The short answer – in an era of Twitter, Youtube and smartphones – is all the time. Now that consumers and employees have the means to influence how the rest of the world sees a brand, managing a brand’s reputation is a round-the-clock, multi-department, multi-media, cross-platform job.
In simpler times – pre-Youtube, pre-Facebook – a brand’s reputation was primarily determined by what a brand said and did in the marketplace. Advertising, product experience, customer service – all of these played a part but were largely managed by the brand. Today, a brand’s own actions and communications are still important but fight for airtime with thousands or millions of other voices, including consumers, employees, media, industry observers, bloggers and more. It’s a cacophony that could easily drown out the brand if not vigilantly monitored and, where possible, influenced.
When something goes wrong – a customer receives poor treatment or an employee posts something inappropriate online – a brand may experience the quick retribution that social media affords, with a potentially lasting effect to its reputation. Worst case scenarios are found in Social Media Influence’s #FAIL: The 50 Greatest Social Media Screw-Ups, a roundup of the brands that became infamous for their social media misadventures.
Schadenfreude aside, it’s worth remembering that with the democratization of media, brand reputation matters more than ever before. According to a Weber Shandwick study on brand reputation, 70% of consumers avoid buying a product if they don’t like the company behind the product. And what informs their opinion of the brand? Word-of-mouth, online or offline, is rated by consumers as the leading influence (88%), followed by online reviews (83%). Advertising trails at 56%. Consumers, it seems, will listen to complete strangers posting reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor before they listen to the brand.
There’s no easy answer to managing reputation as brands become more social and consumers more networked. Certainly a combination of sound customer service practices, clear policies on social media use for employees, a crisis management plan, and a rigorous social listening strategy will serve a brand well. While none are easy to implement, undertaking any is certainly far easier than undoing the damage caused by a social media misstep.