As COVID-19 continues to disrupt business across the globe, it seems that the only thing we can be certain of is a relentlessly steep rate of change. Every part of life is operating differently right now, compelling us all to find new ways to thrive. There is no status quo.
Consequently, your strategy for protecting your company’s online reputation must change too. Since the “new normal” constitutes virtually no normalcy at all, the prospect of having to reinvent your company’s online presence may seem daunting to you—especially if you might have to change direction abruptly when circumstances take another turn. We couldn’t blame you for being apprehensive, but we will also be the first to tell you that this is the time to seize the reins.
As the pandemic lingers on, the best strategy to fortify your online reputation is a proactive one. This unprecedented crisis presents us with inevitable challenges, but there are also elements of opportunity and even hidden gifts. With the right investment of time and resources, you and your team can write a new chapter in your digital identity—one that will serve you well as our future takes a concrete shape.
Take a Proactive Approach
Keeping your digital identity positive during the COVID-19 crisis necessitates augmenting the fundamental steps of online reputation management (ORM). Typically, managing your brand involves these four ORM steps:
- Evaluate. Examine your company’s current online presence to uncover vulnerabilities.
- Build. Shape your relationship with target audiences through engaging online content—while preventing negative content.
- Monitor. Make ORM an ongoing concern, proactively preserving your local, regional, and global reputation and mitigating reputation risks.
- Repair. Immediately address defamatory content.
Your brand’s image isn’t static, and your approach to managing it does not have a fixed endpoint. To keep your online reputation strong, each step should be revisited and repeated on a regular basis: constantly evaluate, build, monitor, and repair your digital assets.
In a typical year, your reputation would already exist in a fluctuating business and social environment. During this pandemic, however, this fluctuation is some kind of tsunami-tornado hybrid. With that in mind, we have some suggestions for tailoring your ORM strategy.
ORM 2.0 for COVID-19
During the crisis, you should still follow the four steps of evaluate, build, monitor, and repair, but with some additions and modifications. By giving attention to these steps in a different light, you will effectively communicate to others that your company is making a positive contribution during these difficult times. You will let them know that you are doing business in a sensitive, appropriate way that is helpful to people and other businesses.
As you evaluate your existing brand touchpoints across various digital platforms, scrutinize all visuals and messages for their appropriateness considering today’s environment. You want to ensure that your content and images convey both empathy and transparency. Some businesses—perhaps many who do business with your company—have been hit hard by coronavirus and changes in customer buying behaviors.
Ask yourself: Is this image or message right given the current circumstances? What level of humor is it appropriate to use right now? Should I take down those images of high-fiving teams and replace them with something that puts a positive slant on social distancing remote working? Am I conveying solidarity, positivity, and strength? Have we failed to show how our business is helping mitigate risks to the health of others?
A post or campaign that was appropriate a month ago may be seen as insensitive as circumstances change, outbreaks occur, or new mandates are put into effect.
Be agile on all the platforms where partnerships between companies can still be fostered and forged. That includes all earned, paid, and owned media, including social media, directory listings, industry platforms, and internal communication channels and tools. Again, authentically conveying empathy and transparency is critical.
Ramp up your social media engagement initiatives. As we explore new ways to work and live in isolation, there is more business connectivity on social media than ever before. You should be active on those channels, and maximize them by showing potential business partners how you can help them thrive.
Let your customers, prospects, and stakeholders know how you are part of the solution. If there are ways you can help other businesses better fortify themselves against uncertainties, convey that message. Above all, be helpful. If your company has done acts of good, tell that story and invite others to do the same. Content that lessens anxiety and illustrates solutions is critical to building a positive brand image.
You will need to monitor your online reputation more frequently now due to rapidly changing global circumstances. This presents a fantastic opportunity to refine your analytics strategy and reporting by employing multiple artificial intelligence (AI) tools.
To say that AI and big data analytics simplifies the monitoring process is a great understatement. Using natural language processing (NLP) models, AI can decipher what your audience is saying on social media, websites, and other online forums and create metrics that help you understand stakeholder perceptions and preferences. You can also use analytic tools to monitor your competition’s messaging to be better positioned to meet the changing business needs of the marketplace.
AI automates the monitoring process so you can spend less time on the groundwork of ORM and focus on crafting the content and messaging that will best serve your business partnerships. If your AI tools identify weaknesses, such as bad reviews or other commentary, you will be able to move quickly and effectively.
During a time of crisis, it is more necessary than ever to address negative or erroneous content immediately. Don’t wait for defamatory articles or media to amplify and go viral; fear and misinformation spread incredibly quickly online, and it can do immense harm to online reputations.
It’s important to remember that Google’s search algorithms are crafted to show a balance of positive and negative content when such content is available. If someone searches for information about you or your company and there is negative content out there, it is likely to surface on the first page of results. This is one of the many reasons why you should consciously focus on immediately mitigating or eliminating communications that detract from your online brand reputation.
One of the most obvious actions to take is to never allow negative reviews to sit and fester. Your considered response is as much for the writer of that review as for all subsequent readers. Other content that is incorrect or defamatory may require a range of approaches. These can include suppression (reverse SEO), content removal, and even legal backup. If content exists that suggests your company is not taking the virus, the safety of workers, or the safety of customers seriously, don’t take it lying down. There is much you can do to mitigate or remove this kind of content and let others know your company is doing your utmost to contribute to our pandemic-besieged world in a positive way.
All of the above measures to maintain a positive online reputation apply equally to companies and individuals. During this crisis, remember that the statements and actions of the people who make up a company are just as important as the public face of the company itself. As individuals and businesses, we all want others to know that we are engaged in building a constructive and positive future.
Have a Strong Presence in the Face of Uncertainty
These times are rife with uncertainty, but there is one thing your clients and connections can be certain of (if you are sufficiently intentional about it): your dedication to doing business safely, forming partnerships that thrive, and providing services that help.
If online reputation management is important to you but you are unsure of the execution, a qualified expert can help you curate a positive digital presence while mitigating reputational risks. The right team can handle negative online posts and minimize their potential to seriously affect your bottom line. When your Google results accurately reflect how you provide value, you can foster trust more effectively while also preparing for a digital crisis in the future—whatever that may look like.
Laura Powers is the Director of Development and Communication at the Philadelphia Bar Foundation.