The collective shaming of public personalities is nothing new, but social media has increased the rapidity and scale of this phenomenon. Anyone can start the fire and it is likely to be picked up by a full community of supporters online, and ultimately by mainstream media, as the Carlos Ghosn case showed us. How should we react when faced with such a crisis? We outline four fundamental principles for navigating such personal attacks.
1. Be ready to respond
You need to be seen and heard to protect your reputation. The challenge is that conversations and issues evolve rapidly online, just like today’s 24/7 news cycle. If a problem is not addressed quickly, within hours you can find yourself overwhelmed with a flurry of voices across social, digital and traditional media. In the worst-case scenario, your key stakeholders will have responded and taken action before you have. You will be expected to take a public stance and be ready for it. You will not be allowed to hide. This is why preparing in advance for reputational risks is essential. If you have crisis communications processes and plans in place, it will be easier to manage online shaming crises if they occur.
2. Be transparent and apologetic
Transparency and honesty apply to all aspects of online communication including the messaging, the messenger and the medium. The truth will always come out online. Authenticity is something that the public craves, and it is what can truly build a reputation. Look at the arguments of your opponents and acknowledge what is true in them. You will sound more authentic and credible when you deflect the other accusations. And if you need to say ‘sorry’, then it’s important to get it right and not exacerbate the situation, as this Harvard Business Review article comprehensively explains.
3. Listen and adapt your story
As with any good story, campaign or statement, you need to understand what matters to your audiences. To do this, you need to listen. Ensure that you have the right social listening tools in place to effectively monitor and follow conversations online. Think of ways to adapt or tailor your content to the criticisms you are facing, especially as they can be changing rapidly. Sticking to routine messaging while the situation on the ground is changing can make you seem tone-deaf and inconsiderate
4. Continue to build relationships
Reputation is not something you own: it is something that is bestowed upon you by others. There is a person behind every digital presence. Creating and building relationships with other people is therefore key, both online and offline. Remember, your reputation in the real-world will follow you online.
In the digital domain you can connect and interact with almost anyone, so take the time to understand which audiences are relevant to you and map out your allies so that you can rally them to your cause
*Image copyright: Samson Katt
Toomas Kull is a senior consultant at Cabinet Privé de Conseils with over a decade of experience in strategic and crisis communications. He advises multinationals, private companies, start-ups and ultra-high net worth individuals on how to build, manage and protect their reputation.