Last month, we discussed reputation and business risks in today’s amplified and weaponized social media world. Here’s six key steps you need to take should you experience a reputational hit:

  • Be first, be fast and be sorry. Companies and executives establish trust and confidence from stakeholders when they address issues immediately. ‘Scandals’ are born from trying to hide information. To get ahead of an issue, set the record straight quickly, schedule conference calls with the investment community including analysts. Have a call sheet with top clients and phone them directly. Since social media moves constantly and within seconds, check all channels, know the right hashtags and post your side of the story.
  • Prioritize the audiences. There is a common misconception that if you’re a public company, your first duty is to your investors and the analyst community. But there are some situations where it may be more important that your employees don’t walk out the door because when they leave, you’re really out of business. Where’s your biggest danger? Get there first, then move on to the next leak in the system.
  • Drive knowledge-based actions. If you don’t have one, get a monitoring and tracking system for company news, social media channels and any other touchpoints you have with customers, investors and employees. You and your team need to have visibility into the reporting and be empowered to act and use the pre-drafted and approved holding statements, which are no doubt in your crisis communications plan, right?
  • Build a reservoir of goodwill. More than three-quarters of business executives (76%) feel an organization’s role as an ethical company and good corporate citizen has a very strong impact on the brand’s reputation. Positive news about new customers, executives, initiatives, offices and community outreach programs creates friends and generates goodwill with customers, business partners and media. Some of the simple things, such as reporting your good news with press releases can be overlooked in the heat of the moment. Paying to have them posted on wire services like Business Wire and PR Newswire (approximately $800 to $1,000, depending on word count) is well worth the money in SEO and online visibility. Also, post on social and pay to boost posts.
  • Activate third-party explainers. Whether it is research analysts and industry influencers or an employee, a second opinion on an issue can provide credibility. In fact, employees are the first line of defense for a brand. They’re an important advocate. Weekly or monthly Q&A sessions with all employees can dispel rumors and create buy-in for all external touchpoints. We have clients who have “Ask the Founders” meetings where questions from employees are drawn anonymously – nothing is off limits. True transparency is a strong reputation management tool.
  • Put a face on the brand. Nothing can tell the story like a well-trained spokesperson. Typically, the company CEO is the spokesperson. They need to speak honestly, openly and authentically with no room for interpretation. Clear, concise and compelling messaging can be converted into Op-Ed articles and byline stories in business and trade outlets that may also result in media interviews.

We can’t hide from a crisis in 21st-century communications. A change in your company’s market value is just a tweet, online petition or viral photo away. The story will be told, written or broadcast with or without our cooperation. But, nearly three-quarters (73%) of business executives are not as ready as they could be to react to an unexpected crisis even though more than 25% of a company’s market value is derived from its reputation.

Stay ahead of future crises by doing a thorough reputation risk assessment to see what threats your company is facing. Only 50 percent of companies have a ready-to-go crisis plan. Don’t let that be your company.