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Reputation Sabotage: How Trusted Brands That Take Years To Build Can Be Destroyed In Minutes

Roisin Henden

It can take years to build a successful brand from the ground up. The visual identity, the brand values, the brand voice – these elements don’t just appear overnight. It takes a lot of hard work to develop a brand that can forge emotional relationships with customers and evolve into unquestioned brand loyalty. However, thanks to the internet – even the most stable and loved brands are vulnerable. An ill-informed tweet, dishonest online behaviour, or a scathing customer review, all have the power to destroy a brand’s reputation overnight. So how can your brand avoid reputation sabotage online?

Develop a social media strategy and police your content diligently

Social media has the power to shape a brand’s online reputation. A brand’s social channels need to be diligently managed as it impacts how the brand is perceived by customers. The content you share will create an image of who your brand is and what it stands for. A social media content strategy will help avoid social media blunders, by monitoring what is posted and why it’s being posted.

A social media strategy also needs to involve educating employees on the use of their personal accounts, as their actions can negatively impact a brand. In 2013, a public relations executive working for a large media company became the number 1 trend on twitter following a controversial tweet about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Despite using her personal social account, her employer was criticised and the brand faced considerable backlash.

Bad news travels fast

It wasn’t too long ago that a problem with a dissatisfied customer was a private matter between business and customer. It’s safe to say those days are gone. With review websites and forums available at our fingertips, a disgruntled customer can leave a scathing review about your business in real time for the world to see.

When this happens it’s important that it’s dealt with head on. Respond quickly via the platform the complaint was made on and ensure your brand is open and transparent. Handling the issue quickly is paramount, as consumers will judge your brand on its efficiency in responding to and dealing with customer complaints. Instead of getting into a confrontational argument for the world to see, offer to contact the individual offline to discuss how together you can resolve the matter.

Online discussions surrounding your brand are happening everyday. Content such as business reviews are constantly adding to this conversation. The catch is that they aren’t always fair and sometimes they can be downright fake. Responding publicly or taking it offline isn’t always an option, that is where professional content removal steps in. 

Removify deals specifically with reputation monitoring and management. We can help catch damaging content quickly and manage the situation by removing it permanently.

Should a brand get involved in sensitive social and political issues?

Brands need to tread carefully when it comes to sensitive topics such as politics, race and gender. A brand’s reputation can be torn down quickly if they appear to align themselves with controversial figures or don’t take a stand on important social issues. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether a brand should involve themselves in sensitive issues. It all comes down to the brand’s values, what they stand for and how they want to be perceived.

A great example is Nike, who openly came out in support of American Football player Colin Kaepernick following his controversial protests during NFL matches. This fueled a vicious online debate that saw Nike both praised and condemned by divided fans. However, instead of negatively impacting the brand, Nike saw their share price hit a record high, with consumers appreciating that the brand took a stand and openly displayed their values. We’ve seen this in reverse here in Australia when Telstra did not openly support gay marriage, receiving scathing backlash from customers online before eventually coming out in support of new legislation.

Honesty is the best policy

If you’ve made a mistake, don’t damage your brand further by not being honest. Own up to the error and have an honest conversation about how you’ll fix it. If done on social channels or review forums, it displays to your online audience that your brand has character.

In order to earn trust, a brand must create emotional bonds with customers through actions that match their brand values. By being transparent and honest online, a brand is in a better position to repair any damage caused by past mistakes. By continuing to deliver on promises and openly addressing errors, brands become more authentic and trustworthy in the eyes of consumers.

Aldi did just this, after a tweet from an angry customer who bought some mouldy strawberries went viral on twitter. They responded with an entire campaign centred around owning up to their mistake, committing to better quality control and promising fresh produce. Consumer surveys show that Aldi is considered one of the most trusted brands in Australia.


Be open about your products and services

Being honest is also key when promoting products and services. The rise in use of social media and review platforms has led to many brands using it to dishonestly promote their offerings.

Fake online reviews, buying online followers for social accounts, altering user-generated content – it’s no wonder consumers question the online actions of many brand’s. As mentioned earlier, transparency online is key. Being open about your products and values is what customers appreciate and respect. Unethical online tactics are not worth the impact it will have on your brand when customers find out the truth – and they always do.

Final Thoughts

While the internet provides brands the platform to form long-lasting relationships with customers, it also has the potential to tear down a brand that took years to build. An online strategy is required to effectively manage content, scout social platforms and ensure honest and open communication with customers online. Mistakes will be made, it’s how a brand responds to these mistakes that can help avert potential catastrophe.