CEOs and boards that fail to recognize the importance of their company’s search engine profile enable unnecessary reputational damage to their company when a crisis does arise. Traditional communications are no longer a sufficient defense in modern crises, and any CEO or board that deploys conventional tactics in isolation is leaving their company exposed to the threats that emanate from a negative online profile.
Significant reputational challenges are emerging for companies globally as they struggle to perform in a deteriorating economic climate while meeting ever-more-demanding stakeholder expectations. The dramatic increase in notable corporate crises during recent months is unsurprising given that many companies often fail to adequately control the online narrative and mitigate the threats that ultimately damage their reputation.
The accelerating pace of online news and social media reporting has created an environment in which corporations and their boards are both vulnerable and penalized for their slowness to react. Immediate and effective responses to a crisis are not only expected but are now critical in mitigating reputational risk. Effective monitoring of stakeholder perceptions and tracking reputation scores is vital to identifying and predicting imminent threats, while integrating an advanced online reputation strategy ensures the crisis response remains visible to stakeholders in the long-term, which cannot be achieved by traditional communications in isolation.
While Google’s search results hold significant influence over stakeholder perceptions of a company, during a crisis the level of influence reaches a critical mass and dictates the severity of the reputational damage that is inflicted. Since journalists use Google as a primary research tool to inform their reporting, failing to visibly position a crisis response statement or situation update online enables a negative cycle of media reporting to continue uninterrupted, or worse, allows misinformation to spread as false allegations remain visible online.
Stakeholder groups similarly look for updates on Google and other popular search to inform their decision making, which in the case of investors and consumers can worsen a crisis if not dealt with effectively. Furthermore, stakeholders can rapidly disseminate negative media coverage and messaging online and across social media based on the search results that they find.
Online Reputation Management (ORM) is an innovative specialism that breaks the negative reporting cycle and limits crisis contagion by elevating the visibility of response statements and chosen search results online. Based on Google’s algorithmic preferences—which dictate the prevalence of search results—ORM supports the strategic optimization of chosen websites, press releases, articles, and content such that they achieve prominence online. During a crisis, ORM establishes control over the narrative, directing stakeholders to factual information and informative resources that rationalize decision making and affirm the communicated position.
While traditional communications help a company respond to a crisis through print and broadcast media, which follow a sharply declining curve of audience engagement, ORM achieves long-term visibility of the response online, effectively targeting and influencing stakeholder groups during and after the crisis. ORM has become the new dimension of modern crisis communications as it enables companies to control a live narrative, shaping media reporting and stakeholder perceptions in a way that traditional communications cannot.
As the consumption of information and news through search engines continues to increase rapidly, companies and their leadership must recognize the importance of curating a positive online profile and fully controlling the narratives that drive value. In a volatile environment, proactively building a resilient online profile through ORM serves to provide reputational security, while mitigating the reputational impact of a crisis that may arise in the future.