A brand’s reputation is far more vulnerable in the presence of digital media than it was when traditional media was the be-all, end-all. But why?
To understand how the dynamics of digital can cripple or catapult an organization, we must first understand what a ‘brand’ is, what ‘reputation’ means, and then why ‘digital reputation’ is different from both. A brand is a unique design, sign, symbol, word or a combination of these employed to create an image, and it’s something that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Reputation is the collection of perceptions generally held about an organization, person or thing, and it’s also a widespread belief that someone or something has a particular, consistent habit or characteristic.
Today, digital reputation hinges on consumer-driven media—a shift that has challenged the vitality of brands, tested the life span of their reputations, and caused digital reputation management. Discover why the concept of digital reputation is giving even the most trustworthy brands a run for their money.
Content is no longer planned, proofed and published. It’s immediate.
Then: Traditional media, which encompasses channels such as TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, among others, was unrivaled by other platforms up until the 2000s and offered the primary communication channels for advertisers and marketers alike. The common link between traditional media’s forms of communication was their requisite for premeditated topics, proofed content and scheduled distribution. This also provided a buffer from public complaints and correspondence.
Now: More than two million articles are published online daily, and not all two million are published by official media sources. The instant nature of digital media today means that stories change fast and can affect brands’ reputations in their wake. When used intelligently, however, the instantaneous nature of digital media gives organizations an opportunity to actually build their reputation. Zappos does an exemplary job of using social and digital media to its advantage, responding quickly and transparently to customers about issues, questions and even compliments. Transparent, real-time two-way communication is changing the game for brands, providing a public platform to showcase their regard for customer delight and turn one-time customers into loyal advocates. But organizations need to be careful to introduce proofing and reviewing practices into their engagement tactics to make the most of their efforts.
Media doesn’t wait for a scandal to be found. It creates one.
Then: Traditional media outlets have largely required content to be provided to them, either by an organization or a journalist. In the past, if a scandal was brewing, its unearthing required thorough investigation, and when it was finally brought to the eye of the public, the story was substantiated. If a story or complaint took down a brand’s reputation, it was more often than not a validated claim.
Now: In the world of digital media, rumors, click-bait and a lack of privacy are commonplace. These methods are used regularly to stir the public and generate interest, no matter how disingenuous. A new study revealed that false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories, and untrue stories have more staying power. Let’s look at Tesla, a brand that has amassed a reputation for incredible innovation yet has fallen victim to damaging stories published about their production numbers with inferences that caused alarm for stockholders. The news about Tesla’s slow and delayed production levels rattled stockholders, putting the brand’s reputation at risk. They now proactively mitigate false alarms by releasing production numbers to the public regularly.
Writing isn’t just for the skilled. It’s everyone’s game.
Then: Traditionally, brands were able to control their narrative with carefully created PR initiatives and advertising campaigns. Published content was produced by educated staff writers, copywriters and journalists who were held to the principals of traditional media to prevent slander and libel. Common elements followed by professional content creators included factual reporting, harm limitation principles, self-regulation, ethics and standards among others.
Now: The Internet’s self-publishing forums and social media have empowered the public to be in control of what’s said about a brand. Take product reviews, for example: a single negative review has the capacity to drive away 30 customers, and consumers are more likely to review an organization based on a negative experience than a positive one. On the other hand, a positive review can hold tremendous value, no matter who it comes from. According to Forbes magazine’s list of highest paid YouTube entrepreneurs, a 6-year-old boy named Ryan has generated $11 million in revenue from reviewing toys on a YouTube channel called Ryan ToysReview. The channel features him playing with the toys, where he influences the way millions of his followers perceive the brands.
Stories don’t go away just because time has passed. They’re immortal.
Then: When news broke in the media, it was a big deal, but it did eventually pass, allowing brands to restore or reinvent their reputation over time. There was no Internet or digital media to elongate and essentially immortalize the story. News was also more contained to news outlets and substantiated publications rather than riddled across public forums and personal social channels.
Now: Once a story breaks, it’s online forever, with the ability to permanently affect a brand’s reputation. Take writer-director James Gunn, for example, who was recently firedfrom Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, after offensive tweets he published back in 2009 and 2010 resurfaced. Gunn addressed the tweets and his firing, stating, “My words of nearly a decade ago were, at the time, totally failed and unfortunate efforts to be provocative. I have regretted them for many years since…because they don’t reflect the person I am today or have been for some time…” This statement alone demonstrates how digital media can essentially freeze and create an eternal a moment in time, and cause major repercussions down the road. Digital media doesn’t care how much time has passed or how irrelevant that moment might be to a brand or individual today. Rather, once digital media grabs a hold of something negative, there’s very little opportunity to turn back.
The combination of digital’s immediacy, transparency, public control and immortality amass the power to destroy or uplift a brand in seconds. This is the reason why so many organizations are prioritizing measures to align stakeholder perceptions with brand expression. Look out for the next blog in our Digital Reputation series to learn the usage and role of digital reputation inside an organization.