It’s been a bumper year for business reputation nosedives… and 2017 isn’t even half over. We’ve had Uber’s Chief Executive admitting he needs to “grow up” following the release of an embarrassing video. In addition, there was United Airlines’ rough-handling of a passenger, also captured on video. Closer to home – and on the public sector side – the Australian Tax Office was last week caught up in a reputation-crippling fraud scandal.
In the case of United, many of us couldn’t help but groan at the airline’s unique approach to passenger management and their subsequent botched public responses. It’s probably fair to say the ATO, hardly a “love brand” as far as public sector agencies go, didn’t attract much sympathy when details of a $165m scam hit the media. But let’s be honest; no business operator can really afford to shake their heads at the reputation woes of others without looking closely at their own actions.
Regardless of the size of your business, it’s useful to remember that your reputation begins at home. That might seem illogical because, after all, your reputation is what others think of you, and you can’t control their minds. But you can strongly influence many of the elements that help others form those views.
Here are three PR lessons that might save your business bacon…
What you do has to match what you say
Your business reputation is made of three parts:
- What you say – from your marketing collateral, website and social media to the visual presentation of your business and how you and your team speak to customers.
- How people directly experience you – how they feel when they use your service or buy your product, and whether that experience matches what you say about it.
- What others say to others about your business – individual to individual (old-fashioned word of mouth), and to the world at large through social media and other forms of technology.
Now, there’s the thing: if there’s a mismatch between what you say and how people experience you, you have a problem. There’s a good chance that what others are saying to others about you is not going to be pretty. Your business body language is out of alignment; just as we as humans have body language that needs to match our words or we come across as dishonest or unreliable, your business needs to follow a similar pattern.
Recognising this simple fact can save you a whole lot of heartache in terms of lost customers and negative Facebook comments. While it’s great to get excited about social media and building our profile, it pays to focus on the basics first. Make your actions match your words, and you’re halfway there.
We’re all performing on a world stage, 24/7
Watching the video of that ugly United Airlines incident, the thing that stands out is the rows of phones standing to attention, their owners recording every second of the sorry saga. Yet somehow, United forgot that the evidence was out there for all the world to see, when they made their initial fumbled responses.
The power of the recorded image also struck when Uber’s boss, Travis Kalanick, was captured verbally blasting one of his own drivers during an argument over pay rates.
The reality is that everyone out there is now a 24-hour news channel, with the tools and channels to capture any incident in the moment and destroy a career and reputation by clicking “share”. Don’t be lulled by the fact that these incidents involved huge businesses – any business of any size is fair game if they trip up or do the wrong thing.
Decades ago, if something went wrong in your business there was a slight chance you could fix it behind closed doors and get on with your life. Make no mistake, those days are long gone. If anything does go amiss – whether it’s accidentally over-charging a customer, having to shut down for a day because of a power outage or any other conceivable mishap – it’s critical you recognise it and act immediately. Take the initiative, and err on the side of over-communication with everyone who can impact or be impacted by your business. If you mess up, make amends straight away.
Your team now carries huge clout
If you have staff, pay attention: the results of this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer show that regular employees of a business are considered to be much more credible than the CEO or business leader.
Your employees are your business’s equivalent of TripAdvisor – and everything they say to their friends and social networks about their workplace has a significant impact on your business reputation.
Are you putting enough focus on making sure your team really gets what your business stands for and knows the messages they should be conveying about it?
Many businesses are yet to grasp this one; they continue to put all their emphasis on glossy marketing and don’t realise their staff are, in fact, their best PR weapon. Understand this and you’ll have an advantage.
No business operator wants even a minor issue tainting their reputation, let alone a PR disaster like the incidents I’ve mentioned. Let’s learn from these events and take small steps every day to build reputation capital; making our actions match our words and bringing our team along on the journey.
About the author
Dr Neryl East is a highly qualified and experienced expert on media, communication, credibility and reputation. She has had an extensive career in journalism, corporate, crisis and governance communications over the past 30 years, working for Win TV, Wollogong City Council and Shellharbour City Council. Neryl works with leaders and teams who want to stand out, accelerate their success and avoid costly reputation mistakes. She has a Master of Arts and PhD in Journalism, and her book The Headline Edge hit number one on Amazon in three countries. Neryl is also a Certified Speaking Professional – an international designation awarded to only a small percentage of professional speakers globally.