Chapter 10: Reputation Management

Put simply, reputation is the balance between positive and negative feelings that an audience has about an organization (or an individual).

Branding, identity, and reputation combine to represent the intellectual conception of an organization. They define what an audience understands about an organization beyond its products.

A strong reputation evokes positive feelings; a weak reputation does the opposite. Because people make decisions emotionally, reputation has a huge impact on decision making, whether that’s a desire to buy a product because you have positive associations with the brand, or not wanting to go to see a movie because the lead star has a personal history of criminal violence.

Reputations can be built, protected, defended, damaged, rebuilt, and destroyed. Building a strong reputation takes years; damaging it takes minutes.

Reputation management is now mostly done online and an important portion of that work is now done through social media. Reputations are most often damaged through negative news stories—whether originating in social media, a magazine, a newspaper, on television, or otherwise—that are circulated online. Those stories circulate and whirlwind out of control, becoming a topic of attention for more and more news stories, and rising up the list of trending topics for the day, week, or even month.

Skilled professionals work to enhance an organization’s online presence by building a strong brand, attaching positive associations, such as through corporate social responsibility, excellent customer service, celebrity endorsements, or other intentional actions.

Reputation Management in Social Media

Audiences expect quick responses from organizations, especially when critical events are unfolding. However, news can break any time and social media users will engage with an organization at any time in the day, meaning that a dedicated team of social media communicators would be needed for round-the-clock reputation management. This is feasible (though expensive) for large international corporations; it’s impossible for small, local non-profits.

Information spreads quickly and can have a lasting impact, so even small organizations need to have contingency plans for how they’ll engage off hours. This is one of the curses of social media for smaller  organizations.

Good social media reputation management demands certain strategies and tactics. Let’s look at them here.

Social Media Monitoring

So much is happening on social media all the time. Keeping up is very difficult, but organizations need to follow relevant hashtags, daily trending hashtags, relevant accounts, and other media that would be relevant, such as mainstream news sites. Constant monitoring keeps you informed and both limits the  impact and number of unwanted surprises.

Create High-Quality Content

Your audience wants to connect with you, so you need to provide them with content they are going to upvote, share, and comment on. Pushing high-quality content also can help position your organization as a leader in its industry, which provides some protection when negative publicity arises.

Social Media Engagement

Meaningfully engage with your audiences. Promptly respond to questions and comments on your social media accounts and anything that might come in through email or other channels. Every positive interaction builds your reputation. Even if an interaction isn’t entirely positive, as with a complaint, being authentic and responsive can still help.

Respond to Reviews

Keep your eyes open for online reviews of your organization or its products or services. If somebody trashes you, invite them to get in touch and provide some positive language to help give your side of the story. Don’t be defensive, but don’t leave a trash comment unaddressed. If somebody praises your company or product, express appreciation.


If your organization made a mistake, be forthright about it. Work out the language so that it’s not going to get you in trouble (especially legal trouble), but denying what people know to be true is usually a losing strategy. Also, if you are asked a question and don’t know the answer, tell the person that you’ll get them an answer as soon as you can, providing a time estimate if possible, letting them know why you don’t have an answer now. Make sure you follow up by the time you stated.

SEO Optimization

When people search the name of your organization or product, good SEO will help push positive information, even information your own organization created, up to the top, which means problematic content may even find itself off the first page of search results.

Advertise Online

With a caveat: if disaster strikes, you need to be ready to pull your advertising. Depending on the nature of the crisis, the advertising could seem insensitive or worse. Positive message advertising can help build a brand, its reputation, and even control a narrative if unfavourable news is circulating online.

Train Your People

Some folks just don’t realize the harm they can do to an organization’s reputation with an online comment. If somebody lists themselves as an employee of a company and posts something awful, that can reflect on the organization. Employees need to understand the sensitivity of the organization’s brand and they need to make sure their own behaviour, even private behaviour, doesn’t reflect on the organization.

In one example, a public figure started receiving toxic backlash, much of it racist and sexist, over a statement she had made. As this horrible emails came in, she did something brilliant: she shared them publicly. Some of the people emailing used their work email addresses to send these hateful messages and employers had to deal with the fallout of being associated with such employees.

Secure Your Brand

This might seem obvious, but make sure your organization, especially if it is larger and can afford to do so, is buying up domain names that are linked to its brands. Create social media accounts to hold the names, even if you don’t plan to use them. This prevents others from maliciously using them to attack your organization.

Stay Current

Update your website from time to time, as well as your social media profiles. Make sure information is accurate. Keep an eye on small details, such as whether search engines are displaying correct business hours and addresses.

Make Friends

Finding celebrities and influencers who can help boost your brand is part of the game. This has an inherent risk, though. If they have a fall from grace, this tarnishes your brand, as well.

Take Action

In extreme cases, such as with defamation or massive abuse of your product, consult legal experts to decide if you need to take legal action or in some way respond to the problem.

Plan for a Crisis

Hopefully, you never need to deal with a full-blown crisis. However, every organization should have a crisis communications plan in place. Entire books have been written on this subject, so no attempt to do justice to a topic of this magnitude will be made in this lone paragraph, but for more information on crisis communications, you can see this chapter in Public Relations: From Strategy to Action.


Remember that you’ll never be done managing your organization’s reputation; it’s an ongoing process. Consistency, authenticity, and proactive approaches are key to building and maintaining a strong reputation.


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Social Media & Reputation Management Copyright © 2023 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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