Reputation & Social Media – Post from Associate Director, Nathan Quigley

Reputation & Social Media – Post from Associate Director, Nathan Quigley

Chinese Whispers: Will the Colonel’s latest challenge leave a bad taste in our mouths?

The serious business of reputation management and social media

It’s the fastest growing economy in the world, has the largest population and according to Yum! Brands, their KFC business in China accounted for over 40% of their international revenue in 2012.

The irrefutable fact is that people in China just love to get their mouths around the Colonel’s zinger and have been doing it with great gusto since 1987. But while KFC’s latest steroid induced ‘chicken-gate’ scandal has left their impressive coup open to criticism with sales declining and many of the country’s younger population questioning the product quality, the supply chain and food safety standards, we cannot help but wonder if such concerns will hit our shores and could KFC Australia find themselves subject to similar questioning; one might even say a delayed case of bird flu.

The simple answer in this digital age of 24/7 bloggers, joggers and floggers is “yes”. However, the reality is that our food standards, processes and regulations are significantly more robust than our Chinese counterparts, some of the best in the world, and many major QSR brands lead the way by going above and beyond Government requirements.

The real issue here is not so much about undue concern in Australia regarding QSR food safety and quality, but its more about the net impact of the Net on brand and reputation, and how social and digital news can inspire speculation and fuel discussion.

Such discussions and speculation will take place online and offline regardless. This is a fact. This is simply because we literally have the world in our hands and when it comes to using the Net and when it comes to global brands we have an expectation – the product is the same every time, the experience is the same and the same standards apply. We trust this to be the case when we travel overseas or dine out locally be it with colonels, kings or clowns, but when things are reported otherwise in the media or via websites with views undoubtedly propagated by special interest groups, we do begin to wonder ever so slightly.

The recent situation in China again sheds further light on brand reputation management in the online world, which is why a social media crisis and issues strategy needs to be incorporated into an overall communications plan. It cannot be an afterthought or an ‘upsize’; something that is developed in isolation.

Sadly for some brands and organisations “upsizing” or in fact “downsizing” is just the case when it comes to including such a strategy in their communications plan. But at what expense when an issue arises? The response is somewhat delayed, the issue raised is not usually addressed clearly, the information v2 electronic cigarette provided is inconsistent and the tone of voice is completely wrong. This often then feeds through into existing offline two-way communication channels such as internal communications and by then the horse has well and truly bolted. Think Findus in the UK.

So what can you do to effectively manage your brand and reputation in the online world?

Aside from hiring a communications consultancy to partner you, clearly recognise and understand that nowadays social media is more important compared to traditional media when it comes to brand and reputation management – you need to be prepared, proactive and absolutely process driven. I am sure that many major brands know this, and I may be preaching to the converted.

However for those that don’t, below is a simple five steps guide to help you manage your online reputation; what’s more your reputation as a whole:

1. Know where the conversation is taking place
If there is a particular interest group, website or online publication, then make sure you or someone in the company is regularly checking it.

2. Understand the issues affecting your business or the industry you work in; use your existing two-way communication channels
Monitor these two-way channels such as customer hotlines, and track them over time to see what is being said and how often.

3. Develop a clear system for assessing the severity of a potential impact or an issue
Some issues can be more damaging than others. Issues and themes are reoccurring, so recognise this and the importance of each one, know what to say and agree who is best equipped to manage them.

4. Develop a protocol for tracking and reporting
Having a simple protocol in place to consistently monitor and track issues will ensure you keep your finger on the pulse. Make the report a regular agenda item for internal meetings.

5. Provide a recommendation for planning and responding
Confirm the company’s issues leaders, set a timeline for responding and agree the most relevant communication channels to get the message across.

So as the latest food scandal in the QSR world whets our online appetite, I have no reason to doubt that the major players in the market have already in place a sound and active crisis and issues social media strategy. But for those few that don’t or for those that are just considering it, then it’s time to place an order.

After all, if significant money is invested in marketing a brand and building its reputation, then not taking the right steps to defend and maintain that reputation is simply not good business. A crisis and issues social media strategy relegated to the bottom of the marketing menu board will really affects your bottom line. The proof is in the eating.


*This piece was originally published by QSR Media