Why head-on responses enhance trust

The internet represents a unique challenge for public relations and marketing departments. On the one hand, its accessible and unregulated nature allows any company to reach consumers throughout the world. On the other, the internet is a hotbed for baseless attacks on a company’s reputation. One example can be isolated in the 11th law of The 18 Immutable Laws of Corporate Reputation by Ronald Alsop. The 11th law is, ‘Control the internet before it controls you.’ The chief example Alsop uses is CocaCola’s bold counter-offensive strategy of the late ‘90s and early 2000s. At the time, most in public relations worked diligently to make sure we didn’t repeat a negative. Coke’s team, however, took a more journalistic head-on approach. Instead of simply debunking impressive rumors one at a time, or avoiding them, Coke leaders published them on their website. 

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.

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