And now for something a little different. I met Crispian Cuss and his colleague Nick Archer recently after an introduction by a friend. They run Pittacus – specialising in advising companies about threats to their reputations. In their words:
Pittacus has a simple proposition: to help organisations understand their reputation threats.
After some very interesting conversations, Crispian agreed to write an article for our blog. Here it is:
The Truth Will Out
One of Web 2.0’s biggest implications for the corporate world has been in the field of reputation. The ease with which both consumers and employees can communicate, and share issues, has meant it has become increasingly difficult for companies to keep problems under wraps.
In the ideal world none of this should change the way in which corporations safeguard their reputations. The best way to avoid reputational crises has always been to be open and honest. While it might at times be painful in the short term, it at least allows those involved to control the agenda and limit the damage to their integrity before moving forward with confidence. Of course this is only the advice; whether it is taken or not is another matter.
However, for those not inspired by such transparency there have always been other options; journalists can be bought lunch, favours called in, and, in extremis, the threat of legal action. That is at least until now; Web 2.0 has changed this. By empowering both consumers and employees it has made the traditional means of protecting corporate reputation increasingly impotent.
For companies and organisations struggling with this seismic shift there are two key rules when it comes to the web. One, you can’t fight it; two, you can’t control it. To react often only plays into the hands of your detractors and fuels the fire. After all when you are the biggest kid in the playground people will talk behind your back, and it is usually better just to take it in your stride.
So rather than reaction, the better option is to engage. While it might seem counter-intuitive to offer a platform to your fiercest critics, unless your company has Enron type problems and shouldn’t be trading, there are real benefits to be realised.
Just as Web 2.0 allows consumers to correspond with each other so it also allows business leaders to learn from them and communicate more effectively and directly. If someone wants to talk about your company it is better they involve you rather than someone else. So companies need to open the portal and give them the tools. At the very least they can only earn a reputation for openness and honesty. Further to this they can then build a better understanding about what people really feel and think about them. One has to remember reputation is, after all, what others think not what companies say or think about themselves.
Such openness and honesty will only work if it is truly reflected throughout the company. As such a bit of genuine soul searching, and tidying up of few loose ends, is often invaluable. Just as every family has issues to deal with, and benefits from confronting them, corporations too have issues that need to be addressed. So far better to do it when you at least control the agenda. After all with the arrival of Web 2.0 and its cohorts, the old adage that the truth will out isn’t just a cliché, it is a certainty.