Reputation management – your ultimate guide

9 min read
Reputation management helps you understand what your customers think and feel about you, from global trends to individual experiences. You can use that knowledge to prioritise improvements, strengthen your brand and boost your customer experience.


What is reputation management?

As the name suggests, reputation management is the practice of owning and influencing your own reputation or that of an organisation or person. It’s a practice that originated in the world of PR, at a time when consumers learned about brands through either advertising, media coverage or word-of-mouth.

With the growth of online media and communication and the widespread use of search engines, reputation management has since become much broader and has taken on an important digital dimension. The social media boom played a particularly important role. Thanks to the popularity of social media channels, customers can now broadcast and share their opinions of a brand without the need for a media publication to provide a platform.

Between social media, search engine results, user-generated content, reviews and the traditional media, there’s now a larger and more varied body of reputational content in the public domain than ever before. All of it can help or hurt a brand, whether it’s the words of an individual Twitter user or a front-page news story.

The world of reputation management is now so large and diverse that it’s common for reputation management services to be specialised, for example offering online reputation management only. But it’s worth remembering that any and all reputational content has an impact on your business, and it’s important to take a holistic view across all possible channels when you’re developing a reputation management strategy.

Why does reputation matter?

Does it really matter what someone says about you on the internet if your products are good and the prices are low?

In fact, reputation management could be the difference between success or failure.

In a crowded marketplace where businesses compete on trust and loyalty rather than simply sales, how people feel about your business has never been more important. Customers stick with brands they trust, and may even be less sensitive to price and willing to spend more.

What’s more, having a sense of shared values and ethics is a deal-breaker for customers. Harvard Business Review found that 64% of customers cited shared values as the primary reason for having a relationship with a brand. If these customers have their trust undermined by negative publicity, they may bring those relationships to an abrupt halt.

Despite this, a surprisingly small number of companies are investing significantly in building or maintaining a positive brand reputation. Over half of businesses describe their reputation management as “basic” or “non-existent.”

How to build, maintain and repair your brand reputation

Reputation management is a valuable skill for all kinds of companies. Whether you’re a new business starting from scratch, a popular brand looking to maintain a good reputation or you’ve fallen foul of negative opinion and you’re looking to recover, there are steps you can take to add value and make progress.

So what exactly does reputation management look like in practice?

1. Know what’s out there

The baseline for any reputation management operation is knowing what people are saying about you. You need to listen and monitor carefully to understand where you’re doing well and be aware of any potential vulnerabilities.

Social media monitoring is naturally a big part of the picture. You will also want to keep an eye on search engine results for your brand and product names, and keep a close watch on review sites too. Depending on the size of your company, this could become a significant undertaking.

Reputation management software that helps you automate your monitoring and collate findings on a single platform may be a valuable investment.

Factor in the feedback you receive directly in the form of customer communications. Soliciting customer feedback using surveysintercepts or buttons is a useful way to fill any gaps in your understanding or find out more about areas where you know there are potential issues.

2. Respond effectively

As well as listening carefully to what customers think and feel, you should be ready to respond promptly when negative feedback appears. Although on the surface it may look like a problem, for forward-thinking businesses, negative customer experience data is an opportunity to improve performance, close the loop and win back a customer, potentially making the relationship even stronger than it was before.

This doesn’t just apply when a customer contacts you directly with a complaint or question. You can proactively reach out to detractors on social media and review sites too, responding to their points and opening a channel of communication.

Reputation management software from Qualtrics gives you the benefit of integration with multiple third-party platforms, so you can use a single centralised system to make contact with the customer wherever they are.

3. Promote your positives

Reputation management isn’t just about negative feedback. It also means spreading the word about your brand mission and values, the good things you’re achieving and the reasons customers can feel confident building a business relationship with you.

Transparency and honesty

One key term that often comes up in conjunction with brand reputation management is transparency. Being open and honest about who you are and what you believe in as a business is a strong strategy – especially in a world where information flows freely and barriers between the public and private actions are fast eroding. Consumers think so too: a reported 86% of consumers believe that transparency from businesses is more important than ever before.

Transparency also applies when there are negative situations to be managed. Businesses who make mistakes, let standards slip or encounter controversy tend to fare better when they are open and accountable, rather than staying silent about problems or attempting to bury bad news.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should take a “no-filter” approach to communication. It’s less a case of saying exactly what’s on your mind, and more about being consistent with your company values. This means promoting an internal culture where those values are lived and breathed, whether in dialogue with customers, in making business decisions or in choosing how you handle reputation management issues.

3 real-life lessons on reputation management

Nike

It may be hard to believe today, but in the 1990s, sports giant Nike was the subject of global protests and boycotts. The issue: labor conditions in developing markets. While poor employee treatment in overseas supplier factories was –and still is – an industry-wide problem, Nike bore the brunt of the outrage, becoming a symbol of the issue.

Fortunately, the brand hit on a turn-around strategy that would see them through the crisis. A program of investigation and inquiry began, followed by a policy of total transparency and internal cultural change that made a lasting impact on textile industry standards. Nike wasn’t able to solve the problem straight away, but its transparency and action in response to feedback helped it to regain ground and maintain its position as a market leader.

Ryanair

The European budget airline saw the knock-on effects of a poorly perceived customer experience when profits dived and share prices plummeted 13% in November 2013. Keen to repair the damage, the brand pivoted away from its habitual stance of publicly unabashed profiteering and launched a new campaign of customer-friendly improvements, “Always Getting Better”. The new approach was a success, and by 2014 the brand was able to announce that its profits had increased by a third.

KFC

In 2018, an almost unthinkable problem befell KFC UK – the fried chicken chain ran out of… chicken. Supplier problems led to branches being unable to serve the majority of their normal menu items, leaving customers frustrated and confused.

Fortunately, the brand was quick to respond with a pitch-perfect communications strategy. As well as unreservedly apologising for the gaffe, they ran some tongue-in-cheek advertising that prompted customers to empathize with their embarrassing predicament.

Tools for reputation management

We’ve designed the Qualtrics Reputation Management tool to support you in getting the best possible results from your online reputation management with the lowest possible effort. The tools are fully integrated with the wider Qualtrics platform, allowing you to make reputation management a natural extension of your experience management program.

There’s also integration support for a range of third-party platforms, so you can receive alerts, close the loop with customers and respond to feedback effectively without having to switch between channels.

Working at scale? Use Qualtrics iQ to bring the power of AI and statistics to your project and dig deeper into your findings, revealing insights that will help you shape your future reputation management planning.

See the Qualtrics online reputation management tool in action