In 2010, the trendy clothing giant H&M learned a hard lesson about reputation management. When a rather large cache of torn, slashed and mutilated garments found in a dumpster outside one of the company’s stores it made news in a bad way. Ultimately, it led to a revelation that the firm promoted a less than politically correct practice of rendering returned clothing unwearable instead of donating it to charity.

Thousands took to social media to share the story, eventually garnering widespread coverage from mainstream media, as well. It took some time for the company to respond. They tweeted simply, “It won’t happen again.” Since that time, however, H&M has been the target of many negative stories ranging from slave labor factories to racism. While the stock prices for the Swedish company have remained on an uptrend, the brand can’t seem to shake the bad press.

This problem isn’t unique to H&M. Thousands of businesses of all sizes are faced with trying to recover from a damaged reputation, every day. But what are the driving factors behind online reputation and how can it be managed?

What Drives Negative Criticism?

Perhaps this is a problem unique to the times in which we live. Social media propagates shareable content that is emotional in nature. If it makes you feel something, anything, you are more likely to share it. A graduate paper looking at personality types in people who post online found that the primary motivations for posting negative reviews online were vengeance and anxiety relief, while positive reviews were motivated by self-enhancement and brand loyalty. A company’s altruism or lack thereof could rate either a positive or negative response.

The Need for Online Reputation Management

Joan Jett didn’t care about hers, but most businesses cannot afford to be cavalier about their reputation. This isn’t a problem that only affects the big brands. In fact, a large company like H&M can weather a scandal better than a small to medium sized business can endure a series of harsher-than-average Yelp! reviews. This often contentious environment makes online reputation management critical for the smaller boutique firms, practices, and companies since they are unable to staff lawyers and professional PR teams to remedy bad reviews.

Strategies That Don’t Work

  • Planting Good Reviews

Some companies, in an attempt to counter negative reviews and press, have resorted to planting positive reviews. It isn’t clear how prevalent the practice is but enough to make buyers and information seekers dubious. While experts recommend that consumers be wary of socially motivated or sourced review, it seems that the trend is to accept the negative reviews at face value and discount the positive reviews as hype.

Similarly, removing bad reviews, negative feedback, or less than positive comments on social media can cause a huge backlash. Transparency is at the heart of building trust in your brand. If users feel they are being censored, they will waste no time spreading the word, giving you yet another strike against your online reputation.

  • Ignoring is not an Option

It might have been good advice when you were 9-years-old and dealt with a bully, however, one of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is to ignore the negative attention. Ignoring the bad reviews piling up online will not make them go away. Even if your company has addressed the source of the complaints, the negative reviews will still be out there to influence the buying decisions by all who see them. Word of mouth, so crucial to small businesses are hurt too by failing to respond to negative PR.

  • Becoming Defensive

This feeling is a human gut reaction to criticism and should be tempered with cool-headed thoughtfulness. Don’t react emotionally to negative reviews. Use the time to consider the source of the criticism, bad review or negative press. Is there any truth or basis to it? Does your company bear any responsibility? Remember that a measured response is a better response.

Effective Online Reputation Management Strategies

The Zen of Social Media Marketing author, Shama Kabani advises

“People are not looking for perfection online. What they’re really looking for is humanity and a genuine response, so a negative review can be a great opportunity to respond in a positive and transparent manner. And that has a good impact on all your customers.”

From a public relations view, a good reputation allows your company to continue operation and build loyalty in its brand. The best defense is always a good offense. Therefore, proactive measures are necessary to protect the image of this brand you have worked so hard to build. Timely responses are needed to counter negative publicity. These responses should include acknowledgment of the issue, steps, both measurable and actionable that your company is taking, a timeline of the remedy and plans for follow-up.

For businesses that are bootstrapping or have limited resources, it is tempting to overlook reputation management as a necessity. However, it is becoming more apparent that reputation management needs to be proactive and aggressive. There are many services and software offerings online that promise PR remediation and reputation management. Do your due diligence to make certain that the methods used by these agencies are in line with best practices and the image you want for your company and your brand.

To discover how the reputation management services offered by Bash Foo can help you prevent and respond to negative reviews or public feedback contact us today.


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