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Managing corporate reputation in the digital age

It is a humbling and gratifying assignment to lead conversations around the complex discipline of corporate reputation management (CR). Generally, companies across the globe, and African companies specifically, are still struggling with the process of managing their reputations. In most of these cases, companies and managers confuse reputation management for advertising, propaganda, crisis management or media liaison among others. This reduces the whole process of corporate reputation management to accidental-operational engagements.

By TABANI MOYO

In practice, CR is a strategic process which requires a strategic approach towards its development and agility in implementation through a well-designed operational plan. In many instances, companies view CR as an image, leading to resources being channelled towards external stakeholders and ignoring the internal stakeholders such as employees, who in actual fact drive the reputation.

In order for brands to build a strong corporate reputation in the digital age, senior management should approach the subject matter from a strategic end and establish the operational plans with both agility and dexterity. In this regard, I will make four key recommendations noted below:

Build a strong social media presence

To avoid the mistakes that befall many brands, Zimbabwean brand and African brands generally should always determine the platforms that they feel appropriate for both their products and envisaged reputation. This should be done with the stakeholders in mind. Having identified the relevant platforms and the capacity to generate content for the same, there is need to craft a competitive digital strategy to engage the stakeholders in a bid to build a rock-solid reputation.

There is need for the brands to realise that the platforms are not established for creating promotional materials and adverts, but for relevant and consistent messages that are useful to the targeted stakeholders. This will position the brands as credible sources of information on the issues tackled in the content.

There is equally the need for realisation that we have evolved from the push-and-pull economy to a sharing economy. If your content is not being shared, then it limits the brand exposure and the envisaged reputation.

Guard your soul (Why are you in existence?)

While most brands communicate top-end service to the market, their online approach seems to be contrary. This is a reputation risk to the brands. Brands must, therefore, be consistent with their founding values in content produced and posted on the marketing channels. This is how reputation and loyalty are consolidated.

When the companies are inconsistent, erratic, arrogant or offensive, it erodes customer trust and builds resentment towards the brands. Others like a certain commercial bank, are on the offensive side of the equation, irrespective of the clogging complaints on their online platforms, they continue advertising their services without any sense of remorse or regret. In the telecommunications industry, it’s easy to paint the picture, especially in the mobile telecommunications companies, as to which one of the three is arrogant in engaging its stakeholders, yet it’s notorious of garnishing clients’ airtime, among other reputation misgivings. Unfortunately, this is the industry which is supposed to be the country’s flagship and taking the continent to the global stage due to the rapid innovations thrust on the industry due to the need for continued innovation for survival, but has in most cases disappointed many.

Encourage reviews

This requires companies to encourage word of mouth recommendations from customers and stakeholders. Remember, people generally trust people, not brands. When you allow customers and other stakeholders to review your reputation online, the company is seen as open, transparent and engaging, which ultimately builds and maintains trust. But this requires companies that listen and take corrective measures to the market challenges. Many brands seem to be slow in this regard and hopefully, one of these days, they will realise the harm they are inflicting to their own reputation.

Responsive customer service and online teams

Frustrated customers are very temperamental, they go online and mobilise the whole world around the poor services or failing products. This calls for the entire company to be built on oiled machinery in absorbing feedback and response mechanisms. By responding to those with negative feedback and helping to resolve their issues, the company will be limiting reputational damage. Do not delete negative comments as this attracts the swarming and clogging of the platforms with hostile messaging from the frustrated customers and other stakeholders. In addition, remember to acknowledge positive feedback from the loyal customers and stakeholders as this helps in creating brand advocates.

l Tabani Moyo is a chartered marketer, corporate reputation management expert and communications consultant based in Harare. He is currently studying towards Doctor in Business Administration at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He can be contacted at moyojz@gmail.com

*This article was contributed on behalf the Marketers’ Association of Zimbabwe, a leading body of marketing professionals promoting professionalism to the highest standards for the benefit of the industry and the economy at large. For any further information, visit the website on www.maz.co.zw or contact mazmembership@mazim.co.zw.

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