Harnessing Your Company’s Reputation with (the Right) Content

October 2018

Image: iStock

I live in a town that’s served by a modest amount of small businesses, including a driving school that my millennial daughter attended and now follows on Facebook. The company’s page is typically populated with helpful tips and lots of images of teens proudly holding up their completion certificates. My daughter, however, recently was miffed by the driving school’s Facebook post, which stated, “Just returned the two pairs of @nike I bought last weekend . . .,” The post was followed by #nikeboycott #istand @nfl #thinblueline. The post, at last count, received four endorsing comments and 34 “likes” in support of the business owner’s action. My daughter responded to the post stating, “How is this related to your driving school? Seems inappropriate to me.” The driving school owner responded by posting, “This is my page and I’ll post what I want.” The owner went on to explain his reasons for his Nike boycott. My daughter countered that she respected his First Amendment rights but cautioned him about taking sides on racially charged issues on a business’ page. She later deleted her comments to avoid harassment. 

The impact of this business owner’s post can never be truly determined, but an October 2018 study, “Navigating Zero Gravity,” conducted by the PR firm FleishmanHillard, reveals that 66% of consumers* say they have often or sometimes stopped using certain products or services because the company’s response to an issue does not support their personal views. Ouch!

Political- and social movement-laced opinions are turbo blasted online, which can create a minefield for companies. Consumers often want companies—big and small—to weigh in and make a pro- or con-infused contribution on societal topics. Reputation managers and marketing teams are scrambling to avoid touchy topics that may alienate audiences, rein in their employees’ company-related posts, and look for appropriate ways to respond to topical issues … because this all impacts their business. 

Silence isn’t always golden

What may help some companies navigate polarizing issues is their ability to share company values. The FleishmanHillard study found that 61% of respondents surveyed believe it’s important for companies to express their views, even if they disagree with a company’s position. And 75% of those surveyed are millennials within the U.S., who increased that number by 14%.

Held to your own standard

There’s pressure on companies to be on their best behavior, as 47% of the survey respondents stated they are less likely to purchase from companies believed to behave in ways that are in conflict with their brand and corporate values. To avoid inconsistencies, a company needs to establish their brand and values and ensure they are being followed by all from the top down. 

If your company suffers a perceived misjudgment, craft a timely response because there’s room for forgiveness—43% of consumers said that if a company explains why they have taken a position on an issue, they are extremely or very likely to continue to support them. But don’t be disingenuous or blatantly exploit a situation … 90% of those surveyed said companies often/sometimes take advantage of issues for their own benefit. As a result, more than 55% of engaged consumers felt less favorable toward the company.

Be prepared to take a stand

In the short-term, a company could be thrust into the spotlight unexpectedly, so it’s prudent to be primed to engage your audience with concision. A long-term plan should reflect how your company is anticipating the cultural, social or economic impact of your products and services, and how you are actively evaluating and communicating changes in policies and evolving company values … 79% of survey respondents say this matters to them.

Consider preparing and queuing up your company’s position on these issues that have been cited with the highest expectations for taking stands in the U.S.:

Source: https://fleishmanhillard.com/wp-content/uploads/meta/resource-file/2018/navigating-zero-gravity-1538566960.pdf


Tips on building your good reputation

Conveying your company’s branding, values and how you serve and solve customer’s problems requires the ability to create compelling narratives with focus and consistency. Here’s a few considerations to help you get started:

  • Establish social media engagement guidelines for employees.
  • Use a workflow that allows stakeholders to review communications to keep everyone on the same page.
  • Form a code of conduct aligned with your company values.
  • Refer to your company mission and values as guidance.
  • Build a consistent brand and narrative using words and imagery that complies with your brand guidelines.
  • At the heart of your communications, focus on solving your customer’s needs.
  • Make your company’s purpose clear.
  • Task a communications-trained C-level leader as a spokesperson for hot topics.
  • Be authentic by backing up your words with actions.
  • Show your commitment to customers and community and how it relates to your company’s values.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of taking positions on issues.

Back to that small business my daughter engaged with on Facebook: They likely were not grossly impacted as they are the only brick-and-mortar driving school in our small town. But it’s also possible that neighboring driving schools will benefit from additional business for those who do their homework and find that polarizing post.

Thank you for reading this.

Maureen Joyce

*A survey of 2,000 engaged consumers in the U.S. and U.K., 18 years of age and older (spanning four generations—Millennials, Gen-X, Boomers and the Silent 73+).