Managing corporate reputation in the digital age!
By Tabani Moyo
In discussing the complex subject of corporate reputation management in the digital age, one is tempted to list a number of brands that have failed beyond measure to manage their respective reputations online. However, due to space constraints, I will confine myself to a few of them.
A couple of weeks ago, on July 4 specifically, a frustrated customer Yolanda Washaya posted a ‘fake Bakers Inn loaf of bread’ on her page which did not meet the standard product requirements of 700g a loaf. The pictures were evident enough to convince everyone online that the loaf seemed to have been produced by one of the make-shift bakeries as opposed to the top bread and confectionary producers in the country. She tagged the Bakers Inn official Facebook page, registering her disappointment. Much to her shock, the company on the 11th of July 2017, deleted her post on their page. What a disaster!
Some time ago, frustrated customers attempted to launch what they called #ThisPorkPie in response to the poor quality of the once priced Pork Pie from Colcom Foods. They tagged the company’s Facebook page around this time in 2016. Colcom Foods turned a blind eye on the protest and continued with producing the sub-standard product. Surprisingly both brands are part of the INNSCOR group of companies.
Colcom had at one moment in time the reputation of making the best pies in town. This reputation has been squandered through poor product service and fueled by the rise of social media. In conversation with colleagues, I get a feeling that it is much better if the company discontinue the brand and focus on its other competitive products. The product’s continued stay in retail refrigerators, in the current state, is an adequate reputational risk to the entire company.
The above-isolated cases, speak to some of the deadly sins in managing corporate reputation online. I will, therefore, attempt to give four key recommendations towards improving corporate reputation management online:
Build a strong social media presence: To avoid the mistakes that befall many brands, companies should always determine the platforms that they feel appropriate for both their products and envisaged reputation. This should be done with the stakeholders in mind. Having identified the relevant platforms and the capacity to generate content for the same, there is need to craft a competitive digital strategy to engage the stakeholders in a bid to build a rock solid reputation.
There is a need for the brands to realise that the platforms are not established for creating promotional materials and adverts, but for relevant and consistent messages that are useful to the targeted stakeholders. This will position the brands as credible sources of information on the issues tackled in the content.
As usual, there is equally a need for the realisation that we have evolved from the push and pull economy to the sharing economy. If your content is not being shared then it limits the brand exposure and the envisaged reputation.
Guard your soul (Why are you in existence?): While both Bakers Inn and Colcom communicate top-end service to the market, their online approach seems to be contrary. This is a reputational risk to the brands. Brands must, therefore, be consistent with their founding values in content produced and posted on the marketing channels. This is how reputation and loyalty are consolidated. When the companies are inconsistent, erratic, arrogant or offensive, it erodes customer trust and builds resentment towards the brands. Others like Steward Bank, are on the offensive side of the equation, irrespective of the clogging complaints on their online platforms, they continue advertising their services without any sense of remorse or regret.
Encourage reviews: This requires companies to encourage word of mouth recommendations from customers and stakeholders. Remember, people generally trust people, not brands. When you allow customers and other stakeholders to review your reputation online, the company is seen as open, transparent and engaging, which ultimately builds and maintains trust. But this requires companies that listen and take corrective measures to the market challenges. Steward Bank seem to be slow in this regard and hopefully, one of these days it will realise the harm it is inflicting to its own reputation.
Responsive customer service & online teams: Frustrated customers are very temperamental, they go online and mobilise the whole world around the poor services or failing products. This calls for the entire company to be built as oiled machinery in absorbing feedback and response mechanisms. By responding to those with negative feedback and help to resolve their issues, the company will be limiting reputational damage. Do not delete negative comments like our colleagues at Bakers Inn. In addition, remember to acknowledge positive feedback from the loyal customers and stakeholders as this helps in creating brand advocates.