The Importance of Online Reputation – and How to Manage It
Four keys for managing a company’s online reputation...2 Apr 2019 2197 Views
Written by Joshua Jong
Having a good reputation is essential because it is the foundation for value judgement of a company (Gray & Balmer, 1998). The reputation is something that evolves over time and is not easy to build op, compared to the brand image. The reputation is interesting for many company’s stakeholders and will therefor affect the willingness of stakeholders to either provide or withhold support (Gray & Balmer, 1998). ” If its customers develop a negative perception of the company or its products, its sales and profits assuredly will decline” (Gray & Balmer, 1998) – This statement clearly defines why reputation is important. According to Bunting & Lipski (2001), corporate reputations are not defined by their actions, but how others perceive and respond to it.
Electronic word of mouth (eWOM) is a new term, and has accelerated the speed and accessibility of information shared among people (Huete-Alcocer, 2017), why bad information online now can travel with the speed of light, quickly creating impact on companies, starting a crisis and destroying the online reputation.
Consumer are gaining power
The consumer never had any power over large corporations. However, the Web 2.0, and social media have given the individual consumer a voice, making it possible to create a one-to-many and many-to-many communication. Now it is easier to gather information, and interact with one or another through social media and it is in general easier for the consumers to band together and create common opinions. (Pitt, Berthon, Watson, & Zinkhan, 2002) Consumers on social media can now be so influential that they can shape company strategies through feedback, creating pressure on the company (Godin, 2008). The increased focus on sustainability with companies being greener and environmental friendly is generated by increased focus from consumers (Davis, 2011).
Customer reviews are also something that has been revolutionized and it is really important for companies to receive good reviews. 88 % of consumers trust online reviews, why social listening has become more critical than ever (DeMers, 2015). But customers are more likely to share bad experiences than good ones online, which can create an unrealistic picture of the company and damage the online reputation (Marinescu, Chamberlain, & Smart, 2018).
United Airlines, and how they became the worlds most hated airline company in just one day
On April 9th, 2017, a passenger was violently removed from his seat in a United Airlines flight. United Airlines had overbooked the flight, in order to get room for four employees in a partner company. As no passenger wished to give up their seat, United Airlines randomly chose four passengers to give up their seat. One passenger refused because he was a doctor, and needed to get home and treat patients the next day. The airline called for assistance from the aviation police and that was when the situation escalated. Several of the passengers recorded the incident, and on the footage, one can see that guards are aggressively grabbing and then dragging the passenger down the aisle of the plane. This incident led to a major crisis, with customers boycotting the company, and a so-called “shitstorm” started on social media, which affected the online reputation. Business Insider (2017) uploaded a YouTube video about the incident.
As seen from the illustrations above, the mentions and negative sentiments of United Airlines on social media increased dramatically, and hashtags such as ”#boycottunited” were posted.
This crisis affected the stock exchange, and the dive wiped out an estimated $255 million of the airline’s market value (Shell, 2017).
The CEO of United Airlines Oscar Munoz apologized only for “having to re-accommodate … customers” (Petroff, 2017). Shortly afterward, an internal e-mail written by the CEO was released to the media. Here he described the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent” and that “employees followed established procedures for dealing with situations like this”. It was not until 2 days later that CEO issued a full-throated apology, calling the episode “truly horrific.” (Petroff, 2017). This incident and the behaviour of United Airlines was not well received by the public and was shared all over social media and review sites, and newspaper articles were published, destroying the brand’s reputation online even more (Czarnecki, 2017).
When searching on the “United Airlines” today, we must acknowledge that they have done a good job, “cleaning up” and restoring their online reputation. No bad content is to be found on the first pages on Google – unless one search for the specific crisis.
4 keys in the management of online reputation
The best tool for handling bad reputation online is to be proactive and prevent it from happening. The first two keys can be used in early stages in order to prevent it – but can also be used when bad reputation has induced a crisis. The last two keys are not limited to online only, and are mostly relevant in crisis management.
Monitoring the web for negative eWOM
This is what would be considered the “heart” of online reputation management. Managers should analyse the Internet for what is being said about the brand. It is not only about detecting bad consumer reviews or comments on social media, but also content produced by employees or other stakeholders. To monitor eWOM about the brand, different tools such as Google Alert, or Social Mention can help companies to early detect negative eWOM. (Stenger, 2014)
Suppress content or reply
If negative content is found, it is essential to react quickly in order to protect the online reputation. If the content is illegal, managers should approach the web administrator, requesting deletion of content according to copyright reasons. If content is not illegal, managers should still request for removal of content or possibility to reply to the content –if possible. (Stenger, 2014). It is important to respond to critics’ concerning the brand, but simultaneously recognizing the consumers right to have a different point of view (Bunting & Lipski, 2001). You can see this phase as a fire fighter that extinguishes a small fire that has not erupted yet, but is potentially dangerous.
If a crisis occurs – Be honest, transparent and respond
If the news of a company, acting in an unethical way is released, the information can travel very fast through social media (Hornik, Satchi, Cesareo, & Pastore, 2015) ”If there is one truism driving Web 2.0 branding, it is that everything that can be exposed will be exposed; for all intents and purposes, muckraking has become a mainstream sport” (Fournier & Avery, 2011). In crisis communication management – which is very essential, it is crucial that companies show transparency and act authentic. (Fournier & Avery, 2011). If the problem exists, companies should acknowledge and apologize instead of trying to avoid the problem or ”bury the evidence”, by e.g. deleting consumer comments. It can be discussed whether the crisis with United Airlines could have been reduced considering how bad this incident was. But PR experts say that compassion and intent to make things right could have made them look like an airline that cares (Petroff, 2017). Consumers can very easily lose trust in brands, however, if a brand shows transparency and honesty, consumers have a tendency to be far more forgiving (Fournier & Avery, 2011). Responding on social media is recommended, and by using the same social media platform as were the crisis spreads out, the bigger the change is for the same people being exposed to the message. (Moffat, 2014)
Rebuild online reputation
It is important to build up the overall reputation again after a media crisis, and companies should try to remove or suppress the bad content online. Therefore, suppressing or replying to content is something that should be used as part of the clean-up of the online reputation as well, so that more stakeholders are not exposed to the bad online reputation. Producing new good content, and using Search Engine Optimization to make the good content rank higher than the bad is recommended. There is no specific recipe of how to restore a brand, but according to Sims (2009) some of the activities could be, working with regulators to settle charges or legal suits, changing the leadership of the organization and punishing unethical behaviour. The crisis is something that cannot be ignored if the management wish to restore the reputation. (Sims, 2009) ”The true test of successfully rebuilding reputation following an ethical scandal will be an organization’s ability to remain scandal-free despite the temptation to “color outside of the ethical societal lines.”” (Sims, 2009)
As been projected through this post, the Web 2.0 has had a great impact on reputation management, giving consumers a voice, and revolutionizing word of mouth. Therefor it is critical that companies are even more careful about their actions. Ethical issues can destroy a company’s online reputation within hours. Companies should therefor be proactive and handle content that could be a potential threat.
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Students from the International Marketing and Brand Management program at Lund University are the contributing authors for the BrandBase blog.