Reputation management has grown exceedingly complex as technology penetrates corporate corridors and transforms steel-framed monoliths into glass houses. In light of these unprecendented changes, Weber Shandwick asked global business leaders how they were managing their company reputations online and offline. If you go to www.online-reputations.com, you can read about the research which we conducted in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The survey is titled “Risky Business: Reputations Online.”
After 9-11, I investigated how companies used their Web sites to inform people about what was happening and stay in touch as the world stood still. In 2001, most companies performed poorly in communicating to customers, vendors and employees about the tragic events. Web sites were referred to as brochureware and were fairly limited at the time. Today, CEOs and business leaders have so many more tools at their disposal. The USAirways Jet that went down in the Hudson River just weeks ago was Twittered just moments after the plane safely glided into chilly waters. Today some CEOs and business leaders host blogs explaining their points of view and allowing them to respond to criticism or suggestions. The new American president–CEO of America Inc.– uses social media effectively and it played a big role in his win for the White House. In fact, yesterday I received an email from President Obama’s team asking for my support in passing the stimulus package! Back in 2002 when the dot com explosion burst and recession followed, we did not have many of the tools we have today to manage reputation. The economic downturn in 2008 and 2009 is the first time that a recession is hovering over us and Web 2.0 is widely accessible to boost or destroy reputations. Alas, times are different and the rules are now being rewritten on how to manage reputation and particularly online.
Leaders must embrace and endorse all the tools they can to communicate with their stakeholders and most importantly, to listen for early warning signs, spark conversation with customers, accept transparency and advocate their positions. In our research, global business leaders told us that after the quality of their products and services, the top drivers of reputation were leadership credibility, transparency and positive word of mouth. Reputations cannot be built, enhanced or defended today without deep consideration for how a company behaves online and its willingness to engage all stakeholders. The Age of Reputation has arrived and it matters not whether it is online or offline.