Brand Reputation

How to prevent and handle an online reputation crisis?

For most businesses with an online presence, waking up to a reputation crisis is likely one of the most dreaded scenarios. However, while it’s certainly not enjoyable to have to fix reputation damage, it can be done – provided that you act fast and know what you’re doing. 

To give you some real-life examples, we reached out to 11 experts and asked them to share their experiences. Use their insights to inspire your risk management methods and to learn how you can repair company reputation damage.

8 business leaders share their risk management methods

#1 CEO responding to clients on social media and promising to rectify any issues

Caroline Lee, Marketing Director at CoCosign

It was when a popular micro-influencer tweeted about our services, highlighting the daunting experience she had with our services and saying that she won’t recommend it to her followers. We received a massive backlash from her audience that targeted a few of our accounts. It wasn’t comforting, especially when it came from someone with a large following. It caused company reputation damage. 

It all happened online, and as the company’s CEO, I assessed what went wrong. Sometimes even the most polite of responses don’t work to rebuild trust and faith in your company. I personally took to the company Twitter account and first thanked her for the honest review, then I addressed the issue directly, and I explained how I’ll rectify the problem.

The team figured out how they’ll work to enhance the services further. We also reassured the influencer that we’ll rectify the flaws and guarantee this problem doesn’t ever happen again. Later, I held a meeting with the marketing team to create an ad based on this experience. Earlier, we were in the headlines for our customer service. Later, it became our tool for handling reputation crises.

#2 Protecting reputation online by reassuring customers about business authenticity

Bill Joseph, CEO at Frontier Blades

Our business, a small e-commerce company marketing self-defense and survival products, was hit hard by the pandemic. Our domestic and global supply chains were disrupted – therefore, we had issues fulfilling orders in a timely manner.

As a result, our customers began curating and publishing negative reviews on our website and on supplemental review sites. However, the primary crisis was recognized when one of our employees noticed the presence of negative feedback pertaining to our business on various social media channels. These comments expressed disapproval of our shipping times and suspicions towards our business’s authenticity.

In order to alleviate company reputation damage and contain the incident, we prioritized communication and complete transparency. We provided reassuring responses to these comments within the channels they were expressed. Each customer saw that we replied directly – and publicly – to their specific concern, and further communicated their orders’ statuses through private messages.

This approach led to an overall positive outcome, as our customers conveyed approval and understanding of order fulfillment delays. Additionally, it resulted in improved community engagement, as we recognized new avenues and platforms to directly communicate with our audience. 

#3 Issuing a formal apology as part of online reputation repair

Harriet Chan, the Growth marketer and Co-founder at CocoFinder

A teenage girl named Raven visited our shop to purchase a new wallet. According to Raven, immediately after she walked through the doorway, a saleswoman looked up and allegedly said “shoplifter” to one of her colleagues. For context, Raven is black.

Raven’s mother, being a successful blogger, shared the experience on her Facebook page. The post went viral, which prompted an appropriately contrite response. Left there, the fire would’ve been extinguished and everyone could’ve moved on. However, the store later inflamed the situation by insisting they were not at fault and censoring negative comments. 

The store’s page was bombarded with critical comments, many of which were deleted by the page admin. To compound how we mishandled the situation, we ended up deleting the store’s Facebook profile.

The store later issued a formal apology, admitting their fault, taking responsibility by being candid, honest and transparent. Showing empathy and compassion. They also started a store blog that discusses fashion news and trends, posting positive articles, to seek out media coverage for any good deeds the store is involved in. This type of content improves SEO for these sites, which may help direct customer traffic away from the negative reviews and comments.

#4 Handling blackmail by responding with courtesy and facts

Nicolas Tranchant, CEO at Vivalatina Jewelry Brand

One of our clients was not happy with the delivery date or her product. She published defamatory content on LinkedIn, Facebook (her page and our own), Trustpilot, and other customer review sites and threatened us with more harm.

To make matters worse, the client started posting about the experience on social media before we had a chance to react – 30 minutes after her first email was sent to us.

We answered her with courtesy and facts in every channel where she had published her content.

We could not stop bad publications on social media, but our online reviews from the past were so good that this did not harm us.

Preventing this kind of event with stellar customer reviews saved us from any damage.

#5 Releasing an official statement admitting to the mistake 

Tal Shelef, Co-Founder at Condo Wizard

A client once posted a really bad review of one of our agents for a bad buying experience. This caused a crisis in our company’s online reputation as the review went trending. Of course, we detected it as soon as the review became famous and was tagged on our company sites. 

It took a toll on our sales for quite a few days but was solved as soon as we could. What saved us was that we already had a response team in place to address crises like this. 

We devised a strategy to frame the company’s response to the incident without placing external blame. We apologized and admitted our mistake and addressed the affected party. People tend to forgive easily if you apologize right away after learning of your mistake. After that, we released an official statement where we pointed out what we learned from the experience and how we will improve. Lastly, we continuously monitored the situation. We also kept an eye on inbound and outbound communications to answer follow-up questions or concerns.

#6 Amplifying customer service & running a public awareness campaign as part of online reputation repair 

Jake Smith, Managing Director at Absolute Reg

As a business leader, dealing with an online reputation crisis is one of the most challenging things that we have experienced. We dealt with a group of angry customers who created a Facebook page to spread misinformation about our brand. We discovered it when many of our customers tagged us on social media and demanded answers if the accusations against us were real.

We handled this situation by amplifying our customer service. First, we defined the motives behind the misinformation, which is mainly customer dissatisfaction. From there, we have personally reached out to these people to know how we can help and serve them better. 

We have also created a public awareness campaign on our website and social media pages to clarify any misinformation that brewed in the digital space. Through this, every individual (clients, employees, and stakeholders) knows our stance and commitment to the truth despite the misleading news about social media.

#7 Keeping customers updated about the situation as part of reputation protection

Carla Diaz, Cofounder at Broadband Search

A couple years ago, we were in the middle of our busiest month when our website started having issues. We were doing minor changes and something just went wrong, making it impossible for anyone to use our free tool to find service providers in their area. As you can imagine, we started getting messages straight away about it not working. 

We knew that we needed to act quickly, and we did. The first thing we did was take down the tool, replacing it with a message that read something along the lines of “We’re currently experiencing issues. Don’t worry, our developers are working hard to get everything back up and running in no time! We’re sorry if this causes any inconvenience.” 

This would avoid any allegations of us offering a “fake” tool. Because of this, visitors would be aware of what was going on. Next, we paid attention to all the messages from customers about the situation. 

We were open and honest about what was going on, and most of them were very understanding due to this honesty. We were lucky enough to catch the issue quickly and resolve it quickly. I think we handled the situation very well and maintained our reputation. 

Reputation risk management methods – final thoughts

As you can see in the examples above, in many cases protecting reputation online comes down to transparency, admitting to the mistake, and making amends with unhappy customers or company reviewers.

That being said, it is imperative that you have a way of spotting potential reputation crises before they unfold. For this purpose, we recommend using an online monitoring tool like SentiOne, which allows businesses to monitor various online sources – both owned and external.

By analyzing what your audience says about you online, you’ll be able to establish your brand sentiment, identify recurring PR challenges, and create a bullet-proof reputation.