In reputation management, especially where the internet is concerned, avoiding rumors is the equivalent of a public “no comment.” Avoiding comment allows your enemy to define you and, worse, is seen by too many as admission of guilt. Should you choose to avoid a criticism, you do nothing to assuage the fears in the mind of a mother that her beverage contains rat urine. Instead of pretending rumors don’t exist or tiptoeing through each, you may opt for Coke’s solution. Coke’s strategic communicators introduced a webpage, attached to their contact page (still seen today), that detailed the current rumors and the company’s response. The page invited you to contact them with a new rumor, which they added to the list along with their response.
We believe this is an example of appropriate reputation management in the age of the internet. Coke leaders, instead of coming off as defensive, provided information to stakeholders.
In today’s world, a company must stay tuned in to how the internet interprets corporate behavior. The internet can be a sensationalist mob just as easily as it can be an advocacy tool. Engaging with it is proving more effective than ignoring it. Thus, communicators who apply appropriate respect to this powerful communications tool enhance brand messaging, while those who ignore it, even for a short time, invite message competitors to distort brand perception.