By Ed Coke, Founder, Repute Associates
Reputation is the watchword of businesses everywhere these days. We live in a reputation economy where the perceptions of other people matter hugely. Whether this is the number of 5 star ratings a product or company receives through online review sites like TrustPilot, through to how FTSE 100 companies handle major crises, we are constantly being judged. Too often, perception beats reality. Your company’s reputation – your most important intangible asset – is never truly owned by you. But there are some important steps businesses of any size can take to make reputation management smoother to handle – without breaking the bank. Based on 25 years’ experience in helping companies measure and improve their reputations, here are my top five tips to ensure SMEs actively manage their reputations:
- Draw up a stakeholder map. This may sound daunting, but this is just a list of those people – both inside and outside your business – that help you achieve your goals. Examples are employees, investors, customers and prospects, media and the local community. Each will have different expectations of your company: think through how you can satisfy these groups to help your business flourish.
- Think BCV: Behaviours, Competencies and Values. The best companies thrive when they do the right things, for the right reasons, and in the right way. Reputation is shaped not simply by being great at providing a product or service, but behaving ethically and fairly, and being in business for more than just profit. How does your company stack up on BCV?
- Place reputation on your company’s Risk Register. We’ve all seen the damage done by businesses that do not protect their reputation. You can get one step ahead by putting reputation as a risk to be considered whenever important decisions are being made. How will the decision affect your reputation? How does it meet or exceed the expectations of your stakeholders? If it’s bad news, what mitigation strategy have you got in place to ensure your reputation is protected?
- Create a long-term reputation strategy, not short-term PR. Companies that communicate consist messages that meet stakeholder expectations over several years develop the strongest reputations. What are the most compelling messages you can tell your stakeholders that match the reality of your business? How can you communicate these messages sustainably and engagingly over the next 3 – 5 years?
- Measure reputation regularly and holistically. This doesn’t mean huge investment in surveys. Focus on a small number of incisive questions that really matter. Once a year, engage an independent firm to understand your company’s reputation across those stakeholders that really matter, and see if you are living up to the Behaviours, Competencies and Values they expect from you.