5 Tips for Navigating Digital Reputation Stumbles

This is a guest post by David Hlavac, group account director at Bellmont Partners.

This is a guest post by David Hlavac, group account director at Bellmont Partners.

From ill-conceived pizza tweets to broken-guitar songs, social media devotees don’t need to look very hard to find glaring examples of digital reputation blunders.

For digital communicators, the path to the top is littered with unforeseen obstacles. It is often difficult to see brand reputation hazards in advance before stumbling gracelessly in front of millions of followers and trolls.

While some issues ranging from minor face-plants to full-blown disasters may be unavoidable, the greatest moment of opportunity lies not in planning for every possible scenario, but in how brands respond and recover from their missteps.

Here are five tips for marketers who don’t want to get tripped up when facing reputational hazards via digital media.

 1. Acknowledge, but don’t overreact.

Immediacy is critical in the first moments of a crisis, but be careful not to overreact to what may amount to a passing gripe vs. a full-blown communications emergency. The best messaging should recognize that your company is paying attention, but should never assign blame or responsibility if it isn’t warranted. Knowing the scope and scale of the crisis is essential before determining a response. If nothing else, a brief acknowledgement will buy your communications team time to assess the situation and plan a short-term crisis strategy.

2. Accentuate the positive.

“Remain calm – all is well” is a well-worn business trope for managing stressful situations. Even in extraordinarily negative situations, placing emphasis on the positive steps your company is taking in response to a crisis can show your audience you are serious about investigating the issue and addressing any future concerns. It’s important to be as specific as possible in these communications in order to avoid an inauthentic voice. Nothing makes your audience feel more alienated than a canned line assuring them all is well when it clearly isn’t.

3. Responsiveness is a continuous process.

Your audience needs to know that the process of response is ongoing and not limited to your initial reaction. Perhaps you had a full slate of scheduled tweets planned for a new product launch; now is a good time to re-assess whether those are appropriate now. Are you moving ahead with other opportunities in the wake of the crisis? What will your customers think when they see a listicle or banner advertisement now vs. before or after the crisis? By assessing all elements of your marketing and communications strategy now, you are showing your stakeholders that you’re being responsive to perceptions in the marketplace.

4. Amplify the message; manage the conversation.

Difficult conversations of any sort are problematic by nature. Many communicators confuse the need to control the message as a mandate to stifle conversations online. While it may be tempting to delete negative comments from blog posts or social media channels, it’s never a good idea to appear defensive or heavy-handed in addressing a crisis. It’s important to correct any errant information immediately, using paid social media posts as necessary to amplify your voice. But rather than getting into a shouting match in a public forum, a better strategy is to invite the loudest voices to engage with you offline via private message, email or telephone.

5. Invite further engagement… on your terms.

As a matter of customer service—and especially in a crisis—giving your audiences multiple chances to engage with your brand is a clear signal you’ve got nothing to hide. This doesn’t have to mean opening the floodgates of scrutiny and inquiry. It can be as simple as reminding your audience about the engagement methods that already exist, directing them to current information about your business practices and reinforcing your company values at every opportunity. By fostering greater openness and honesty—in a way that’s true to your own brand and on your own terms—a crisis situation becomes less secretive and ideally less threatening.

Like all trailblazers of the unknown, communications teams must continually assess a bird’s-eye view of the route forward, while keeping a vigilant watch on the path beneath their feet. Responding quickly and appropriately to challenges every step of the way can mean the difference between a small scrape and a long-term injury en route to building a brand reputation.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAT4AAAAJDI5ODhiNWE1LWYyODMtNDM1MS1iYmM0LWE4NDhkY2IzMGNjMADavid Hlavac leads the Business and Industry Group at Bellmont Partners in Minneapolis, serving a diverse roster of business-oriented clients seeking strategic communications counsel. David has nearly 20 years of experience working with manufacturing, professional service and technology companies and has contributed to dozens of award-winning public relations campaigns.