Warren Buffett famously said: 'Lose money and I will forgive you, but lose even a shred of reputation and I will be ruthless.' Yet how many organisations can honestly say they are ruthlessly guarding and managing their own reputation online?
Most obviously, this impacts crisis comms. With the recent super-injunction debacle demonstrating the near impossibility of keeping stories out of the public realm, crisis PROs have to shift more than ever towards managing the story in the full glare of public scrutiny. While I suspect many organisations have yet to fully appreciate this new world, there isn't much choice, as the next crisis is always around the corner. Preparation is vital if they don't want to get caught.
Beyond crisis, reputation has to be continuously managed in the online space, where brand behaviour is now far more important than the brand message. All of which requires a much longer-term engagement. This is more about behaviour deep in the organisation, with the values of that organisation inherent at every customer touch point - online and offline - from helpful customer services to timely delivery of goods, than it is about a well-crafted turn of phrase or an on-message piece of coverage. Failure to live and breathe the brand promise throughout the customer journey can have immediate and vocal online and offline consequences for reputation.
We all know digital has changed our world. But how many can truly say that they or their board directors really feel it? Often it isn't until a reputational issue hits the bottom line that this becomes the case. How ruthlessly are organisations really guarding reputations if they are not raising the levels of support, resource and time spent behind their online presence?
This new era of corporate reputation has many facets. Along with online monitoring there is the core PR skill of being able to manage conversation and dialogue. But the specialisms that now exist in the PR realm can also provide far greater nuances of measurement; from tracking consumer engagement and sentiment, through to ongoing online stakeholder mapping or even measurement of the community share of voice.
The proof exists of successes in this area: the now legendary Dell turnaround, when it turned a community of disgruntled customers into its extended R&D team with the Dell IdeaStorm website, through to Philips, which has successfully used LinkedIn to build strong professional communities around niche interest areas such as oncology and lighting.
A question should be asked internally, too. How many board members get regular reports on what the world is saying about them or how they are perceived online? Surely this is a valuable source of stakeholder insight and predictor of future successes (or failure), not just data to be measured in retweets and 'likes'.
Despite the new challenges, the industry feels it has a new-found focus. The adage that 'during a recession the most important role of a PR manager is to prove why he or she should still have a job', is far from true now. Social media have reinvigorated the role of PR and opened up organisations to far more engagement opportunities, but also greater reputational risks.
It is yet to be seen if this will lead to a golden age of integrated PR, but we are on the verge of a radical change in how businesses engage with customers. To paraphrase Buffett once more: 'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five blog posts to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.'
VIEWS IN BRIEF
Do you make a distinction between personal and professional use of social media?
It's not easy to do, and so I don't make the distinction. I am me 100 per cent of the time; I just happen to be doing different things depending on when 'now' is. I am a district councillor, so I'm cautious, but I tend towards the Oscar Wilde quote: 'Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.'
Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?
We do our best, are quick to react, endeavour to be flexible and often work invisibly in the background to achieve the best results, so The Incredibles.
From PRWeek's Digital thought leader supplement November 2011