Reputation Management In An Increasingly Transparent World
Maintaining a good reputation in the digital age is not a one stop shop- there is no one size fits all approach.
This article has been built in collaboration with Young Arab Leaders, a not-for-profit organization founded by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE, to develop the next generation of leaders in the Arab world through entrepreneurship, education, and employment.
A good reputation is more important today than it has ever been, especially in a world dominated by digital communication.
Your reputation is how others see you, or as the age-old adage goes, “Your reputation precedes you.” In today’s online world, we are all our own brands, whether our posts are attributed to an organization, a movement, or we are just sharing our own personal thoughts on the issues of the day. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as well as websites like Mail Online, public perceptions and sentiment on those matters can quite literally make or break a reputation.
To date, family offices, HNWI and UHNWI’s in particular, have operated discreetly, purposely attracting little to no attention. However, in the face of changing business and financial roles and objectives, many are now starting to understand that protecting their reputation is in the best interest of their personal and professional longevity. Traditionally, many businesses, family offices, and individuals, have relied on the fact that if they made headline news one day, it would soon be forgotten about, things would return to normal, and any reputational damage would be limited and even then, only temporary.
However, in our ever more transparent times of increased due diligence and with public intrigue running at an all-time high, not addressing an adverse event or accusation that is easily communicated, shared and commented on by a global audience online, will not only reflect negatively on one’s reputation and the public’s perception of them, but it will likely carry more serious consequences with regard to international financial and legal service providers going forward.
In today’s environment, reputation is more important and permeating than ever. It is notoriously difficult to develop a good reputation, yet, with the growth of online technology, it is far easier to bring one to its knees. In the words of Benjamin Franklin: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”
The digital age we now consider the norm brings with it many risks to one’s reputation, whether their own, their family’s or of their business. One small indiscretion here, an ill-timed or unintentionally misguided tweet, or a send to all response there, or even a malicious exploitative email, and one’s carefully curated reputation and privacy can lay in ruins splashed across the front page. It is becoming increasingly difficult to fully erase these events from memory once they are in the public psyche, so push back needs to happen at the earliest opportunity, ideally before a crisis is even on the horizon. To this end, protecting your reputation is about more than just traditional data protection, it is about exercising control over the availability of the information you do share and managing how it is utilized and perceived.
Understanding where these reputational risks come from is just the start. The same platforms one would use as vital marketing tools today are the same platforms that critics, enemies, and competitors are likely to use to damage your reputation. Getting ahead of the game, such as locking in domain names or trademarking products and technologies, are just some of the ways reputation can be protected from online threats.
While modern digital technologies have changed how easily we are able to interact online, traditional crisis management protocols have remained the same. The audiences may be bigger, but the basic principle remains - the need to seize the opportunity and communicate effectively at the start of a crisis to avoid an information black hole. In such a scenario, the vacuum caused by the affected party’s silence is quickly hijacked by others who will take control of the narrative, filling it with rumour and conjecture. That is not to say one needs to launch a full scale, publicity charm offensive (unless, of course, the situation calls for it). On the contrary, increasingly, the best course of action positions the individual just above the parapet, making their voice heard and presenting their key messages to targeted audiences in just the right way to avoid an escalation of affairs. A reasoned, detailed, and evolving reputation and crisis management strategy will help to identify when information shared online exposes you to vulnerabilities. It will also recognize the necessary proportionate and pre-emptive actions needed to mitigate the risk.
We all have car insurance, home insurance and health insurance- policies we pay out for hoping we’ll never actually need, but they are there, offering peace of mind. Just in case. It therefore pays to have an established curated and rehearsed reputation and crisis communications strategy in place, to serve as an insurance policy before an issue or a crisis even registers on the radar. This helps to ensure that when the proverbial does hit, an effective response strategy that clearly communicates your position can be perfected and deployed as quickly as possible.
How this is done exactly varies from one individual or business to another. However, one element remains the same across the board - all parties involved should possess an intimate knowledge of the approach and the processes in place for any of the possible ‘unknown’ unknowns in order to avoid delays at a time when immediate action will be required.
Maintaining a good reputation in the digital age is not a one stop shop- there is no one size fits all approach. While it is advisable to hope for the best, it’s also vital to prepare for the worst. Good governance means understanding and accepting that circumstances change, and just because something doesn’t seem likely today, it may still happen tomorrow. While time consuming and sometimes costly, the cost-benefit of reputation management is much greater in the long-term, and it’s a cost you will be thankful to have paid for if the worst were to ever happen.
Zainab Al-Deen, an active member of Young Arab Leaders, is the Dubai-based MENA Regional Manager for Farrant Group, a strategic communications firm. She works across the international government, corporate, and private client spheres to build and deliver intelligent and innovative communications strategies. Zainab advises an array of clients on crisis and reputation management, devising positioning strategies to develop their profile and best protect their reputation across complex political, media and business landscapes.
Zainab graduated from Leeds University and holds an MSc in International Security, Global Governance and Diplomacy from the University of London. After graduating, she spent six years working for the European Parliament and the UK Parliament, liaising with key party figures and senior government officials to devise and deliver communications strategies on the Conservative Party’s national and European Union policy. Before joining Farrant Group, Zainab worked at Project Associates, delivering complex communications strategies for multiple ultra high net worth and government clients. She has previously also led the communications team for the real estate arm of a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund out of their HQ in Europe and the Americas, developing and managing its PR and communications strategies.