Weber Shandwick, in association with The Economist, today came out with a report entitled ‘Risky Business: Reputations Online’ based on a survey conducted among 703 senior executives within more than 20 industries in 62 countries spanning North America, Europe, Asia Pacific and other markets. The report revealed interesting insights:
1. Reputation threat level is high: The perceived damage of reputational threat is even higher in Asia than any other region, with 74% of executives regarding their company’s reputation as vulnerable. Those surveyed in other parts of the world are less likely to regard their company reputations as vulnerable – 64% of Australian executives and 67% of executives globally.
2. Reputations are revealed online, but not completely: Nearly all executives in the Asia Pacific (Asia + Australia) markets surveyed (99%) “use” the internet to evaluate company reputation. However, fewer than 6 in 10 (58%) find the internet “useful” for making such judgments. Executives in Asia are more likely to use banner ads as a reputation arbiter than executives in other parts of the world. Nearly 9 in 10 Asian executives (88%) rely on banner ads for reputation appraisal compared to 82% of global executives and 70% of Australian executives. Again, despite this high utilisation rate, only 9% of Asian executives find banner ads trustworthy.
3. Naivete can lead to surprise: Similar to executives in other parts of the world, executives in Asia and Australia tend to think more often about their company’s reputation than their own. The exception is China, where executives think almost as frequently about their own reputation as they do that of their company. Executives across Asia Pacific worry about their personal reputations, but could be somewhat overconfident by neglecting to check their names online often enough. Only 26% of those in Asia and 25% in Australia have run their names through a search engine in the 30 days prior to taking our survey, lower than the percentage of global executives overall (38%).
4. What…me worry?: Preoccupation with company reputation is not exclusive to the C-suite in Asia Pacific. Members outside of the top executive team think about it just as frequently as those at the very top. Despite this common concern for company reputation, top executive team members perceive a lower threat level to their company’s reputation than those reporting to them or below them.
5. Executives are online reputation sleuths: Like executives worldwide, executives across Asia Pacific used search engines in the past 30 days prior to taking the survey to uncover activities of business rivals and partners, product quality issues, and even their own organisations. Chinese executives, to a much greater extent than executives anywhere else, are going online to investigate company corporate responsibility records, company critics (“badvocates”), and NGOs.
6. Traditional media outranks new media as reputation referee:In spite of their frequent recourse to internet search engines, executives throughout Asia Pacific still agree with global executives that traditional media (television, radio and newspapers) plays a greater role in deciding reputational fates than new media (websites, blogs and social networks).
7. First stop: Company websites: According to 99% of executives in Asia Pacific, the leading online source of company reputation information is the corporate website.
8. Old and new reputation spoilers: By far, the greatest perceived cause of reputation damage according to executives across Asia Pacific, and the world over, is negative media coverage. The next two top-ranked reputation busters are customer complaints in the media/online grievance sites and negative word-of-mouth. To a surprising and alarming degree, executives everywhere vastly overlook new media’s potential as a reputation spoiler – only 12% or less of Asian executives and 6% or less of Australian executives mentioned online videos, social networking sites, Wikipedia and photo-sharing sites as potential reputational hazards.
9. Leaks gush dangerously online: More than half of executives in Asia (55%) regard confidential or leaked information to the internet as the top online risk to their company’s reputation, a much greater concern than for Australian executives (31%) or global executives overall (41%).
10. Reputation assassins are hard at work: Today, the internet provides innumerable platforms for current and former employees to strike, usually anonymously, at a company’s reputation. As employees wrestle with declining pensions and possible layoffs, reputation “badvocates” will be hard at work online. In Asia especially, employee criticism is considered a clear risk to a company’s reputation (53%). The importance of employee loyalty and recruitment to companies in Asia means that any employee criticism would be a particular reputational affront.
11. Emails are on the loose: Similar to global executives, a sizeable 88% of executives throughout Asia Pacific admit to having erroneously sent or received at least one electronic message (email, text or Twitter). However, emails do not always fall into the wrong hands or inboxes accidentally – approximately one quarter of executives (23% in Asia and 25% in Australia) say they have intentionally forwarded a private email to someone else.
12.Monitoring is needed far and wide: Executives in Asia and Australia believe that among the best ways to reduce the number of online assassins and protect reputations online is to monitor what is said about companies in the traditional media (ranked #1 in Asia and #2 in Australia). These managers consider traditional media monitoring a more important safeguarding activity than global executives overall (42%). Asian executives are exceedingly more likely than Australians to believe search engine and social media monitoring tools effectively help safeguard reputation online (42% vs. 25%).
13. Acting on employee feedback is wise defence: Australian executives consider acting upon results from employee satisfaction surveys to be the most effective online reputation shield (55%). By comparison, Asian executives believe employee feedback is only the second most effective (43%), after media monitoring (48%). Australians are the world’s strongest proponents of employee feedback.
14. Executives are still blind to the blogosphere: Like executives elsewhere, those in Asia Pacific believe that the least effective way to protect corporate reputation online is to build relationships with influential bloggers. Only 12% of Asian executives and 6% of Australian executives consider this strategy helpful for keeping reputations secure.
15. Online reputation management (ORM) comes of age: Six out of 10 executives in Asia Pacific say their companies are now rigorous about online reputation management and expect to be more rigorous three years from now, in line with global executive estimates.
15 RULES FOR ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
1. Conduct an initial landscape analysis of your professional and company reputations online: Take a 12+ month look back into online sources such as blogs, social networks, forums and chatrooms to benchmark and obtain a clear understanding of what has been said historically about you and your company.
2. Monitor your digital reputation regularly and embrace SEO: Search engine results, blogs and other forums can help determine what exists in the public view since competitors, customers, allies and the media are making split second judgments about your and your company’s reputations. Make online monitoring and search engine optimisation (SEO) a critical element of your ongoing reputation management process.
3. Engage in the online community: Identify one or more passionate employees who can participate in the social networking arena on your company’s behalf.
4. Build reputation shield early on: Plant the seeds of genuine positive content or stories in multiple destinations across the web as soon as possible to create an enduring online reputation. Realise that journalists may be getting their reputational intelligence from the internet, too. If a company delays its efforts until a crisis unfolds or other negative news appears on the horizon, its reputation will not be strong enough to repel the flood waters that can engulf and wash away years of strong performance.
5. Know when to respond online: Create a plan for incidents that takes into account all categories of issues: those requiring an immediate response, a wait-and-see approach and no response at all.
6. Get inline using all your media assets: traditional and online: Recognise that reputational power lies in using all available communications channels. Also, the growing number of new online media sites and new technologies are only going to increasingly wreak havoc in the corporate world. The core of any successful public relations programme will be a combination of online and offline (“inline”), not one or the other.
7. Identify reputation threats early on. Plan for the worst-case scenario: Rule out any surprises and always be on your guard. Many companies now have, or need to consider building, a ready-to-launch “dark site” that can be activated if a worst-case scenario suddenly occurs. Remember, whoever talks first is in a better position to set the tone.
8. Endlessly listen to your employees: Listen and respond to employees before they potentially attack you online, intentionally or unintentionally. Listening means more than fielding a survey or putting a suggestion box in the lunchroom. It means reviewing employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews, and monitoring your reputation daily using key words that can be searched on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Turn your employees into advocates!
9. Multiply your bad news online by 100: Realise that once bad news reaches the corner office, it may sound like a whisper but it’s already a shout. You can take this news and multiply it hundredfold.
10. Don’t neglect industry discussion: Boards and blogs: Enlist your senior management and other members of your workforce in digital boot camp. Ignoring influential bloggers and complaining customers causes reputational harm. Reach out to bloggers and posters with solutions to problems with your products/ services.
11. Review your website as if you were a prospective customer or competitor: Road test the user experience of your company website in terms of functionality, interactivity and transparency.
12. Customerise the online reputation of your products and services: Ask for and respond to customer feedback, and include customers in new product development. Boost your company’s credibility by including on your website negative customer comments (excluding those that may be slanderous or similarly inappropriate) as well as positive comments. Use technology to build consumer trust.
13. Accept your employee nation: Understand that employees will go online to criticise and praise your company—so prepare, review and communicate your corporate employee blogging and social media guidelines. Online conversation will only increase in the years ahead as online conversation continues to heat up.
14. Be on the lookout for errant emails: Use technology to audit outbound email content and monitor text in webmail and other HTTP traffic. Also use technology to detect intellectual property that should remain within corporate firewalls. Regular employee training in electronic message liability and propriety must be enforced at all levels.
15. Find your online advocates. Prime the pump for badvocates: Create an ongoing dialogue with your supporters, fans and enthusiasts before problems spread via word-of-mouth or on the web. These brand champions are a company’s best defence against badvocates, whose words and actions detract from
brands or products.
You can download this report’s executive summary in pdf at the Online Reputation Management site.