How to Build a Reputation Management Plan

Communications teams have the incredible responsibility of managing their company reputation across all forms of media. What may appear to be a simple task spans a seemingly infinite number of online outlets, print publications, and social sites with constantly changing discussions. Not only that, but conversations around your brand can quickly become cacophonous and make it difficult to decipher how your brand is represented.

What is Reputation Management?

Reputation management is the act of influencing or controlling public perceptions of a company. With the increasing shift towards digital media, the practice requires consideration of traditional, online, broadcast, and social media.

Managing your reputation is both active and reactive and is shaped by three types of coverage: earned, paid, and owned media. Paid media relates to advertising, earned media encompasses traditional media coverage and social discussions, and owned media refers to content published by your organization, like your company website, blog, and social media.

Why is Reputation Management Important?

Reputation management is important because it can help your company build trust and brand loyalty in an era when consumers are more informed, demanding, and skeptical than ever. As younger generations amass more buying power, monitoring your brand can also help ensure your company stays relevant in a highly competitive market. For instance, Gen Z favors authenticity, fun, and tech when they consider brands – do you know how your company is performing in those areas?

The factors influencing how a brand is perceived expand far beyond the scope of typical business operations: they now encompass social and environmental responsibility, corporate governance, and community relations. PR teams are even developing practices around CEO activism to maintain a reputation that connects with today’s consumers. Investing in reputation management can help your company make sure it is represented favorably by the media and that its portrayal stays relevant.

Steps to Build a Reputation Management Strategy

Building a reputation management strategy begins with identifying your reputational drivers: the key aspects that construct your brand’s identity. After determining the topics that drive your brand’s coverage, implement a data-based media strategy to track your key messages and develop strategies to correct divergences from your desired brand. Monitoring competitor coverage can also help your team to predict trends and develop internal strategies for crisis response.

Identify Your Reputational Drivers

Start by identifying the key factors that drive your company’s reputation, also known as reputational drivers. At PublicRelay, we have developed a framework of seven essential reputation drivers that can be applied or adapted to any company: products and services, business strategy, workplace, leadership, corporate social responsibility, financial performance, and government relations.

Reputational drivers work together to help paint a cohesive picture of the public perception of your brand and should be tailored to represent your company and industry. Maybe your company has reworked its communications themes for 2021, and emphasis on diversity is crucial. After all, a growing number of consumers are changing their consumption habits to frequent more diverse businesses. Using the reputational drivers “workplace” and “corporate social responsibility” you can track sub-categories such as “diversity” and “DEI initiatives” to accurately assess your performance on specific facets of your reputational goals.

Your team may not yet know the full breadth of the drivers that comprise your corporate reputation. Tracking key industry competitors or launching a whitespace program to monitor PR strategies and discussions in your sector are excellent, in-depth starting points to understand the reputational drivers of both close competitors and larger organizations.

Monitor Your Coverage Using Real-Time Data Analytics

One of the most effective methods for ensuring that your messaging and earned media are consistent with your reputational goals is using real-time analytics. Tracking the volume, tone, and sharing of media output that mentions your company can help you determine how often your key messages are discussed, the sentiment surrounding them, and how readers engage with your coverage.

Using real-time analytics also allows you to pivot and adapt your brand messaging in response to public interests, political activity, and global events. For example, environmental, social, and governance topics have exploded over the last 12 months, with global standard-setters announcing new ways to comprehensively measure and track businesses’ ESG initiatives.

However, be wary of fully automated real-time data analysis solutions – AI and Machine Learning can only accomplish so much when analyzing articles for sentiment, significance, and social context. Alternatively, if humans analyze your data, you can access a richness of reputation analysis that allows for a more useful data set. For example, how can AI determine how ethical your brand appears in earned media? According to McKinsey, ethics are a key aspect influencing decision-making for Gen Z, and human analysis will ensure your coverage is accurately evaluated for such nuanced social issues.   

Develop Data-Based Strategies for Crises That Threaten Reputation

Tracking your company messages and those of your peers can also help shape your approach to crisis communications. When negative publicity threatens your brand’s reputation, you can use data from the experiences of competitors faced with similar crises in the past to inform your response. Whether the move is to remain quiet as coverage passes or issue a carefully worded statement, competitive tracking can give you the foresight to deftly maneuver potential challenges.

Identify the Threats Worth Addressing

Negative articles about your brand will inevitably be published from time to time, but not all bad press is worth addressing. Coverage that threatens your desired brand may be worthy of a response if published by a high-reach outlet or if it garners significant social sharing, as both factors could snowball into additional negative coverage or even result in a communications crisis. Social engagement is especially important, as sharing spreads articles across websites, amplifying their reach exponentially.

Predictive analytics can help your team to see around the corner when it comes to topics with high potential virality, allowing you to know before an article goes viral if it constitutes a potential threat to your brand reputation.  This mechanism can also help you anticipate positive coverage, enabling your team to capitalize on sharing trends.

Start Managing Your Reputation Today

Reputation management is one of the greatest responsibilities of PR and communications teams. While paid and owned media are internally controlled, earned media relies on both a proactive and reactive management strategy best implemented with reputational driver analysis as they appear in the media. With real-time data analysis, your communications team can track how your brand messages are portrayed across earned media, how social users engage your campaigns, and how peer messages appear in the press. A comparative analysis can also allow your company a representative insight into the market, identifying how your reputation stands against peers and what you can learn from their mistakes.

PublicRelay can help your team reactively and proactively track topics that might throw a wrench in your brand management plans. Our new predictive momentum score allows our clients to see the likelihood of an article will going viral on social media. To know if a topic is trending enough to warrant a crisis management-level response, we also offer predictive alerts to notify your team hours in advance of an article that might go viral so you can begin strategizing. To learn more about how PublicRelay can help to manage your brand, click here.

ARTICLE AUTHOR
Zach Brown

Zach Brown