by Heather Landau, founder of Open A European Company.com
Your business is doing brilliantly. You’ve had a successful launch, with customers letting you know how pleased they are. With sales ticking over nicely, you take on more staff, and start developing a new line of products. Then suddenly, performance drops off. Orders stop coming in.
Your online reputation has taken a hit, and you’ve narrowed it down to one of five factors:
1. An overly vocal CEO.
If you’re on Twitter and something goes drastically wrong for your business, you’ll probably find out about it pretty quickly. Personal social media accounts can be useful for CEOs as a way to connect directly with your audience, helping to humanise the brand. But it’s also fraught with danger, as any modern footballer will tell you.
Commenting on current political issues is guaranteed to rile someone, while any current event risks revealing an unpopular or antiquated opinion. Take the famous examples of Gerald Ratner, a British businessman who wiped nearly $1bn off his company’s stock by joking that his products were “utter crap”; or Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries explaining that their clothes were aimed at the “cool kids”, not ‘fat or ugly’ people.
Your words can’t be twisted on social media in the same way as a newspaper article, but sometimes that’s even more incriminating. Be personable and relatable, but refrain from being too honest. Twitter is too often the rope that out of touch celebrities and businesspeople use to hang themselves.
2. Using the wrong tone.
Of all the things a business has to worry about, the tone of its social media posts might seem pretty tertiary. But for many people, a Facebook or Twitter profile will be the first port of call when looking for something, and the last port of call if they have a problem. If you’ve built a particular image and reputation over many years, social media should precisely adhere to it.
The issue here is that social media managers and assistants often don’t come from customer service backgrounds. Many are journalists or PR students looking for a more stable career. As such, while they may have an in-depth knowledge of the platforms, they might not be as familiar with the audience or their needs.
Assuming that a young employee will do a stellar job with your Facebook profile because they ‘know Facebook’ is a bit like casting a famous actor in a musical without checking if they can sing. The principles are roughly the same, but the skillsets are very different. They may have claimed to know all about the company in their interview, but a crash-course wouldn’t hurt.
3. Employees gone rogue.
While I’m sure your business is a utopian idyll for all of your employees, internal disruption has to be an area of consideration. In our experience, self-sabotage by disgruntled workers is one of the most common threats to a business’s brand image. Social media is sometimes treated less seriously than other marketing collateral, with responsibilities – and passwords – delegated to multiple employees.
This level of access creates a danger of abuse, particularly if any of those employees are temporary or otherwise transient. Sometimes that sabotage can be entirely accidental. The increasing propensity to add company logins to mobile phones can lead to accidentally sending personal messages on company profiles.
There is one obvious way to prevent this: limit control of the social media account to as few people as possible. Setting a strong password to prevent it from being hacked is also wise, particularly with news of the recent 1 billion account Yahoo hack. If you’re feeling particularly paranoid, you can always give your social media people lots of money.
4. Poor reviews.
The easiest and most visible attacks on your business can also be the hardest to remove. Reviews on major platforms and marketplaces are governed by terms and conditions as well as defamation laws. But with websites occupying different territories (should it be the business location or server location), they are often loosely applied.
Customer service reps are often not that well versed in the rules, and have to deal with hundreds if not thousands of contested reviews a day. Many sites also allow them to be posted more or less anonymously, encouraging some people to vent to a disproportionate degree.
There are also more review platforms than it seems possible to keep up with. Reviews for products, reviews for businesses, reviews from employees, reviews on online shopfronts, reviews in Schema data for Google…it can be difficult to know what to prioritise. Incoming links will give you an idea, and some of the bigger sites are obviously more important than others. But otherwise it’s just a case of being attentive, and rectifying as much as you can.
5. Burying your head in the sand.
Sometimes when things go wrong, it’s tempting just to batten down the hatches. Maybe you don’t think the problem is too bad, and assume that it will blow over. Perhaps you think it’s simply not possible to address it, or are afraid of the Streisand effect: that an attempt to remove something will usually only spread it further.
The truth is that the biggest risks to your reputation aren’t normally the big publicity events; Samsung and its exploding phones notwithstanding. It’s normally the little things: reviews on seemingly obscure websites, passive-aggressive tweets, Facebook posts about apparent product flaws that go unnoticed.
If there’s any sign of a problem, it could be an indicator for something bigger. With half a dozen or more social media platforms in regular use and millions of posts a minute, you need to be less like an ostrich and more like a meerkat. You’ll be trouble free most of the time, but sometimes you’ve gotta stand tall and scan the horizon.
As the founder of Open A European Company.com, Heather Landau has honed her skills in service advisory from the pragmatic to the practical. With a total of 25 years combined experience in international marketing and business development, Heather is a leading voice on company formation in Europe, and operates similar services across North America and the rest of the world.