Wikipedia’s truly collaborative nature and extraordinary reach make it something of a standout online.
It is also one of the most influential websites, used widely for reference and fact checking by journalists and bloggers.
This means it is particularly important that information about your organisation is accurate, fair and timely – which can be challenging at the best of times and is even trickier in the context of a long-term, simmering issue, or during a high-profile incident or crisis.
Wikipedia expert Bill Beutler kindly shared with me his tips on how to handle Jimmy Wales’ beast in times of trouble.
Here’s the first part of the interview, which was first published by Social Media Today.
You might ask – perfectly legitimately – why I have taken the trouble of writing 60,000+ words about something that should now be well understood. Surely it hardly needs saying that Google, Twitter and Weibo make it harder to manage a company’s name and image, opening it to the whims, prejudices and ulterior motives of disappointed customers, aggrieved employees, malicious competitors, enraged activists and recalcitrant algorithms?
Yet it remains the case that many organisations (and individuals) remain unclear how best to insulate themselves from trouble online, and continue to mess up their response when things go public.
It has not helped that there remains a dearth of practical, common sense advice in this area. There are many reasons for this, from a tendency to see social media as a business and marketing Holy Grail while overlooking the hazards of the conquest, to the fact that most existing guidance is written from a social media marketing, public relations, technology or legal perspective when effective online reputation protection and defence is about all of these working together. Things have also not been helped by a cottage industry of ‘online reputation management’ specialists selling puffed-up search engine solutions.
Managing Online Reputation draws on what I have learned over many years as a communications strategist, PR practitioner and digital/social media marketer mining the seam where communications and reputation, and the internet and social media meet. Accordingly, reputation is tackled primarily from a communications perspective – albeit a broad one – and I make no apologies for this: if issues are left to fester long enough they will almost inevitably become reputational – and hence PR – problems and must be tackled as such.
However, to understand more clearly the risks to reputation posed by social media, and to appreciate the many different response options, I talked with experts in fields such as media and IP law, social and environmental activism, IT security, digital forensics, crisis management, emergency response, social media monitoring, search engine marketing and Wikipedia management.
Given that the social web impacts so many areas of an organisation it should come as little surprise that online reputation is a complex topic. However, Managing OnlineReputation tries not to over-complicate or over-sell the issue. You’ll find it avoids talk of ‘social media crises’ and other hyperbolic marketing phraseology, just as it makes no grand claims about what the many social media business and listening tools now available can do for you. Rather it looks at social media in a broader context, and offers practical, realistic, common-sense advice in plain English.
It is also intended to be interesting. Sprinkled amidst tried and tested ways to categorise, assess and respond to potential problems online, and detailed guidance on how to develop (or update) your crisis plan, you’ll find vignettes about the culture of smears in China and political protest in Hong Kong, the easy and pungent opium of online petitions, the perils of companies attaching themselves to social movements, and what a black swan looks like online. There are also detailed case studies of companies of all shapes and sizes responding successfully to and recovering from fast escalating negative incidents and bona fide crises.
Here’s more of a taster:
More than anything you should come away from reading Managing Online Reputation with the notion that, despite the scepticism in which companies and institutions are held today, and the innate tribalism and volatility of life online, your organisation’s reputation is eminently knowable, manageable and redeemable – as long as you prepare well, keep your head and play it straight.
Managing Online Reputation is available in paperback and as an e-book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, 800-CEO-READ and other outlets.
You can find out more about the book and how to order it here.
It came as something of a shock. Arriving in Singapore from London in 2006 to run a global PR consultancy’s digital capabilities across Asia-Pacific, it quickly became clear that while digital marketing in the region was in rude health, corporate use of digital communications was often poor and sometimes non-existent.
Budgets were small and the outlook mostly short-term. Many firms were struggling to understand the role and value of online PR. Key stakeholders were apparently not yet using Twitter. For companies, websites were Kings; email and search were its Queens and social media was but an Infant mewling about buzz and bloggers.
Much progress has been made over the past few years, not least a broad realisation that a proactive approach to digital communications that includes social media is a must-have. And well it should be. Asians are some of the most mobile, networked and digitally-savvy individuals in the world. The world’s most social consumers in virtually every product category, Asians not only consume huge volumes of online content but also create more videos and other output than people in any other region.
Equally, many Asians are increasingly aware of their rights as consumers and citizens and are prepared to take a public stand when they see these rights compromised. Negative product and service experiences are widely shared online, as firms such as Vodafone and Dolce & Gabbana havediscovered to their cost. Civil society actors such as WALHI in Indonesia are using the Internet and word of mouth highly professionally to force change. Suddenly, the range of potential reputation red lights has expanded significantly.
While there has been a flowering of company Facebook pages and Twitter and Weibo handles over recent years, there remains plenty to do if organisations are to fully leverage the benefits and limit the threats inherent in today’s digitised communications landscape.
VMA’s recent Pulse study on corporate communications trends in Asia identifies three key digital challenges for corporate communication teams:
Thin understanding and education
Lack of budget, dedicated or otherwise
Concerns about what employees may say online.
How should corporate communications teams accelerate their digital transformation? Here are three topline recommendations:
Education: While much traction for social media can be gained through trial and error, substantive progress is unlikely to be achieved without the buy-in of company leadership. Make a though and objective assessment of the broad range of opportunities and risks of social media and, if you don’t have one already, identify a strong and respected internal executive champion to establish ownership and authority, take responsibility for educating the CEO and other senior leaders, and to sell the vision. If that individual is in brand marketing or another function outside communications, make sure they are on your side and that you have a consistent vision. And whichever operating structure is chosen for digital/social media (centralised, de-centralised etc), ensure your team is actively playing its part and leveraging its known strengths: internal access and influence, external listening and engagement, management of corporate reputation.
Budget: Budgetary support will increase as a result of leadership confidence and buy-in. Don’t get hamstrung just because there is not a standalone digital/social corporate communications budget or figure that social media should live in PR. Many firms now have dedicated social media teams that sit independently of communications; for instance, while social media resides within marketing at Ford, the Digital Acceleration team at Nestle owns social media and reports simultaneously to marketing and corporate communications. Beyond this, be clear what you are trying to achieve and report regularly using metrics that are relevant and understandable to top leadership.
Behaviour: Increasingly, communications is seen to work in the long-term interests of a company’s reputation, providing it with a legitimate interest in ensuring sound employee behaviour. Accordingly, communications should work closely with other relevant areas of the business to identify and mitigate possible behavioural reputational risks, rather than simply having to manage them once they occur. Many organisations now have a corporate social media policy of some description that sets out the parameters of employee behaviour in social media, but few have successfully ensured that their people (as well as others within their ecosystem such as sales agents) fully understand and live by these documents.
In my experience working both in in-house PR and as an external communications and social media consultant, the image of corporate communications can suffer by appearing too far removed from the realities of day-to-day life in the trenches.
Social media makes managing reputation in real-time a company-wide prerogative. Corporate communicators must get into the trenches and fight the good fight. Being seen to do this will help accelerate digital as much as anything else.