Social Media

Best Practices for Protecting Brand Reputation on Social Media

By Darren Millar, senior vice president of operations, PiiQ Media

Brand reputation – the perception of a brand and how it’s viewed by customers, stakeholders and the market – and the management of it are critical to a company’s growth. While it used to be impacted primarily by things like word of mouth, the advent of social media has completely changed the game. It’s essential for organizations to understand reputation management today in light of social media, particularly given its fondness for snap judgements and cancel culture.

Misinformation and disinformation have changed reputation management

Thanks to social media, it’s now easier than ever to sow seeds of mistrust and disseminate false information. In many ways, we’re living in a Golden Age of misinformation and disinformation.

What’s the difference between the two? Disinformation is the intentional spreading of false information; misinformation is a case of misunderstanding in which someone unintentionally spreads “information” that is inaccurate.

This combination is one of the biggest risks for both companies and individuals. It’s difficult to manage, and it’s something that most companies don’t know how to combat or don’t have the resources to combat.

When it comes to who is perpetrating disinformation and misinformation in terms of trying to damage brands’ reputations, it really falls into two camps:

  • Nation-state actors who are trying to destabilize different regions and countries, and people they don’t like.
  • People who are out for financial gain or malice. They want to embarrass people or companies, or they’re looking for some kind of payout. Sometimes it may even be the company’s own employees perpetrating the reputation damage. Sometimes it’s not really done on purpose; it could be as simple as the wrong wording on a social media post.

Here's an example of the latter scenario: Adidas was a sponsor of the Boston Marathon in 2017. They sent out an email to marathon finishers that said, “Congrats, you survived the marathon!” However, this came just a few years after the fatal terrorist bombing at the event – so the phrasing was a poor choice, even if it wasn’t meant with bad intent. But it certainly didn’t help the company’s reputation.

A situation like this can be managed. There are ways to do better training for corporate communications, for example. Disinformation is another story; you don’t have control over it.

Getting ahead of disinformation before it damages your reputation

What makes tackling disinformation from a brand reputation standpoint so challenging is that you need to stay at least one step ahead of it – the earlier the better. You need to have a process in place that identifies that it’s happening at the earliest point as it begins its journey through the echo chamber of social media. If you're 30 minutes late to the party, it's likely to already have negatively impacted your reputation.

A first step is ensuring you have a strong corporate presence on social media. If you don’t, it’s going to be that much harder to combat an instance of disinformation aimed at your company. You need to be able to address disinformation on the platform(s) where it’s appearing, and that’s not possible if you don’t have social accounts and aren’t regularly communicating and interacting with customers and the public at large. A second step is the need for monitoring and tracking of social media. In today’s world, not doing so isn’t an option – at least, it’s not a viable one.

Implementing a solid process for monitoring and tracking

You need to have a system or solution in place that can help you monitor these conversations so that when something negative does arise, you can evaluate it and then decide what the best response will be. You must remember that with social media in general, there is no provenance. There is no individual fact-checking; we live in a world where people read headlines (not the whole article) and immediately react. For the most part, people are allowed to say what they want to say, when they want to say it.

As a brand, you don't want to jump the gun in terms of how you respond just because there’s a negative post about your company. You need to investigate the negative posts and look at the traction to determine what reach they have. Tools like trust scoring and sentiment analysis, coupled with investigating reach and engagement of posts/accounts, can help you formulate a plan because you will have a better sense of how this post might affect your brand. It’s also important to be able to evaluate the authenticity of the accounts making these types of posts.

And just as you would have a crisis communications plan in marketing and public relations, you should have a documented plan and procedure for how to evaluate and respond to these types of campaigns. Having that in place will go a long way toward ensuring you don’t act rashly or jump the gun without having all the facts in hand to make a measured response.

Defend your brand

In today’s digitized world, brand reputation is not static, and it must be actively managed. Social media can go viral in minutes, making it increasingly difficult for organizations to stay on top of threats to their brand. Companies can take advantage of tools to help them with social listening and research into the authenticity of posts and accounts. It’s also important to have policies and plans in place to address any negative social sentiment that might arise. These are necessary elements in today’s reputation management struggle.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.