Managing Your Company Reputation in a Digital World

Thomas Spencer, Sr. Director- ERM & Corporate Insurance, New York Power Authority
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Thomas Spencer, Sr. Director- ERM & Corporate Insurance, New York Power Authority

Thomas Spencer, Sr. Director- ERM & Corporate Insurance, New York Power Authority

When most individuals or organizations consider the impacts of technology on their businesses, they understandably focus on cyber security and/or disruptive innovation. What we are also learning is that they are far more aware of how this new digital era is affecting public perceptions of every company among their most important audiences. AON’s 2017 Global Risk Management Survey, which represents responses from over 1,800 key risk professionals across multiple countries and industries, indicates damage to brand and reputation as the top-ranked risk for the second straight year.

Everyone recognizes that social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn and Reddit have the potential to instantaneously change the image and perception of your organization in the eyes of your key stakeholders. Almost daily, we see evidence of how a major company can be affected by adverse social media. Look at Wells Fargo, Samsung and United. All three companies recently experienced well-publicized incidents that led to the erosion of company value, diminished customer confidence and leadership shake-ups, and ultimately threatened the resiliency of their businesses.

Technology is having a major influence on perceptions, behaviors and reputation, and organizations need to see it as an opportunity to proactively manage their reputation within the framework of enterprise risk management. Handling a crisis is not reputation management. It’s damage control.

As with many enterprise level risks, reputation risk is hard to measure and difficult to predict. The real value of proactive reputation management only reveals itself in event avoidance or after the event occurs. It is these items, along with resource constraints, that make the establishment and implementation of a comprehensive reputational resiliency program challenging for an organization. Without the support and commitment of the C-suite, acceptance of a robust and successful reputation management program is difficult. Assuming the value of a proactive reputation program is self-evident and you have executive leadership support, here are some key concepts that any organization should have in place to manage their reputation.

Governance:

Establishing a strong governance structure sets the tone and serves as the glue that unites the program. Implement a steering committee that is comprised of cross functional members throughout all levels of the organization.

Know Your Desired Reputation:

You can’t manage what you don’t know or don’t measure. Meet with leadership and the steering committee. Develop your desired reputation and share it throughout the organization.

  The real value of proactive reputation management only reveals itself in event avoidance or after the event occurs  

Know Your Key Stakeholders:

Paramount to reputation management is knowing who your key stakeholders are and what elements of your reputation are significant to them. Basically, not all stakeholders are equal. The allocation of time and resources, the message you want to send, who owns the relationship and the engagement strategy you employ is dependent on stakeholder prioritization. The key stakeholder concept underscores one of the most crucial aspects of managing reputation --the idea of holistic and proactive interaction. By making sure the right members of the organization are involved in the development and deployment of the engagement strategy you can ensure consistent messaging. Doing this in both a proactive and programmatic fashion allows your organization to build a reputational capital reserve for use when needed most.

Measure and Report on Your Reputation:

Without a doubt, implementing a reputation management program is a big and heavy lift requiring a considerable amount of organizational time and effort. One of the ways of gauging your success or failure is through the use of risk sensing tools and metrics. For example, conduct internal and external surveys on reputation, benchmark your results, and actively monitor social media feeds for both negative and positive comments. Establish a baseline and clearly define targets. Provide leadership with reporting on a routine cadence identifying shifts in trends or behaviors with actionable response plans as a result.

Even the most well intentioned response of an individual or an organization may not result in a positive reputational outcome. However, having a holistic reputational management program in place certainly increases the likelihood of a positive result.

At the New York Power Authority we are focused on becoming the first digital utility of the future using technology to provide innovative customers solutions and energy applications. We recognize the importance of a comprehensive reputational resiliency program as we pursue these digital opportunities. Through the continued advancement of the reputation program, we are positively shaping key stakeholder perceptions.

It is an organization’s actions and voices that bring its reputation to life. Interaction with customers and other stakeholders occur every day, providing the opportunity to shape perceptions and bolster reputation. Recognizing the role of technology, its impact on reputation and how it can be leveraged as an opportunity to reinforce brand and reputation is the first step. It is the responsibility of all members of the organization to position the company in a positive light and it is the role of leadership to enable this through a holistic reputation management approach.

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