Reputation Management In an Era of Total Transparency

Jonathan Hemus
Jonathan Hemus Director, Insignia Communications

Posted on October 31st 2012

Reputation Management In an Era of Total Transparency

TransparencyThis year’s TrustBarometer from Edelman shows that trust in chief executives has plummeted: only four in ten people view CEOs as “credible spokespeople”.  This finding underlines the enormous challenge that businesses face in achieving successful reputation management today.

The context in which leaders must communicate and manage reputation is very different to the one they faced five short years ago.  It is characterised by:

  • A lack of trust

Ever since Enron, trust in business has declined: the banking crisis has further eroded the regard with which we view businesses and their bosses.  This means that leaders have to build credibility and trust in order for their communication to be effective.

  • The death of deference

Respect for all establishments has diminished dramatically: it’s hardly surprising when people perceive that a Prime Minister may be economical with the truth in order to take us to war.  This means that leaders should expect to be challenged on what they say, rather than people believing them just because they are an authority figure.

  • Greater scepticism

People simply don’t believe what they’re told these days, and why should they?  After all, News International told us that phone hacking was isolated to a couple of rogue reporters.  This means that leaders cannot simply assert something; they need to prove it with evidence and actions.

In the bad old days, organisations could say one thing and do another.  The transparency provided by social media means that those days are gone forever.  Business leaders should expect that anything they say or do behind supposedly closed doors will become public knowledge.  Communicate and act accordingly.

  • Expectation of swift and expansive communication

One of the old strategies for crisis communication was to keep your head down, say nothing and hope that the problem would blow over.  It was rarely a good strategy then, and it’s even less likely to be viable today.  The speed and spread of crises, driven by social media, requires leaders and their organisations to respond quickly and broadly if a problem occurs.  Crisis planning is essential if reputation is to be protected.

  • A loss of control

Power used to lie in the hands of big business and that conferred control.  Today, stakeholders – employees, customers, neighbours – have the ability to damage your reputation and business if you don’t engage with them properly (take a look at what happened to LA Fitness when it tried to play hardball with one of its customers).   Leaders must listen and engage with their stakeholders if they are to retain the value of their reputation.

  • Demand for authenticity

In an era when trust and respect is in short supply, genuinely authentic business leaders will prosper.  People will be attracted to them, follow and support them.  The greatest test of authenticity comes when the organisation faces a crisis: a reputation which has been built over many years will rest upon the words and actions of the business and its leader at a time of maximum pressure.  Saying and doing the right thing in accordance with your values is essential to protect your reputation.

The new context for business leadership is extremely challenging, but provides enormous opportunities for executives who understand and embrace it. 

 


We know that the impact of social media on reputation management is on the minds of many organisations and so we’re organising a webinar to share research, cases and our insight into what you can do to ensure that your reputation is well protected in the event of a social media fuelled incident. To register follow the link: https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/591579794

 

Jonathan Hemus

Jonathan Hemus

Director, Insignia Communications

For further insights into and advice on crisis and reputation management, follow Jonathan on Twitter @jhemusinsignia, subscribe to Insignia Communication's YouTube channel or view our website.

About Jonathan Hemus:

Jonathan is an experienced communication counsellor with over 25 years’ experience providing reputation management advice and training to world leading organisations and brands. He is known for his specialist expertise in crisis communication and is a highly regarded trainer and coach.

At Insignia he has developed plans and delivered training to prevent and prepare for crisis, and advised organisations in the midst of major incidents and issues. He has advised organisations including Diageo, Disney, the International Cricket Council, Lafarge, Novartis, Procter and Gamble, PwC across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America.

Jonathan is a regular media commentator on reputation management matters having featured on Sky News, BBC TV and radio, Al Jazeera, CNN, The Times of London and a wide range of international, regional and sector-specific media. He has also spoken on reputation management, crisis communication, PR and reputational risk management at national and international conferences and events.

 

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Comments

Kent Ong
Posted on November 1st 2012 at 10:48AM

If we always walk the talk, then our reputation would be great. A lot of people have big talk but bad implementation. It spoils the trust. :)

Jonathan Hemus
Posted on November 1st 2012 at 11:00AM

Kent

I totally agree: truly authentic communicators will build the strongest reputations in this new transparent era

Jonathan

MikeWise07
Posted on November 2nd 2012 at 1:55PM

I ran a Social Tech Boot Camp in New Orleans for a large health insurance agency/third party administrator this past week. It was the collision of so many things, including sentiments of compassion from Katrina survivors for people in the thick of Sandy, the politics of Obamacare, and, to the point of this article, the swing of a leadership team from squarely against Social Tech to decidedly in favor. What struck me as I got to know the company is that the way they do business is PERFECTLY suited for an age of transparency:

  • Ethical
  • Generous
  • Compassionate
  • Patriotic
  • Hard-working
  • Loyal

The era of Social Tech is where all those great business practices will pay-off.

However, on the flip side, the opposite is also true. A word to the wise, FWIW: Beware of making statements which you don't know, OF A CERTAINTY, are true. Search Engines provide validation right at the fingertips, right now. Cliche's, industry jargon, corporate speak, and all the rest of the C-Suite bs will only intensify negative sentiment. Executives simply MUST know this stuff - there is no substitute.

An idea: Stop non-essential and discretionary activities, like the exercise in frustration called GOLF, during prime time (and derisively chuckling about "...twitter..."), and spend that time learning about Social Tech. You will be handsomely rewarded. Yes, you DO have the time.

IMHO: Learn Social Tech. If you don't, get out of the game now; YOU WILL get crushed by it.