Reputation is, without a doubt, one of the most valuable assets of any organization. While this has been believed for many years now, it hasn’t been until recently that reputation, and more precisely, digital reputation, has been marked as critical for many organizations.
Reputation is formed by two elements, the beliefs the stakeholders hold about the company (cognitive element), and the feelings the stakeholders have about the company (affective element). These two elements have very important consequences.
The first one is the fact that reputation is different from the notion of image. Reputation is the process and the effect of the transmission of the company’s image, not the image itself. As such, it’s what’s known as a meta-belief, a belief about others’ social judgment of the company.
The second fact that’s critical is the fact that reputation is in the hands of the stakeholders, not the organization. Reputation isn’t what management says it is, that would be their ideal image of the company, but what the stakeholders believe it is.
Reputation has been gaining importance in the last decade and the reason is fully attached to the rise of technology. More specifically speaking, the exponential increase of human mobility and the unprecedented networking capacity we gain year after year.
The fact that our society is increasingly networked, impacts the notion of reputation tremendously. The more networked we are, the more communication we can achieve. The more communication, the easier it is to transmit our personal beliefs about an organization, influencing everyone in our personal networks.
As our social network grows, the impact of reputation also grows. This growth though, isn’t linear, but exponential, which means that the importance of managing a company’s reputation accelerates exponentially every year.
On the other hand, the mobile explosion we’ve been experiencing this past decade has also impacted the notion of reputation. Suddenly we’ve passed from interacting with a company once every month, to interacting with it through several different channels in different situations in a single day.
The fact that we can now Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, Pin, etc. from the palm of our hand, anywhere, anytime, has taken the notion of reputation to a whole new level.
Now, how does storytelling fits in this picture? How can storytelling help a company manage their reputation?
Stories are, and have always been, the prefer vehicle for beliefs. Societies use stories as the cultural glue that keeps everyone in check. From religions to myths and values, they all get communicated through stories.
Even when you dig into how reputation happens, you can clearly see that the transmission of the beliefs of a company is done through stories. How many times have you had dinner with friends and heard some of them complain or praise an organization?
These beliefs don’t tend to get exposed as facts:
“This company sucks because they never answered my emails”.
The tend to be weaved into a story:
“The other day I ordered this product to help my dad with his illness. The store promised it would arrive in two days, but it’s been a month and it hasn’t arrived yet. I got furious and emailed the store, but I was just ignored … “
I would venture and say that despite reputation having a cognitive component, the emotional element takes precedence every single time. Our brains will always resonate much more with the emotional side than the rational one.
This is why, when companies attempt to clench an attack against their reputation, they tend to do a horrible job. The reason? They try to defuse the attack via a rational, unemotional and business-like response. Not only the response is normally late, lets remember our current technology has turn real-time communications into the standard, but the fact that it tries to tell stakeholders what they have to believe about the organization, is a gross misunderstanding of what reputation is about.
The best way to deal with a reputation problem is by using stories. Narratives enable the company to weave a response than, not only resonates with the audience due to its emotional nature, but it also helps it to be shared in the human preferred way, through story.
Stories are also the perfect vehicle because it doesn’t tell the audience what to do or how to think. As we said before, reputation is all about others’ beliefs, not the company’s. A story encapsulates a lesson, giving the audience the choice of taking it or not. This choice is what makes them powerful because it allows the stakeholders to rewire their beliefs about the organization.
There is a great quote that says: Don’t tell me, show me. Stories do just that. They show what happened, they show how the situation came to be, they illuminate on the ulterior motives, the values and the emotions of the protagonists, but above all, it lays the ground for a new reinterpretation of the facts. Not by asserting it, but by inviting you to empathise with it.
Sadly, few people know how to deal with reputation and much less, know what stories to tell in such situation. There are many strategies that one can follow and they’ll depend on the situation but here are just some ideas:
These are just some examples of where story is valuable within a reputation effort. It’s important to notice that reputation not only your external stakeholders, like customers or providers, but it also has a drastic impact within the organization. Storytelling also works internally and sometimes it’s even more important to explain what happened to your employees that to the outside world. The best evangelists of a company are their employees. Use story to manage your reputation with them.
Reputation, especially with the advances in the digital realm, is becoming a very serious field. Despite the new tools we can deploy to try and manage it, there is still a very important need to communicate what happened correctly. The best tool to achieve this is through the use of storytelling.
Take action now, be ready and don’t wait until something bad happens to have your stories in place.