Ah, life used to be so much easier for companies in the good old days before The Digital Revolution came and took over the world. They controlled the world: they could tell people what they did, and what they should think about them.
How times have changed. Radically. Irrevocably. Suddenly, people buy stuff based on what they think of a company as much as the product itself – and those perceptions are being shaped by a vast network of fellow-consumers, partners and communities.
Try saying some of these phrases for size: “Our customers don’t understand us or what we do.” “We’re battling to connect with some of our key audiences.” “We have a great range of products and services, but people keep going to our competitors.” “We do great work in social investment/marketing/social media, but we never get recognised for it.”
If any of these phrases sound familiar to you, I have two words for you: Reputation Management.
Let’s first swiftly deal with what Reputation Management is NOT. It’s NOT spin-doctoring, or putting the best possible light on things. It’s NOT relentless smoke and mirrors and flash. It’s NOT doing a social responsibility project, and thinking you’re a hero who deserves accolades for changing the world. In fact, it has nothing to do with creating hugely inflated reputations that have little grounding in reality.
Here’s what Reputation Management IS. In a nutshell, it’s all about defining your corporate character – your identity, your purpose, your mission and values, your culture. Then living it. As Fleishman-Hillard’s global CEO, Dave Senay, likes to say: How you are is who you are. Then you have to share your stories and purpose and thoughts beyond your organisation.
For those of you familiar with TED talks, I’d suggest you take a look at this great talk by author and corporate leadership guru Simon Sinek. Basically, what he’s saying is this: people want to know who you are, not what you do or make or sell. And if they like who you are, they’ll do business with you. If they don’t, they’ll go elsewhere.
But Reputation Management goes further than that. Yes, it’s vital to have a great culture and to live it out through your behaviour. But there are two other critical pieces of the puzzle: performance, and communications.
Performance is all about having products and services that add value to your customers. Complying with corporate governance rules. Being innovative and flexible in your products and strategies. Being a good business.
Communications is all about telling the world about who you are and what you do, and most importantly, why you do it. It’s about telling great stories, rather than talking about products. It’s about talking to your customers, media and stakeholders in an open and authentic way.
Three things: Know who you are and what you stand for. Have products and services that talk to your audiences. And then tell great stories about yourself and your people in a real and consistent way. Suddenly, you’re managing your reputation. Feels good, doesn’t it?