handle it well, you might be able to stop the traditional media from picking up the crisis and prevent the resulting damage to your reputation and your business continuity, as well as mitigating any financial losses.
But none of this will work unless you anticipate the risks and prepare to handle the inevitable crisis before it comes. You don’t have an hour to spare – you must prepare thoroughly if you want to have any chance of surviving a reputation crisis. Even if your business is bookbinding.