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Why you can’t ‘manage’ your reputation

Reputation management is a hot topic: plug it into a search engine, and you’ll come up with a swathe of results outlining why it’s a vital business strategy, articles on how best to do it, and ads for any number of reputation management services and companies offering to handle your reputational needs for you. But, like so many things in life, to manage your reputation is not that simple. And, to be pedantic, it’s not actually possible.

What many marketing companies are offering could be more accurately described as brand management and taken further, they might be pushing online reputation management (ORM) which serves to bury negative content about your company in a slew of positive content. Which is a very different concept to authentic reputational repair.

‘Reputation management’ as a concept is a misnomer, and misleading, because it assumes a level of control and ownership that simply doesn’t exist. Your business’ reputation is defined not by you, but by your stakeholders. The collective sum of their opinions forms your reputation, and as an organisation you can’t dictate those perceptions. In reality, all you can do it try to influence them through a combination of business performance, authentic behaviour and clear, timely communication. Cosmetic approaches will do little to improve your reputation as a whole. A more targeted, intelligent effort, beyond simply blanketing negative reviews to polish up your online presence, is required.

Reputation monitoring can help you

Positively influencing the perception of your company starts with reputation monitoring: tracking mention of your company, and analysing what is being said about your organisation on social media networks, review sites, in the global media. And it continues by engaging with your stakeholders, understanding their concerns, and putting out communications couched in the authentic values and objectives of your business.

All of this adds up to a programme of measuring and mitigating reputational risk. In this way, rather than trying to control the uncontrollable, you can seek to bring stakeholders onboard. And remember: you can’t please all of the people all of the time, so identify those stakeholders who have the greatest influence on your reputation, and focus your efforts on winning them over.

Having accepted what you can’t do, focus on what you can. If you do the right thing, by your customers, your staff, your investors and suppliers, a good reputation will follow. Rather than employing a reputation management company to balance out the negative impact of any wrongdoing, focus your efforts on understanding why stakeholders perceive it as ‘wrong’ – and stop doing it.

The dangers of not listening to stakeholders

A bad reputation arises because you haven’t listened, or you haven’t understood, have disregarded or are ignorant of what your stakeholders are saying. Rather than submitting to the controlling, defensive, suppressive mindset that ORM encourages, initiate a process of listening to, engaging with, and then acting upon what your stakeholders are saying – and your reputation will manage itself.

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