Lessons in Brand Reputation Management: Learning from the Best (and Worst)

While celebrities have taken the maxim “No publicity is bad publicity” and run with it, businesses that court controversy also court failure. For companies in all markets this harsh reality, a classic case of a double standard, focuses the spotlight onto its brand reputation management, a multi-faceted approach that today encompasses strategies like social media monitoring and engagement. And as experience shows, one of the best ways to avoid bad publicity is with a pre-emptive strike.

Reputations take years of consistent positive messaging to be formed, but can be lost in a single flash of poor judgement. Facing this monumental swing in public perception and the financial hit that can follow, businesses are understandably protective of their hard-fought gains. But whether they’re blind to public sentiment or simply haven’t been paying attention, some brands put themselves in harm’s way anyways.

Banking on positive gains in the reputation department

Financial institutions such as banks and wealth management firms face stiff competition, placing an imperative on customer service and brand reputation. One false move and the company can find throngs of its customers preparing to jump ship.

Take as one example the Royal Bank of Canada, whose supplier iGATE recently outsourced nearly 50 jobs to temporary foreign workers, resulting in a swift wave of disapproval. RBC was forced to scramble to save face amid the backlash, using social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, as well as an open letter to the public, to address concerns directly. Whatever you think of the bank’s HR strategy, its handling of online brand reputation management has provided some valuable lessons for other businesses.

With the use of social media engagement and monitoring, RBC was able to absorb some of the blowback by providing an outlet for consumer frustration as well as showing a willingness to listen and learn. The company’s Facebook page fielded approximately 3,500 user comments (overwhelmingly negative) after releasing an initial statement on April 7. And a similar tidal wave of response followed a related post just days later (in fact the outcry was so fierce that the company also had to post a reminder of its policy regarding foul or defamatory language).

Despite the outpouring of negativity, RBC has not deleted the comments (though presumably some were taken down for offensive language). Notwithstanding the futility of trying to sweep thousands of angry comments under the rug, RBC undoubtedly learned from the examples of companies who did more harm than good by taking a combative rather than humble approach to criticism. And while the company’s reputation already took a big hit, it could have been even worse with a poor social media engagement strategy.

As this and similar cases attest, successful brand reputation management is as much about admitting failure as rebuffing it; maybe even more so. In his open letter – also made available through the company’s Twitter and Facebook accounts – RBC President and CEO Gord Nixon issued a carefully worded defence of the company’s principles and its ongoing commitment to good corporate citizenship. He recognized that RBC’s customers associate certain values and attitudes with the brand, and that outsourcing under these circumstances simply didn’t reflect those values.

Some will see it as a forced attempt at salvaging the bottom line, others will see it as a hollow show of remorse. But whatever the public perception, an apology had to be made. Trying to skirt the issue (as he did in an earlier statement) will never succeed, especially for a company that in 2012 posted the biggest profit in Canada’s history.

A lesson in humility

The complete fallout from the RBC controversy will take a while to manifest itself, but in the meantime other companies will undoubtedly be treating it as an illustrative case study in social media monitoring and engagement.

In its reporting of the story, CBC.ca demonstrated a more proactive approach to brand reputation management, airing its own dirty (or slightly less than perfect) laundry to online visitors. A sidebar within the article declared CBC’s hiring of a handful of U.S. freelancers for special occasions during the previous 12 months. Spurred on by the RBC case and recognizing that consumers today expect a high level of transparency, the public broadcaster got out ahead of any potential controversy.

With its comprehensive suite of brand reputation management and social media monitoring and engagement tools, GoalLine Solutions helps businesses stay on the right side of public opinion. Because the buzz won’t always be positive, it’s important they are equipped with the technology and know-how to respond effectively. Products like boostCX, a customer experience management software program, have been helping GoalLine’s clients tune in to the conversation and succeed in a bold new world of brand management.

May, 15, 2013