2018 is the time to reshape the narrative on reputation management


It is that time of the year when marketers and the PR community come together in feature pieces to predict the future of their business functions. They will tell you that AI in marketing will come of age, and remind you that social is the new PR and chatbots are the new customer service executives. There will be jargon thrown in for good measure, and the hope and excitement will all be very palpable.

Reputation management, specifically PR in India, has been in a state of flux for years now. Traditional media is cluttered, and your customers and employees want to hear more authentic voices than perhaps what a press release promises. Platforms may be changing as they always do, and in the light of social media, opinions taking centre-stage, and embedded tweets becoming real news, the need to control your own narrative is stronger than ever before. You could make your 2018 reputation goals all about that – controlling your narrative and reinforcing the purpose of your business in an authentic, first-person voice. It is going to be about filtering through the jargon, the ad value of media coverage and “number of media clips”, to actually impacting and raising the standard of discourse in your industry.

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Brand newsrooms in India need to come of age

The incoherent pieces of content and tonality from social media, press releases, and communication campaigns need to start coming together cohesively on brand newsrooms – a one-stop shop that tells your story and controls your narrative, often in real-time. But what these newsrooms do best is be a crucial source of news and insights from their industry. They make brands more relevant as industry stakeholders and corporate citizens, storytellers, and conversation starters. How you do it – through web series or whitepapers, six-second videos or hour-long podcasts – really depends on who your audience is. Go beyond how your message is delivered; it is time to focus on what you have to say. Take the mantle and have a positive impact on the larger industry discourse.

At its core, the purpose of a brand newsroom is to create great, relatable content in real-time, much like a media house. It gives brands an opportunity to share timely, high-quality content that is locally relevant and most likely to achieve scale and reach. In the process, it connects them more closely with a larger audience and filters out the middlemen. What it’s not is yet another tool to advertise products and services. That’s what makes a journalistic thought process that much more important for a brand newsroom.

GE Reports is one such brand newsroom done well. They took an early lead in creating a newsroom helmed by journalist Tomas Kellner. It covers insights and trends like 3D Printing, Smart City, Future Of Work, and more. Although GE has a business interest in all of these topics, the content is far from “selling things”.

It is about time executives got social, and socially relevant

If large corporates in India need to learn one reputation tool from startups, it would be the art of using the founders’ and CEOs’ social media presence to establish a strong voice and reputation for their brands. If you look outside the Indian corporate circle, you will see the likes of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos setting corporate and industry agendas on their Twitter handles. New-age CEOs are expected to be more approachable, open, and authentic by a world that’s that much more open now.

Social media allows CEOs to take charge of the brand narrative and employer brand, and connect directly with external stakeholders like existing and potential employees, investors, consumers, partners, media, and analysts. At a tactical level, if relevant and insightful tweets and social media posts are making it to industry round-up articles in media – as they should - then it is important for brand CEOs to be present where journalists can find them.

Beyond statements, executive social media interactions need to be authentic and brave. They need to take a public stand on issues whenever possible. In a world where both your millennial consumers and employees are increasingly politically active and socially aware, CEOs speaking in platitudes and jargon cannot go on forever. By being on the right side of issues and events, CEOs have the opportunity to wield the influence their words have and showcase all that their leadership brand stands for. For instance, including diversity and inclusion in organisational policies means little if CEOs can’t showcase that it is being put into practice and is a C-suite priority.

From the Indian industry, the one social and socially relevant leader who comes to mind is Anand Mahindra. Using humour and sass as effective tools that make him relatable to his close-to-six million followers, he regularly connects with employees and customers, dealers, and even protesting workers on Twitter. Mahindra doesn’t shy away from commenting on social issues, including the recent criminal incident from Rajasthan. According to Anand Mahindra, Twitter has been a culture builder for the Mahindra Group. Social executives have the opportunity to pave the way for important industry, workplace, and social conversations to come to the forefront.

Crisis preparedness will come of age

2017 was a lesson in how easy it is for brands to get into social media crises. One leaked politically incorrect statement that was made in private – case in point, Snapchat – can result in days and weeks of outrage. What can brands do to protect their reputation at such times? They need to start preparing for potential crises proactively, i.e. developing drawer statements and social media responses in anticipation of a crisis.

Simply put, crisis preparedness is a laundry list of your organisation’s potential PR vulnerabilities and your brand’s response to them. Most PR agencies and senior independent PR professionals have various vulnerability assessment models for crisis preparedness. But the best place to start is within the team. So steps like a brainstorm session with senior and mid-management employees to assess vulnerabilities goes a long way. Often, smaller organisations think that they don’t quite need crisis preparedness because their work is not “big” enough. But if the social media outrage is anything to go by, you are never small enough to have a crisis plan in place.

So the year 2018 has to be about replacing reputation “management” with reputation “marketing”. It is going to be a lot less about reacting to bad press or a social media disaster because by the time brands get in crisis control mode, the damage is already done. Thinking of brand reputation as a constant differentiator will help brands see the importance of leading the process proactively. The sooner brands make this the centre of their 2018 reputation goals, the faster they will be able to move to the next phase of marketing and communication and finally put an end to the years of flux and trial and error.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)