Before the advent of social media, it used to be your personal brand was your reputation, based on word of mouth. Now things are more complex. In this lesson, we'll examine how to recover from a setback and strategies for rebuilding your image.
Reputation Management Definition
Your personal brand is essentially the public's perception of you or your business. What are you known for? Reputation management decides what value you want to be associated with and then intentionally promotes and curates that image. And just like in sports, the best defense is a good offense - work consistently on building a personal brand so strong it can survive a negative onslaught.
Given this, imagine being a small business owner and being unjustly accused of something. A customer comes into your restaurant, has a bad experience (real or imagined, it doesn't matter), and decides to wage a full-out online campaign to take you down. The customer leaves bad online reviews on all the major web sites. What should you do?
Individuals can become engulfed in scandals that negatively affect their personal brand as well. Consider the case of Lance Armstrong, world champion cyclist and cancer survivor who for years denied doping allegations. When he was finally caught beyond a shadow of a doubt, his persistent denials of doping cost him millions of dollars in endorsements. How could things have turned out differently for Lance Armstrong?
Reputation Management Steps
Evaluate the Damage
In our restaurant example, have we noticed a decline in business, or is this just an annoyance? It may hurt our feelings when someone says negative things about us, but that's inevitably going to happen, because you can't please everyone. Have we seen any of our regular customers take up for us within the web reviews, or are people piling on? In Lance Armstrong's case, he incorrectly assessed the ability of his accusers to bring down his personal brand.
Determine the Proper Response
Is a social media war with the person who left the bad review a good idea? Probably not. And yet if we do nothing, we might be seen as not caring or weak. Think about the best way to get the message out to people who are deciding your fate, which in the restaurant's case would be the customers. Maybe a press release, a web site post or a letter to the editor of the local paper. For Lance Armstrong, an early confession would have served him well versus years of lying.
Most experts agree it's important to get out in front of a bad situation. If a mistake was made, own up to it and apologize. No excuses! Accept responsibility and let people know what you've learned; be honest and open. If you're the victim of a false attack, stand up quickly to defend yourself.
Think Long Term
Let's say after the initial bad restaurant review another person chimes in and alleges one of your staff made a racially insensitive remark. Things begin snowballing in a negative fashion. You need to start evaluating your long-term outcomes. Is this something that can be reversed, or do you need to start over clean with another establishment? Are extreme measures necessary, or can the brand be rebuilt?
Some Other Options
After a negative situation like the restaurant example, there's usually some valuable lesson to be learned. Use that lesson for future improvement, whether it's in the current venture or the next one; and if you've learned something, maybe others could get some value from your story as well. Don't be afraid to share your experience as long you tell your story honestly and authentically.
You might also be able to utilize what you've learned to help others who might be going through something similar. Helping others can build goodwill and trust, two essential elements in restoring your reputation.
While you're dealing with your setback, you need to continue pushing forward with your personal brand. Think of ways to highlight the positive things you've done and use those to put the setback in perspective. Lance Armstrong certainly did this, but because he wasn't being honest and authentic the whole time, when he was caught there was no going back. Use technology (social media, blogging, web site posts, etc.) if need be, but don't forget about old-fashioned networking as well - chamber of commerce meetings, business networking groups, and neighborhood associations.
In today's age, your personal brand, which is the public's perception of you, is built via word of mouth and online, which means a bad incident can spread like wildfire. This is why you need to have an understanding of reputation management, which decides what value you want to be associated with and then intentionally promotes and curates that image.
When you have a setback, it's important to evaluate the damage and determine an appropriate response, and then move fast with your chosen strategy. If you did make a mistake, admit it with no excuses and apologize. If you were unjustly or falsely accused, don't hesitate to defend yourself. If the damage to your reputation is significant, you may need to think long term and consider extreme measures, like starting over somewhere else. Others may learn from your story; don't be afraid to help them or share your journey.