“The switch from traditional media and corporate monologues on websites to social media on the internet makes every Internet user a journalist. People will judge you, your company, and your brand. Reputation Management requires new skills in this radically transparent world.”
It’s one of the most repeated commandments in modern business. Whether that involves being open to criticism or acknowledging your own failings, corporate transparency is the new mode of communication for the modern world. It’s also a direct result of the fact that you’re no longer in direct control of your reputation. Instead, and thanks to the power of the Internet, consumers now have a voice like never before, and they’re able to say whatever they want to about your business on social media and other online platforms.
When it comes to online reputation management, there are two types of brand. First, there are companies that are unwilling to accept that the modern consumer has a far greater voice than before. These organizations might use black-hat tactics, such as employing shills to publish fake reviews while aggressively stamping out any negative feedback. Other brands instead thrive on transparency by actively encouraging their customers to leave feedback on public forums and responding to criticism rather than trying to eradicate it.
So, which is the right approach? Indeed, being transparent is risky, but not being transparent is even riskier in the longer term. By using black-hat tactics to forcibly regain control over your reputation, you run the risk of exposing your business to disaster in the longer term. After all, consumers are much less forgiving when they find out they’ve been lied to, and there’s no better way to demolish your public relations strategy than by being incorrect, inconsistent and plain unethical. That being said, sometimes, transparency comes with a price.
Where Radical Transparency Backfires
These days, we’re often naïvely told to be ourselves and to be open with others. For the most part, that’s sound advice but, when it comes brand building and public relations, being transparent can backfire. This is especially likely to be the case if your employees are not accustomed to social media and its role in public relations. Worse still, scenarios may be compounded by products or services generating too much criticism or by competitors taking advantage of the situation. That’s why you need to be mindful of your online reputation right from the outset.
Many people believe that we function better when we don’t feel the need to secretly cover up our errors or dwell on past mistakes. Owing to this fact, being transparent should increase productivity and morale among your employees which should, in turn, make them better equipped to deal with customers. However, there’s a bit more to it than that. For example, an over-confident employee might be more likely to respond defensively and aggressively to an online review, even if it addresses a legitimate concern:
- In 2010, a customer tweeted to the Toronto-based Dark Horse Espresso bar complaining about the lack of power outlets in the establishment. The café curtly responded saying that they were in the coffee business and not the office business. That tweet quickly went viral and became a shining example of a reputation management failure.
In other situations, radical transparency can have quite the opposite effect:
- In 2016, a customer took to TripAdvisor to complain about being charged £2 for a cup of water with lemon after visiting Bennett’s Café and Bistro in York, England. After being asked to justify the price, the café owner responded by breaking down the cost and explaining every detail in a way that many readers found amusing. The café remains one of the highest-rated in town.
What Can Your Business Learn from the Successes and Failures?
Given that companies no longer have nearly the degree of direct control over their reputations that they used to, being transparent is no longer optional. However, your brand’s reputation hinges on its ability to manage criticism and respond to feedback in the right way. That means there’s a lot more pressure on your marketing team to understand your brand and truly feel like they’re a part of it. At the same time, public relations also rely on your ability to be compassionate, diplomatic and, sometimes, capable of being the bigger person.