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The Reputation Monsters are Out There—Be Wary

Written by: Denise Blackburn-Gay, APR, Fellow PRSA
                   Ethics Officer, South Carolina PRSA

The monsters are out there, and not just at Halloween. The rise of social media and the immediacy that it provides has given rise to a new breed of monsters—the reputation monsters. They are always there, lurking in the shadows and waiting for an opportunity to scare you and your stakeholders--your potential clients, your board of directors, or an entire community.

They strike in the form of an unfavorable comment or video. Their attack is usually unexpected and can occur at the most inconvenient time. These monsters live both within the confines of your own organization and outside its gates, often anonymously, lying low until they are provoked. The threat they pose is real. How you react when the reputation monster attacks is vital to the life of your organization.

The emphasis on one’s reputation is not new; it’s simply more prominent today because of social media, fake news, and newly introduced PR disciplines such as crisis planning and reputation management. In fact, Benjamin Franklin, the self-proclaimed printer, revolutionary and statesman, spoke frequently about the value of a good reputation.

With the understanding of it’s not ‘if’ but ‘when’ the reputation monster descends upon you, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Don’t Panic.

While it’s easier said than done, panic can make any problem worse. Unless your organization is actually on fire or under physical attack, there's time to stop and assess the situation. Get multiple perspectives, and don’t overreact.

Be Proactive.

Unless there's a reason not to, most likely a legal implication, it's best to be proactive and respond. Empathetically acknowledge the situation stating the facts as you know them. Pretending nothing is amiss makes you look clueless. If possible, deal with the individual on a one-on-one basis. Reaching out to them by telephone or sending a letter will catch them off guard and will help establish your authority. An immediate response fired off via social media provides a back-and-forth mechanism that is often more destructive.

Track the Impact.

Closely follow the situation on social media. You can bet that your reputation monster is doing the same. They are lying in wait for the opportunity to strike again. They are fueled by negativity. You must remain vigilant. Monitor responses and search rankings. Understand the impact the event is really having. Social media is fickle, and search results are volatile.

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