Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Managing Your Reputation Online

When companies undergo a crisis, they often forget that visitors go to their websites to check out or confirm what they may have heard. Unfortunately, many companies overlook how important their web sites are in managing their reputations during bad times. This topic was on my mind today as we presented our recent findings to a client on crisis-stricken companies online.

Some background. A few days after 9-11, we (Idil Cakim and I) examined Fortune 500 and most admired company websites to learn how their sites fared. We learned that companies quickly turned their business sites into information hubs to communicate to employees, customers, and families about the tragedy. Most companies were quick to provide a message to the public, update information on how to volunteer or donate funds, identify locations for giving blood, list counseling services or tell people where to go to donate products. In addition to monitoring web sites, we also surveyed the public and learned that they would have also wanted more updated news reports, being notified about the status of operations (what happened to my package?), emergency hotlines, email addresses for crisis updates and a message from top management. Many missed opportunities although we all learned alot about online communications during these unthinkable times.

9-11 got us seriously thinking about how companies manage their reputations online when they are in the spotlight or making headlines. Did companies take the lessons from 9-11 and apply them going forward? It is always surprising to us how little information companies make available during times of trouble. Undoubtedly, legal considerations get in the way and prevent companies from communicating fully with the public. Yet some companies manage to do a stellar job of managing their reputations online in bad times and good times. These companies provide special contact numbers (on the home page no less!), issue press releases or statements that answer questions on what might be troubling the company, feature a letter from the CEO (in a variety of languages!)and point visitors to other sites (such as government sites or non-profit sites) for further information. Some companies provide glossaries of terms, FAQs and positive and negative news accounts.

Just pick any simmering issue or crisis tomorrow, go to the company's web site and see what they are saying or not. If you have to dig beyond two page views, forget it.


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