The way in which organisations interact with social media is just one way an organisation needs to consider its approach to reputation management. Within minutes of an incident happening social media can come to life, portraying its own embellished and distorted view, and an organisation's failure to act quickly and appropriately can lead to long-term reputational damage.

Recent high-profile examples across a number of sectors, and the different approach each organisation adopted, has brought reputation management into the spotlight.

Thomas Cook was publicly ridiculed online and on social media for their perceived uncaring and business-like approach to the tragic death of two young children on holiday in Corfu following a carbon monoxide leak. It took Thomas Cook nine years, and an inquest finding of unlawful killing, before the organisation made a public apology. In light of the clear reputational damage being caused over the years, why did it take Thomas Cook so long to apologise?

On the other hand, Merlin Entertainments’ approach of focusing on the victims and families of those injured in the immediate aftermath of the Smiler rollercoaster accident at Alton Towers last year was widely commended by the public on social media, as well as by the media and PR professionals alike. Despite this approach, Merlin Entertainments issued a profit warning in 2015 that they expected profits to be £40m lower as a result of the accident.

These examples are of course at the extreme end of the spectrum, but it isn’t difficult to see how an accident in a care home, a failure to comply with a repairing obligation, an intervention by a regulator, inappropriate behaviour by an employee or a failure to adequately address a customer’s complaint could give rise to reputational management issues.

As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is always better than cure and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. We recommend that clients consider whether they have adequate preventative measures in place that limit their exposure to reputational risks, including those posed by social media. These could include developing and reviewing social media and data protection policies, reviewing terms and conditions of employment, staff training, and reviewing and developing crisis management policies.

Despite having the correct policies and procedures in place, there will always be occasions where there will be a need for an organisation to respond quickly to address reputational issues. The approach adopted, and the speed in addressing the issue, will be key to managing and limiting the reputational risk.

Case Study – Social Media Posting

Within hours of an employee being dismissed by a registered provider, it came to their attention that the former employee had posted a post on Facebook criticising the registered provider for dismissing him, disclosing an incident with a customer that led to the employee’s dismissal, potentially disclosing personal customer information, alleging that the registered provider put employees and customers health and safety at risk, threatening to disclose names of other employees who had “lied about” him and alleging that he would post further comments in due course.

The registered provider was understandably concerned by the comments and the potential for reputational damage as well as the potential for current employees to be named in further Facebook posts.

Within hours we sent a letter via email to the former employee bringing to his attention that the registered provider was aware of the comments made on Facebook, that they were considered to be false, malicious and defamatory and that the registered provider would take all necessary action in the protection of its reputation and that of its employees. The letter demanded that the Facebook post be removed within 24 hours and that the former employee confirm in writing that he would not post any further material in respect of the registered provider and/or their employees.

On the same day the former employee had removed the post in question and had apologised for his actions. The quick action of the registered provider, both in having a policy of monitoring social media and quickly seeking legal assistance, limited any potential reputational damage.

The approach to adopt when reputational issues arise will always be case specific and no one approach will fit all circumstances. However, it is important to ensure that once reputational issues arise, that appropriate steps are taken. Failure to do so could result in irreparable reputational damage, together with an organisation becoming embroiled in reputational issues that detract from their day-to-day activities.

For more information

Should you wish to speak with us about how your organisation currently manages reputational risks, or you are currently dealing with a reputational management issue and would like to discuss your approach, please contact Cynyr Rhys.