Organizations Must Adapt To A New Playbook of Reputation Management

By: Sukanya Chakraborty, Global Head - Corporate Communications & CSR, VFS Global

Sukanya brings two decades of experience across cross-industry global roles. Her journey started out in a creative start-up working on content. During her tenure in various global firms in technology, IT outsourcing, and real estate, Sukanya kept pace with the changing landscape in business and communications to help organizations 'Connect, Converse, Convert' better. The astute business leader also enjoys speaking to young professionals and students excited about making a mark. She sees value in 'collective growth' and seeks every opportunity to share lessons that help others grow.

Here she shares her expert views on the critical role played by communication in today’s evolving business landscape.

What are your views on managing reputational risk? How is social media responsible for maintaining a reputation in current pandemic times?

Managing reputation is imperative and must be done with utmost focus and care. A solid and positive reputation benefits are not unknown, driving organizations to invest in reputational risk management efforts. It has also become an essential topic among decision-makers, a part of their business strategy.

Being transparent, responsible, and accountable are critical for all stages of reputation risk management, such as   

- Pre-crisis: Assessing stakeholder perception, conduct market research to identify gaps, define guidelines, and build a communication strategy 

- During a crisis: a critical stage that demonstrates how the company behaves through the response strategy, stakeholder communication, defining corrective action framework

- Post-crisis review, learning, and behaviour by way of stakeholder engagement and credibility assessment.

With the rise in digital consumption, companies no longer can be complacent. News moves as fast as people can type out a tweet or upload a reel. With audiences widely dispersed, social listening becomes imperative. Companies that listen to their audiences build better engagement and identify any potential threats much ahead of time. Therefore, the onus of managing reputation is not limited only to the corporate communications or marketing teams but cuts across the organization.

Irrespective of the industry, organizations had to adapt to a new playbook of reputation management, dictated by the unique sensitivities of the Covid-19 world. Keeping a tab on channels and crafting messages that suit the sensibilities of multiple cohorts across platforms has become even more critical. Owned channels have gained prominence providing reliable information and presenting compassionate side of brands and business leaders. At VFS Global, we undertook a two-pronged approach that included sensitization (through information sharing) and upholding optimism (on travel resumption). The team drove the former through consistent rounds of sharing information across all digital and social channels of the company and the media community.

What strategies should companies follow for removing any gaps in communication?

It is essential to keep in mind the audience, objective, and the intended outcome from the communication. Arming the audience with the correct information helps them make the right decisions that go a long way in building confidence.

As a communication practitioner for over two decades, here are some points I would reiterate –

Customizing the narrative - Every platform caters to a distinct set of audience groups that makes it essential to customize the message to make it relevant for that specific set. Identifying what works best for the company and building content for particular platforms through collaboration will be crucial to success.

Using the suitable medium – Companies have a plethora of touchpoints to engage with their audiences. Using an appropriate medium is highly critical. Picking an inappropriate platform could lead to misinterpretations and gaps in ROI.

Avoiding Assumptions – Clarity of purpose along with transparency in messaging is vital when deciding outreach strategies. Lack of this can lead to miscommunication, which might result in a more significant challenge at a later stage.

Internal communication is as important as external communication - Both are significant for business growth, supporting the organization differently. Efforts should bealigned, and messages unified. Communication fails when inconsistency leads to mixed messages, resulting in disengaged employees and, therefore, confused customers.

How can one be creative in challenging situations? Please provide some stats and examples of respective challenging tasks without mentioning any company or person name.

In today's digitally connected world, the canvas has expanded for every marketing and communication practitioner. This has made companies aware about stakeholder voices and its role long-term brand perception.

Given that today's customers aren't just consumers but also active tech-savvy content creators, innovation in communication entails collaborating with customers from the outset. Co-creating with the customer is the new meaning of being "customer-centric."

While brands continue to engage with traditional media, they also need to cultivate brand evangelists who advocate for the brand and its values. This could be anyone from a YouTuber to a blogger or a business stakeholder. The key is to go where your audience is and leverage the "media" that caters to that pocket of the audience.

Audiences now have more access to the brands they follow, providing communicators with more opportunities to engage.Thanks to the growth of new media channels, platforms, and gadgets, a world of gateways has opened to deliver a message, sell a product, or develop a relationship.

There are enough examples in recent times of how brands engaged with their audience segments and the world at large during the Covid crisis. With offline events entirely out of the picture, many brands have experimented with online events and tasted success, such as the launch of sports shoes, or mobile phones, or even car models.

Gartner has some interesting insights on the trends that we will see in defining customer engagement in the coming years. 

How should a company devise its outreach strategies for reaching a wider customer base, especially those that are disinterested? Please share some success stories without mentioning the name of the company or person.

There are many examples around us. For example, how luxury brands use the ‘eternal sophistication technique’ to showcase products through detailed and high-definition photographs rather than mere descriptions, and the use of quick-byte sized videos has caught on as part of ‘reel-marketing’ to gain the attention of wider audiences to get them engaged, among other ways.

It is important to understand who the target group is and devise outreach strategies that converse, connect, and convert. This is how you start. Put yourself in the shoes of the target group and think of the potential audience benefits. The product or service may not pique the interest of everyone we wish to reach, but they are always interested in how they benefit.

Using testimonials adds to credibility. People want to hear something from a different source no matter how many times you say it.

With new mediums of communication gaining popularity, it becomes important for outreach strategies leverage those to their potential. Podcasts, vlogs, reels are gaining popularity and if used smartly, can stir interest among the disengaged groups. However, as I mentioned earlier, every platform requires a tailor-made strategy. Adopting an integrated approach to create a seamless experience for audiences while maintaining a similar tone and style will help reinforce the brand's core message.

The pandemic taught us agility and flexibility at the same time. This presents a challenge and an opportunity to engage with different audience segments with new opportunities that addresses their needs through quick innovation.

What are your thoughts about the future of communication and marketing? Conclude with any creative or innovative progress that can happen.

According to Accenture, 70% of global consumers expect their relationship with technology to be more prominent in their lives over the next few years. The emergence of new platforms has made brands become more accessible to their audiences, therefore helping brands leverage their digital presence to grow their audience base.

There will be an increased emphasis on data-driven strategies with examples of how technology can be an enabler rather than just an experience enhancer. Leveraging data to develop more relevant and compelling outreach will help brands communicate with their customers that truly resonate with them leading to purpose-driven communication. We as consumers constantly look for brands that walk the talk and live up to the promises made. Moving ahead, it is important for leaders to place purpose and authenticity at the heart of everything they do.