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Meet the One Person Who Can Ruin Your Brand Tomorrow

A model, tweeting the failed attempts of a married man to pick her up on a cross-country flight.

A student with a smartphone who captured a video of bullies viciously taunting a bus monitor.

A blogging 9-year-old, chronicling the underwhelming food served in her elementary school cafeteria.

What do these three individuals have to do with social media? They’re all examples of the new reality social media has brought us: everything is public now – or at least has the potential to be.

We live in public

Without Twitter, YouTube and blogs, we likely never would have heard these now-widespread stories. But we did, because there’s no such thing as secrets anymore – for people or brands.

Today, we all live in public – and for brands, the nervous breakdown has never been closer at hand. One thoughtless tweet like Celeb Boutique’s can lead to widespread outrage. One coordinated attack on reputation like Shell’s “Arctic Ready” nightmare can leave your brand in shambles.

83% of companies will face a reputation crisis. Where will the damage come from? Who knows. When will it arrive? Dunno. And who is the one person who can ruin your brand’s reputation tomorrow? It could be anyone.

Surviving the new reality

So what’s the solution to this lurking nightmare? While you can’t predict every possible scenario you, your brand or your clients could face, there are a few proactive steps and strategies you can enlist to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for whatever lies ahead.

Embrace transparency
The first step is to adapt to the new “we live in public” mantra and run your business as if absolutely everyone you’ve ever known is watching you – including your Grandma. “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” said C.S. Lewis – and we’re getting there the hard way these days, because there’s always someone watching.

Train your staff
Anyone in your business who’ll touch social media for your brand or on their own (and that’s pretty much everyone) might do well to remember that the Library of Congress is saving every tweet. Without stifling employees, make sure they understand the permanence of social media and the fact that what they say inevitably reflects on their workplace.

Monitor your reputation
Employ social media monitoring tools to make sure you’re alerted to all mentions of your company, brand and products. Brands with a high volume of mentions can look for a tool that automatically monitors sentiment to bring negative mentions to the forefront more quickly for faster action.

Listen intelligently
Many potential crises can be headed off before they even begin with intelligent listening. Take your community’s temperature often and pay attention to the feedback you’re receiving.

Empower employees
When something goes wrong, we all want it fixed as quickly as possible. For your brand, make sure any employee has the power and judgement to make things right immediately, rather than waiting for a chain of command.

Plan for a crisis
Time isn’t on your side in a reputation management crisis. Plan ahead to make sure everyone’s in the loop and decisions can be made and communicated quickly.

Practice brutal honesty
Your best weapon in the fight for your reputation is honest communication, and a lot of it. Be clear and direct with your community in good times and bad.

Swallow your pride
Even if you’re positive you’ve done everything right, you could still find yourself facing an unhappy customer. While it may not seem fair, it’s often better for your business to concede than to escalate an argument.

What other steps are you taking to protect yourself or your company from a crisis? Let me know in the comments.

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