reputation, corporate reputation, personal reputation, company's reputation, online reputation

Control the Conversation: Know What to Share and Not to Share Online

TMI (too much information) is a funny little acronym that’s used most often in jest. However, offering up too much information can have serious consequences in our digital world, both personally and professionally. There were 16.7 million victims of identity theft in the U.S. last year, primarily due to information obtained online. Organizational leaks, ranging from minor embarrassments to significant legal and financial disasters are commonplace on the nightly news. Who hasn’t chuckled at embarrassing photos or recorded conversations of politicians or corporate leaders that mysteriously surface online? One comment has sunk the career of more than one business professional, and even Hollywood stars. It’s clear that thinking strategically about what to share and not to share online is critical to maintaining security, as well as a reputable corporate and personal reputation.

Balance is needed to know what to share and what not to share online. Playing it safe and just staying off the virtual airways is not an option for today’s companies. By 2021, it’s estimated that 216 million people will use social media. That equals a huge potential for brands to reach their target markets. Developing your brand’s personality through social media and other online forums is critical to success.

There’s Power in Numbers

In a report from Sprout Social, researchers studied 289,000 public social media profiles and surveyed more than 1,000 consumers. Forty-eight percent said they preferred to buy from brands that were “responsive to their customers on social media.” Even more telling, 36 percent of respondents said they are more likely to buy from a brand that is viewed as humorous. Seventy-nine percent of Millennials and 84 percent of other generations said they like it when brands let their personalities shine on Facebook. Witty. Funny. Popular. Cool. These are all traits that are important for companies to develop through their social media marketing strategies, both the company’s accounts and the individual accounts of company leaders and employees.

However, sharing content that is “cool” is a slippery slope. You risk offending some of your audience or potentially leaking confidential information. The same survey found that 51 percent of respondents will “unfollow” a brand that does something they do not like. Twenty-seven percent will report them as spam, and another 27 percent will completely boycott the brand.

Clearly, the stakes are high when it comes to what is shared online. How can an effective corporate reputation management strategy help companies strike a balance?

How to Control the Conversation

The key to developing an attractive online personality for your brand is to control the conversation. Realize that you don’t need to share everything. Think carefully about what content will evoke emotion in your customers. Be honest and open, but don’t be an open book. Whether it’s your personal reputation or your brand’s, an executive’s job is to distill the data and crystallize the story. Even if you need to address something that could reflect negatively on the company, the conversation must be introduced by you in order to set the tone and minimize damage. Consider five tips for controlling the conversation, and how they apply to both social marketing campaigns and personal social feeds.

1. Move from communicating to conversing

It might seem like a contradiction to talk about controlling the conversation on social media. According to most experts, social media has put the customer in control of content. In fact, Forbes put it this way, “Thanks to social media, brand managers have lost the power to control the perception of their products.” Turn this tide by creating conversation, not simply communicating. Here’s what we mean.

Communicating would be posting a promotional video about a new product. Conversing would be prompting followers with a question, industry trend or eye-opening statistic that will open a conversation about your product. Better yet, have a brand ambassador open the conversation. Whether you are posting a photograph of a staff event, a promo about a new product or just an inspirational quote, ask yourself, “am I just communicating or am I starting a conversation?”

2. Be transparent

We live in an age of transparency. Operate under the assumption that nothing is secret. If you post something that is going to come across as hypocritical, you are going to be called out on it. Take Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign for example. Praised by many for starting a conversation about what defines true beauty, critics were quick to note that Unilever (Dove’s parent company) also sells skin-lightening cream, diet aids and cellulite cream. While these products were not secret, Dove came under some pretty stiff criticism, making their brand personality seem hypocritical. Hypocrisy can be seen in more than just product promos. Does your personal social media account reflect the mission and vision of your brand, or is it contradictory?

3. Stick to your core values

Most brands have more than one demographic they are trying to reach. Therefore, your messaging must stick to established core principles, not specific product details. Here are two great examples.

McDonald’s has a great business in India, operating 370 locations. In a country where beef is forbidden, McDonald’s maintains a strong reputation by sticking to its core value of providing affordable food, while catering to vegetarian diets.

Similarly, Cosmopolitan magazine is thriving in Islamic countries, nations where attitudes toward females and sex is vastly different. How does Cosmo maintain its reputation? Once again, they stick to their core values of fun and femininity, making the necessary local adjustments. How does this relate to what you post online? Before sharing anything, ask yourself, “Is this in line with my (or my brand’s) core values?

4. Don’t be afraid to start a debate

Let’s get back to the apparent hypocrisy of Dove’s campaign. How could they get ahead of the negative feedback? Address it head on. People love to give their opinion about a passionate topic. Give the perception of transparency by starting the debate yourself.

For example, Dove (or one of its ambassadors) could ask followers, “Do you think women can be confident in their appearance and still want to purchase products that improve it?” Phrase your question in a way that tries to reconcile the contradictory feelings. Even if there is no resolution, you’ve shown that your brand is transparent and you welcome the ideas of your customers, even if they are negative. Give your customers a voice. Empowerment is a core value of that campaign, and you’ve just leveraged it. In the same way, if you find your brand in the middle of a controversy, control the conversation by starting the debate. Ask followers what they think. How would they like the brand to resolve the issue?

5. Keep it visual

Check out this fun fact from the Content Marketing Institute. “Neuro-imagery shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions rather than factual information. This is as true for brand-created content as it is for traditional advertising spots and banners.” Dove’s success, in spite of some negative feedback, was largely due to its imagery. Real women in their underwear resonated with the majority of the female population. Customers love when brands are humanized. Show pictures of your staff in day-to-day activities, working hard and facing challenges.

However, these candid posts must also be shared with caution. For example, if your brand is targeted to average income Millennials, showing pictures of a lavish holiday party will not only not resonate, but might distance them from your brand. You’ll be viewed as out-of-touch.

Practical Applications

So, we’ve covered some general tips and how corporate brands applied (or didn’t apply) them. Let’s consider three scenarios that illustrate the pitfalls of oversharing and how these tips can help.

TMI Puts Your Reputation at Risk

Let’s consider John, an executive for a prominent non-profit agency that is working on relating to his donors on a personal level. He wants to humanize his brand by being more “real,” showing his followers he’s a real guy with real struggles who is working hard to make a difference. His firm is participating in an event that focuses on sustainable sourcing. In fact, they are sponsoring it, and he’s flying to New York City to represent them. He sees positive PR all around. He’s following the principle of “keep it visual.”

When Oversharing Doesn’t Seem Like Oversharing

But, he knows what to share and not to share online. No photos of receptions with free-flowing alcohol. Check. No photos of the fancy hotel that costs $400/night. Check. That would leave this waste-conscious group with a negative impression. John launches his journey by snapping a photo of his boarding pass to post on Instagram. John fails to realize how much data can be gleaned from his boarding pass. True, a cyber criminal could change or cancel his flight simply by having his e-ticket number and booking reference. However, a silly prank like that is the least of John’s worries.

Critics of John’s brand can access information to shed a negative light on his trip. How so? Passenger portals can often be accessed through the barcode on the boarding pass, giving easy access to payment information, the names of other people in the party and where you’ll be staying upon arrival. Barcode readers are cheap, and disgruntled investors or other organizations competing for John’s firm’s dollars can easily purchase them.

When Oversharing Breeds Professional Criticism

Armed with the data gathered from his boarding pass, John’s critics comment on his post. “Was it really necessary for the firm to send five employees to an event that costs $1000 a ticket?” “Thousands of dollars are being spent on just the accommodations for this group. Is that a wise use of donor funds?” “The event is only three days, why is your stay a full week, a vacation on donor dollars?” Without even realizing it, John has set off a firestorm of criticism about the use of funds, jeopardizing the firm’s reputation.

How can he repair it? Use the same principles. Be transparent. Keep it visual. Stick to the firm’s core values. John needs to make sure he monitors the account while his is actively posting. So, John sees these negative comments immediately. He can give a sound, transparent response. For example, “Yes. I decided to take a few days to meet with city leaders about sustainable sources within such a large city.” Or, “I decided to take a few extra days on my own dime.”

John must be truthful and proactive. Responding immediately puts John in control of the conversation, and will prevent more people from jumping on the bandwagon. After responding, John can leave it alone. In a sense, he has started a debate. John should let his followers talk it out. He can continue to closely monitor the responses, but he should let his advocates come to his defense.

TMI Can Have Legal Consequences

Sometimes we’re not victims of sabotage. We’re just victims of our own poor judgment, or that of others. Let’s talk about Jane now, a Millennial lawyer whose firm is representing a client in an age-discrimination suit against their former employer. As with most lawyers, Jane knows the importance of confidentiality. Part of the agreement included a confidentiality agreement, and she reminds her client not to talk about the terms.

Unfortunately, her client’s husband bragged about the settlement to his 600 Facebook friends, causing the employer to yank the majority of the settlement. The post wasn’t Jane’s fault. However, her firm appears to have lost the case.

Jane’s client and her husband learn a tough lesson about sharing too much, but Jane also learns that the online activity of others can affect her reputation. Companies must have an online policy in place. As a rule, do not post pictures of other people without their permission. Always ensure your posts stick to your core values. That is, your company’s and your individual values.

TMI Can Jeopardize Your Future Prospects

Michael had a rough week at work. His boss was highly critical of his project, and Michael feels unfairly judged. He vents through a long rant about his boss on social media. His boss doesn’t follow him, so Michael feels there is no risk. Still dissatisfied, he starts looking for a new job.

After an initial interview, his prospective employer Google’s Michael and finds his Facebook account. The post about his boss catches the prospective employer’s eye. Michael’s unprofessional manner does not impress the employer. He doesn’t bring him back in for a second interview.

Never talk about your current or future employer online. It just reflects poorly on your reputation. Don’t jeopardize your future prospects with distasteful posts. Avoid posting pictures of your big night out, or how drunk or high you got over the weekend. Definitely don’t mention how you called in sick to have an extended weekend. Employers want employees that are going to be an asset to the company’s reputation, not a liability. Ensure employees know the risk. Make social media training part of your onboarding process. Explain that their reputation reflects on the company’s reputation.

The team at Reputation Sciences™ is passionate about helping your company manage its online reputation. Is your company equipped to effectively manage negative reviews, press and feedback, replacing it with positive search results. Contact us to talk more about your corporate reputation management strategy.

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