Wading in on E-Defense

Well it’s taken a while but I’ve finally found the time/topic for my first blog posting. Very exciting. I was invited to speak on a panel this week on the topic of Winning Strategies for Online Reputation Management. The discussion was hosted by Weber Shandwick, a global PR agency (who works with HBS). The discussion centered on a survey that WS conducted with The Economist probing CEO concerns about managing reputation in the digital age (Risky Business – Reputations Online).

The findings are interesting and they do show that within the last few years CEOs have taken greater notice of the Internet in terms of it’s potential to impact company reputation. What I find a little surprising is the preponderance of fear. One attendee quipped they should have named the event E-Offense but it is clear that of the 703 CEOs surveyed, the vast majority only see the destructive capacity of the Internet as a brand destroyer rather than its promise as a brand builder.

The findings reinforce the notion that the boardroom is still struggling with the tectonic shift brought about by social networking. How can they rise above the chatter of customers, shareholders and employees in a world where everyone has a microphone? How can they control the message? The answer of course is that they cannot. The companies that have embraced that notion stand to gain at the expense of those who fight it.

For the benefit of any current or future CEOs in the room I offered the following thoughts about managing reputation in the digital age. Avoid these missteps:

  • Indifference – No CEO can afford to be ambivalent about the web and the power of social networks. Bad news (whether justified or not)  travels exponentially faster in the blogosphere.
  • Fear – There is a clearly a lot of it and I believe it comes from ignorance about how these tools work and angst about how to wade in. The result is paralysis.
  • Hubris – One of the great benefits of the the web is that it has created much more transparency and accountability. Those who fail to realize the importance of authenticity in the 2.0 world will likely be exposed.

Here are three suggestions I had for those wondering about how to wade in:

  • Be aware – Versus beware . . . Yes people are talking about you and/or your company online. Yes they are probably saying things that incorrect or negative. Wouldn’t you rather know about it? Being aware means you have to have the right tools to monitor online chatter and these run the gamut from free (Technorati) to custom (Cymfony).
  • Pick your spots – The web in all its enormity can be overwhelming. It is important to know what conversations to monitor. Which ones do you care most about? Most likely there are places on line where you want people talking about your product/service. Start there.
  • Have a plan for engagement – Once you start to listen in you have to be ready to take action. There are appropriate ways to do this in the unwritten rules of the Web. Authenticity looms large here. Trying to sneak into a conversation under false premises is a recipe for brand disaster.

So I’m sure this is waaay to long for a blog entry but I get some slack as a first-timer. I’ll try to update this blog weekly (with something a little shorter).

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2 Responses

  1. Congrats on starting your blog. And thanks again for participating in the panel.It is hard to believe that this is the first HBS blog. Wonder if biz profs need to engage more too! Best lgr

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