Your reputation is arguably the most important asset of your business. Brand reputation is gained over years of dedicated service, hard work, and careful craftsmanship. It’s also the most ephemeral and a fairly easy asset to lose, especially over social media. The consequences of an errant comment or reply or lack of strong employee communication are very, very high.
Michelle and JoyGenea discuss brand reputation in this episode of If These Heels Could Talk – how you get one, how to be thoughtful about your reputation, and how to protect your reputation through thoughtful policies and actions.
M: Hello this is Michelle from BadCat Digital!
J: And this is JoyGenea from Solutions by JoyGenea,
M: And this is,,,
J: If These Heels Could Talk. Welcome.
M: We are very excited for today’s topic. What are we talking about again?
J: We’re gonna talk about brand reputation.
M: Oh, that’s right.
J: In this time of… communication.
J: Yes. This would be a very good time.
M: That was really hard. I think we should probably not have to coach ourselves that much. This could get to be a very long podcast with that many pauses.
J: There would be a very lot of editing for Ms. JoyGenea.
J: That’s what’s gonna happen out of that. Why we’re having a conversation about brand reputation is right now there is a lot of communication happening on social media and in a variety of ways. Sometimes by texting. Sometimes Snapchat. Whatever. There’s a lot of communication happening out there about how people feel about particular topics and right now there’s at least 2 really hot ones that you can kind of you know….
M: Own or not.
J: And it’s one thing to be having those conversations.
M: In person with your friends.
J: And also just as a person who’s maybe retired and not associated with much of anything else. Maybe? If you’re kind of isolated and a hermit.
M: The thing I want to kind of reach out to here is that we are very open systemically. Most people. Not everybody. But most people are very open with the organizations that they are tied to in some way whether it be as an employee whether it be as a business owner. It could also be as a volunteer. Like we’re very open, our activities and what we’re doing and why. That tends to be very true across the board regardless of what those things are.
J: Which we should be tracking, I’m sorry I think we should be fairly transparent and authentic.
M: Yeah, I don’t see there’s anything wrong with that either. Yeah absolutely. But that means that we take on the responsibility of that organization’s reputation personally. By choosing to be really open about what we are associating ourselves with. We’re also choosing for that organization that they will be associated with us.
J: And we can’t control all of those organizations.
M: And they can’t control all of us.
J: And so that leads us to.
M: A brand reputation conversation.
J: Exactly. When you say brand reputation let’s clarify that a little bit.
M: Ok. You may have heard some things in the news recently, maybe, I don’t know on every time you look at any sort of news source about a business leader or an organizational leader who tripped over their own tongues, stepped in it, said something really nasty, negative.
J: I have a beautiful example and this was old so it’s safe. It’s safe-ish. The airline where…
J: Yes. Where they unfortunately drug the person off of the airplane and it’s all on video and then the president got on a video.
M: Just made it worse.
J: Made a statement and just.
M: Beautiful example.
J: That is.
M: So it’s a beautiful example. So let’s think about that brand. What it attempts to be known for. What it wants to be known for. It’s pretty much when it’s kind of safe. They need to be reliable. Their brand needs to stand for safety. It needs to stand for some level of service. But safety is pretty number one.
J: Pretty much.
M: And safety was the thing that was trying to happen in that situation because all of the events that led to a person being beaten and drug off a plane were ill conceived, escalated the situation and made poor decisions. It flew in the face of the safety of the brand because it made it seem as though anybody who flies with them that could happen too.
M: That’s what it seemed like to me anyway. That’s a problem. It is. But what I’m saying is that’s one problem. But it’s one problem. It’s one problem. It’s a staff member made a series of decisions, a second staff member made a second series of decisions. They were bad decisions. That is a singular problem with a singular solution. You could easily fire those staff people two days later, apologize for what happened and everything would be not done but it wouldn’t live on three years later in this random podcast between two marketers.
M: Unfortunately for the gentleman that was beaten it wouldn’t live on in our memories that way.
M: So what really damaged the brand was two days later when the CEO put out a statement and it was a non-apology apology. It was t:pid and dismissive and…
J: Pretty much took little or no ownership.
M: None at all. Took no responsibility for what had happened. Really, really, really damaging and that damaged the brand.
M: For a long term. And that’s what we’re talking about today. These things aren’t singular events and small businesses tend to think of, this is the biggest thing that small business owners say to me when we talk about social media. What happens if? What happens if somebody says something or does something or whatever and it’s not true? Or it is true or it’s this or it’s that. And I’m like it’s almost never a PR disaster because somebody complains. It’s almost always about how the business responds. And you can control that.
M: You can’t control what other people do but you can control how your business responds. So that’s what we’re talking about today.
J: Thank you.
J: I’m glad that’s clarified. So.
M: I’m tired already.
J: Oh, come on we got this.
M: Ok, Ok, Ok.
J: Of course, we’re having this conversation because we want you to be proactive.
J: We want you to educate yourself and we want you to be proactive and really have an understanding of how to best approach some of these circumstances to bringing them into win-win opportunites.
M: Or at least not lose -ose.
J: Oh, let’s avoid lose-lose.
M: Yeah. For part of it you have to understand that it’s gonna hurt.
J: Oh what? My ego is gonna hurt?
M: Yeah. It’s gonna hurt something.
J: Every time my ego is hurt the most first.
M: Yes. Because you’re either gonna learn that somebody on your staff did or said something that you didn’t think that they could or would.
M: Made a poor decision or series of poor decisions. Maybe you made a poor decision or series of poor decisions and it hurts. It hurts your feelings.
J: It does.
M: Because you spent years, blood, sweat, tears go into building your own business. When somebody doesn’t like it or says something mean about it or tells that you did something that you didn’t really understand the way that you did it that way. Or you know when all of those things happen it hurts your feelings.
J: But you need to not react.
M: And that’s that is exactly why you need to be proactive.
M: Because it takes the feelings out of it. If you think and plan ahead, you don’t have to rely on yourself to make decisions when your feelings aren’t great.
J: So what does proactive kind of look like? When you say kind of plan ahead.
J: Is that you kind of already have some canned scripts to go after.
M: Yup. That’s exactly what it means.
M: And so it means you write responses ahead of time and you leave some room in the response to adjust them to specific situations and scenarios. You don’t want it to read like a canned script. You want it to read authentic to the situation but if you have a format already laid out all you have to do is insert the specific situations. And this feels, it’s sounds really callous, like why would I assume that people were gonna leave my business a bad review or why would I assume that somebody’s going to screenshot something that an employee posts on a message board or reddit thread or something and send it to my business through a facebook page and try to blackmail me into firing an employee and I’m sitting here going why do we assume that I don’t know that one of the employees is gonna fall down a stairs and get workers comp insurance. That happened to me. Why do we assume that, well it didn’t happen to me. I’m not gonna pretend it happened to an employee who slipped and fell. Why do we buy insurance? Why do we do all of these things? It takes maybe an hour to sit down and do maybe half an hour. It’s insurance.
J: And it’s so well worth it.
J: Because you’re right it takes the sting. It’s like a bee sting. It hits and you just want to swat that thing and you’re just angry and upset.
M: You just want to react.
J: In this situation is not what’s best for your brand.
J: That is not what’s best for your brand. Also what’s not best for your brand is ignoring it. Like pretending like it didn’t happen at all. So that’s another reason we’re starting this proactive.
M: But see and that’s a different way of reacting. The non-reaction is still a reaction.
J: it is. Trying to think of ways I’ve kind of planned for these types of things. Sometimes it’s just a simple as googling how other people have handled that to see what they wrote. I know I’ve done that.
J: SHRMs got some good stuff.
M: They’ve got some good stuff out there. And other small business owners will have dealt with this. If you want to learn how to take the sting out of reviews, talk to anybody who runs a restaurant.
M: Because they get, a busy restaurant, even a small one probably gets in the neighborhood of 10 or 15 reviews a week because of the number of transactions that they do and the number of platforms that are out there specifically to review restaurants. They get a lot of reviews. So if you’re sitting there in your business to business cocoon of three google reviews and two facebook reviews, very common. First of all you want to get more because you want to insulate yourself against a couple of bad ones but we’ll leave that for another podcast. The bigger part of it is talk to those people. How do you handle this because you have to do this over and over and over again.
J: So one of our usual comebacks, go to your resources.
J: Use your tools. Talk to your people. Go to your resources. And if you’re lucky you’ve got a few of these already set aside just in preparation for an angry employee who felt an urge or a person that might be reaching out to just do some form of harm.
M: Yeah. Cuz if you, I don’t know, terminate somebody and then their girlfriend goes on and reviews you or their best friend goes on and reviews you or maybe you’re driving around in your John’s Plumbing truck and you know run a red light or turn a little too fast and you cut somebody off in traffic or maybe you get a little road rage and you cut somebody off in traffic and now all of a sudden half an hour later, don’t ever use this company they drive like maniac and dah dah dah ahaha. It’s really easy to take an isolated incident and turn it into a pattern if you don’t have another pattern established.
J: Have it.
M: Yeah. I would say one of the key parts of brand reputation is have a brand reputation to protect which means you have to put a brand out there and craft a brand yourself intentionally, with intention so that there’s something there for you to protect because you will get a brand reputation whether you want one or not. And if you don’t decide what it is then other people will decide it for you. That seems really scary to me.
J: And why would you not want to orchestrate be part of the crafting.
M: Yeah because it is a brand reputation is a back and forth. It’s a living breathing thing. It’s not static.
J: Because I know you’re fairly good on your feet, I’m gonna ask this.
M: Oh god.
J: So Joe’s Plumbing guy makes the funny turn and somebody luckily had a dashcam so now we have it on video and they posted stuff and they’re like blah blah. What would that business probably be wise to say back?
M: I’m sorry.
J: Thanks for bringing this to our attention.
M: Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This is what I’m committing to do to fix this from happening. If you would like to discuss the issue any further please give me a call at this phone number. Signed name and phone number. Thank you. I’m sorry. Not oh it was a really bad day I’m so sorry but I just had to get there on time and dah dah dah. No. I’m sorry.
J: That driver’s one of our best. I can’t even imagine.
M: We take our drivers safety very seriously and blah blah blah blah.
J: Don’t do that.
M: Don’t do that. This isn’t an opportunity for your talking points and commercial. This is an opportunity for you to look somebody in the eye and say I’m sorry. And I know that the look somebody in the eye isn’t happening physically or literally but that’s what it needs to come across as. It needs to come across as a real apology and if you want more information on that you can listen to a previous podcast we did about forgiveness.
J: Which we did say would be perfect at this arena.
J: A brand reputation.
M: Absolutely. I am sorry. Full stop.
J: So being proactive is knowing those words.
J: I am sorry. Your statements, you can just start right there.
J: I am sorry.
M: And you know what if it was you driving I would say I’m sorry that was me. I did that. Thank you very much for bringing it to my attention. I didn’t see you and I didn’t know you were there. I am making a commitment to drive more safely and slowly in the future and I really, really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to let me know. If you would like to discuss it any further please give me a call at X.
J: Thank you. I thought a nice example there would be helpful.
M: Pretty simple.
J: Let’s talk a little about employees.
J: Policies and phones and how.
M: You know I have to do better about this podcast and recognizing that my employees listen to it.
M: If only to transcribe it but because I’m making odd noises like ugh employees and that’s not what I mean. Basically, what I’m trying to kind of get at here with employee policies is this: A lot of places have social media policies for their employees that say things like you know if you get fired you’re not gonna say something bad about the company. Most small businesses don’t have any sort of employee handbook or written policy at all. A lot of businesses have an employee handbook that they wrote in 1993 and there was no social media so it’s just not there. So, employee policies. It’s not just about what your employee says about your business. It’s not just about what your employee does while there representing your business on your own branded pages. It is also about what your employees do on their personal social profiles in general. Not just about your business but in general. And the reason that that’s important is because you have likely done a couple of different things like put their names on your website. You may have featured them on your social media sometime or another and a video or a something like that.
J: And they have probably also tagged your company.
M: And they have identified themselves as an employee on social media
J: LinkedIn, Facebook, a variety of places.
M: What happens when that employees no longer an employee? If they’re terminated what happens? If they quit what happens? What compels that employee to change their status as an employee in the public eye. Did they wait until they get a new job and then the whole world thinks there still your employee when they’re not?
J: Which quite a few I’ve noticed during this time period were a lot of people were let go. I mean like this is a real, a very real thing right now.
J: And that’s why we’re bringing it up. A lot of them do this and yet they’re not.
M: And then the other aspect and element of this when was the last time you have checked who has permissions to manage your social media because I, in the 4 years that BadCat has been around we have started campaigns and did campaigns. We have gained clients. We have transitioned clients to other vendors. Or they’ve taken the job internally. I still have access to almost everything. I still have access to everything. I could be out there with you know communicate and I would never do this.
J: But you leave yourself as this is what we’re saying to other business owners. Be Aware. You leave yourself very vulnerable.
M: You leave yourself very vulnerable
J: To your brand and reputation being compromised.
M: As a business owner who takes seriously my responsibility to these brands, current, past client or not, I have fail safes in place for my staff so if there were to be some sort of challenge with an employee, even though our accounts may still tied into our former client accounts that employee would not have access to them because of the fail safes that I have in place. Do you ask your vendors about that? Most people don’t.
J: They should.
M: But they don’t.
J: And there’s actually a really nice contract that I have that holds me accountable. Actually, it is part of my process and I made it part of it and there always surprised. Clients are always like what is this? And I’m like this is my contract to you stating I’m accountable for these things and I’m gonna be responsible for those things and if you give this information away to somebody else that’s on you.
J: But I’m acknowledging you gave me this information and I’m responsible for it from this end. That’s been really, really helpful for clients to understand how important it is to not be losing that information. To not be giving it to everybody to not have everybody that comes along being an admin for everything.
M: Because there are levels and layers of access to things that you can set up. All of these things that we’re talking about by the way none of them take all that much time. But they do require you to understand how the tool works so that you know who has access to what, when, and how.
M: And that’s what takes the time. That’s what takes the time.
J: It does.
M: So that’s what partners are for and that’s what we’re here for is to help you with these things. That’s what HR partners are for. That’s what your payroll partners are for and that’s what your five resource people are for because they can maybe show you one of their employee handbooks and you can rip off of there. I mean it’s all recycled content. There’s only so many ways to legally say something so you have to build up of something
J: Typically, do you see these employee policies what, two pages long. 2-3?
M: Three paragraphs maybe?
J: Ok. They’ve gotten shorter. They started out really long.
M: Well they started out really long and specific, but social media changes so quickly that they started getting less and less specific because they would have to change so often.
J: That makes sense.
M: Yeah. So they started getting more and more general. There are legal ways to state things so that you’re not tramping over your employees’ first amendment rights to write whatever they want wherever they want.
M: But at the same time the first amendment doesn’t stop us from consequences of things and one of those consequences might be getting fired.
J: And, unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently sometimes that can be very public. It’s not always a private situation.
M: It’s not always a private situation.
J: No. It started out that way but it just might not. I will also add that employee policy applies to owners.
J: I’ve run into the problem where owners don’t want to do this with their employees and I know it’s entirely because they don’t want to be saddled with this.
J: They’re like yeah but then I can’t. What about my freedom of speech.? I’m like that’s ok but here’s your brand. Here’s the reputation you have acquired which is one worth keeping.
M: One worth keeping
J: One worth fighting for.
M: So not as a fear mongering thing but just as a really quick thing let me describe how quickly this can happen. Last week a screenshot of a former employee action got sent to a client of ours. That employee was accidentally left on as an admin on the account and responded on behalf of the client, mistakenly but did. The next morning I get a phone call and by the time I got that phone call the next morning cuz this was 12 hours. 12 hours. That client had 5 negative google reviews. Three negative facebook reviews and I think the person had screenshotted the conversation and shared it to, I didn’t see exactly how many, but the thread on facebook had about 15 comments on it. So with screenshots of the conversation. So that’s in 12 hours. So now I get the phone call and now its job to stop the situation. That’s the job.
M: So we craft a reply that’s in keeping with what we had just talked about. Sent it off. And didn’t hear back for a couple of days. Everything kind of stopped.
M: So that helped. The one thing that we messed up in the reply was we asked them to reply via email instead of phone.
M: They sent an email but it was a super sketchy email address and based on some other things we thought maybe was somebody trying to hack them through the email.
J: You just weren’t sure.
M: So we didn’t want to reply to the email so now another day goes by and they get a message. Were you just trying to shut me up? So we crafted another reply and invited a phone call. Haven’t heard anything since. So that was two days of two working days with three executives and a vendor.
M: So you’re talking, just think about the cost of that for your own business. If you had to give up 2 working days and pay a vendor for, you know, 12 hours of work. What would that cost you? And that’s a best-case scenario.
M: If things had gone the way like exponentially grown the way that they were starting when it initially happened. By the end of the first week we would have had somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand negative reviews on 5 different locations google accounts, the facebook page would have probably been shut down.
J: Just to stop the pain.
M: Just to stop the bombardment. We wouldn’t have been able to keep up with all of the comments. We wouldn’t have been able to keep up with all of the reviews. We would have had pulled more people in and that’s when you start getting problems with the media because now the news, the local news, gets involved and if gets bad enough the national news gets involved and now from today until forever every time somebody googles your businesses name the story about this comes up.
J: Employee policy. It’s so beautiful.
M: So then you end up changing your business name. Changing all of your signage. Buying all of new swag. All new apparel. All new business cards. All new everything and starting from scratch. So how much would that cost?
J: Yeah we’re not having this conversation cuz we think it’s just pennies.
J: We’re having this conversation.
M: We’re having this conversation because we’ve built businesses and we know how much it would cost and how much it would hurt. And how much it would hurt to have the thing that I built.
M: Destroyed so quickly over something.
J: And in a manner probably nobody meant for things to escalate into.
J: Kind of last but we want to make sure we have a conversation about this neutrality.
M: There’s no such thing.
J: What do you mean by that? Nice try. Can’t remain neutral on that one. Good job.
M: It’s one of those things, to say nothing is to say something and that’s pretty common. It kind of goes back to what I was saying about a brand reputation and crafting a brand reputation based on your values and the things that you want to be known for as a business. And it also ties back into the conversation that if your brand is trying to be everything to everybody it’s not really anything to anybody. And if you ask any, any real estate agent who their target audience is they’ll say people who want to buy houses. And that’s not helpful from a marketing perspective. Your brand is about more than that. The most successful marketing campaign that I’ve ever seen for a real estate agent ever was for a man in Minneapolis who’s gay and wanted to be known as the gay real estate agent for the LGBTQ community. Like that’s what he wanted and that’s what we did and it was so uber successful because he picked an audience. It didn’t mean that he wasn’t gonna sell a house to his parents or you know somebody straight called he wasn’t gonna sell them a house.
J: This is true and we see it all the time in business like this very, very true in business. When you can be very specific about who you help. The problem you solve. The ideal client your looking for you will make so much more money.
M: And the fear is that you’re gonna make less. The fear is that you’re gonna say I don’t work with these people. I don’t want to work with you because you’re not this. That’s not true. What you’re doing is you’re crafting a message toward a particular group or toward a particular ideal customer. Doesn’t mean that other customers aren’t ideal. It doesn’t mean that there’s not other people you don’t enjoy working with. It means that you have crafted your message or your pricing or products or your services to people who have, like you’re a children’s clothing boutique and you sell children’s clothing and that’s what you do and that’s what you sell and so the people who walk in there who are adults looking for pants aren’t gonna find them because it’s so much easier to compete with the 3 children’s clothing boutiques out there than it is to compete with Macy’s and JC Penney. That’s what we’re talking about.
J: And when comes to brand reputation and neutrality are we talking about where you stand on certain issues? Are we talking about politics?
M: I think it depends on your brand.
M: And it depends on your brand values.
J: Which are part of your mission statement and your vision statement. And that’s why those things when people are like oh I’m gonna get around to those.
M: There so incredibly important.
J: And you can update them.
J: But boy start with something.
M: I’m not saying that you as a business or your brand needs to be radicalized in some direction or another and I’m also not advocating that you are take one stance versus another stance. I’m saying know who you are as a company. Know what your target audience is and stand in that proudly.
J: And it might feel a little uncomfortable.
M: Yeah. And it will be scary because the minute you say what you are you’re saying what you’re not. But you have to say what you are so that people understand who and what you are. And once you’ve said it you stand in it. Everything else gets so much easier.
J: So brand neutral is brand not identifiable.
J: It’s kind of like the invisible man.
M: I’m not talking about political alignment. I’m not talking about a stance or some sort of you know line in the sand. The nobody can cross. I’m not talking about your brand identifying into a black and white issue and I didn’t even mean that as a racial issue I meant that as an all nothing you know A or B one or zero. Finite decision. That’s not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is have an identity and then when something like this happens you can know immediately if that fits into the identity that you have but if you don’t know what your identity is your just kind of blown out in the breeze and there isn’t a lot of guidance for you anywhere. You haven’t set up. You haven’t proactively created a framework for yourself to make decisions.
J: Which is part of really strong foundation for your business.
M: Yeah. In anything that you do.
J: It is. You’re right.
M: They’re all tied together. This isn’t like ok first you have you know create a brand and then you have to you know make a logo and then have to do the 700 other things. It doesn’t go on a to do list. The brand breathes and lives and interacts with the world.
J: It evolves. And it expands.
M: And the reason it does is because you bring in other people to it. Your clients are part of your brand. Your employees are part of your brand. How they live in the world is part of your brand. Just understanding what’s going on.
J: I think just having awareness of brand reputation.
J: Like that’s what I’m really like as were wrapping this up I’m thinking just get that you being in the business world and having this business cuz that’s what were focused on means you do have a brand. You have a reputation.
M: And if you decide to kick that with your friends on a Saturday night and have a few drinks and get on Facebook and go into some sort of long rant commenting on you know some sort of events of the day you need to own that because it might get screen shot sent to you. So if you are reacting to things in real time publicly it impacts your brand whether you mean it to or not.
J: And we want your brand to bring you only the best things.
M: Yeah. We wanted to carry you through. It’s one of the biggest assets that your business has because it isn’t something you got overnight. It’s something that you’ve built through the lifetime of your business. It’s all of that work that’s what the brand is.
J: Michelle, since we are still in covid land.
M: Covid pandemic land.
J: Covid pandemic land. Would you please like to reach out and give our thank yous this week.
M: You know I actually have a lot of gratitude this week to a lot of the authors, the thought leaders, the organizers in the black lives matter community who are taking a lot of time to do interviews and do a lot of talking and put a lot of great resources out on social media and it’s really helping me learn a lot.
J: Me too.
M: And I’m very, very grateful because none of those people have a responsibility to do that for me but man is it helpful. It’s so awesome. You know because my initial reaction to things like defund the police we were just talking about this we were like oh my gosh what would life be like without the police. That’s ridiculous. But that’s not what it means. It’s about the police doing the things that police are supposed to do and not the things that social workers are supposed to do, mental health professionals are supposed to do. It’s about having realistic asks for our civil servants and then providing them those tools.
J: Well and owning to the fact that we kept putting things in their bucket.
M: That don’t belong there.
J: Right. We kept saying well we’re just not sure exactly but you look like you could handle it. Here handle that.
M: I don’t want a half-way house in my neighborhood. We have police. No that’s not how that works. They serve different functions. So as a tax payer ,as community person I’m really appreciating a much, much, much, much more and new understanding of the history of those who are black and of color in America. That’s really helpful. I’m appreciating a new understanding of why people are so angry.
J: We’re white women in the middle of Minnesota like let’s just.
M: We’re middle aged suburban women.
J: Yes…. We didn’t mean to be this way. This is just how we got.
M: I don’t mean to be this way and I’m incredibly grateful that there’s all of these people taking so much time to help me learn.
J: Thank you.
M: Thank you.
J: Well that’s it for our podcast this week.
J: We hoped that you’ve learned something. We hope you’ve been a little bit motivated. We hope you’ve had a little laugh with us and had a nice time listening.
M: Get out there and work on your brand.