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Getting in Front of a Public Relations Disaster

One of the most valuable assets a business possesses is its reputation.  The public perception of a business will impact how potential clients and partners approach them. This becomes all the more important as the internet becomes a repository for every dis-satisfied customer’s grumblings or dust up with the media.

As a result, there is a whole industry devoted to reputation management for businesses.  These experts are usually called in after an unfortunate incident has occurred that paints a business in a bad light.  These online reputation managers are part social psyche manipulators and part IT wizards.

Although brand enhancement is a continuing process for every company, the majority do not need to massage the public’s perception of them to curry favor.  Or at least this is the widely believed philosophy.

In truth, companies need to get ahead of a bad PR incident by taking active steps to optimize their online reputations. Once a PR crisis has occurred it can take weeks or months to recover, unless the tools and reputation management system is already in place.

In order to mitigate the damage a public relations fiasco can cause, it is critical to cultivate allies and positive buzz about your company long before it happens.  Social media and content marketing are extremely important areas to heighten your company’s appeal and authority.

Social networking permits businesses to become involved in communities online and develop relationships that can prove critical during a PR crisis. Having a large number of vocal followers on Facebook or Twitter can help produce supportive voices in the face of negative public sentiment.  Depending on the size and scope of the incident, many of your followers may not jump into the fray to take up for you, but the more followers you have, the more likely it becomes.

Having built up a solid base with customers and social media users can prove vital if those individuals are authoritative voices in their communities.  In order to bring leaders of these communities into the fold, you need to authentically engage with them.  No one wants to be perceived as a corporate shill, so you will need to provide genuine human interaction to convince them that you aren’t just looking to score points for your business.

One of the most effective ways of producing good will in these online communities is to admit your mistakes and demonstrate a willingness to do better.  A company that isn’t willing to own up to a mistake that everyone recognizes isn’t being honest, and online communities will stigmatize a less than genuine corporate entity.  A humble apology, a commitment to improvement, and some concrete steps toward making that a reality can win you friends and allies that will stand up for you in a crisis.

Content marketing will aid your online reputation by conferring upon your business the status of an authority in the industry.  Creating interesting, well respected information on quality sites will help establish the reputation that your company understands the business and the customers.  A blog that is regularly updated with fresh and engaging content will cement that reputation.

More importantly, producing content that puts your business in a positive light will help mitigate any unflattering customer feedback or minor PR blunders.  If there are dozens of quality articles on reputable sites, any negative comments or posts will require considerable effort to reach the vast majority of internet users.

None of these online reputation management strategies will make your business impervious to negative publicity, but they can provide useful defenses and response tools. Most pro-active reputation management strategies can be handled without guidance from crisis experts, so it is in your best interest to develop them before your company faces a debacle.