How Social Reputation Influences Your Brand

Brand and reputation are commonly mistaken siblings and it’s easy to see why. They have the same characteristics and attributes; neither is a physical asset, and each is an essential but intangible component of digital presence. But to assume they’re so similar that they can be treated the same belies the importance of each and ultimately jeopardizes any digital marketing strategy.

Brand is the idea. Reputation is the reality. The latter is the accumulation of everything you do and have done, whilst the former is the image you’re packaging and shipping to the world. Because of this, a bad reputation can easily compromise a brand strategy. If somebody tells us that they’re a fun loving, kind and generous chap, we’re unlikely to believe it if everything we know of them forms a counter image.

Reputations are our track record. If branding is everything we do to create an image, reputation management is everything we do to preserve an image.

How important are reputations?

Reputations can be preserved and even paved over, but they cannot be restored entirely. Modern audiences are mercurial, however. Memories of wrong-doing are short lived and as long as demand remains, new brand stories can bury their predecessors. A brand makeover disguises what’s done – turns old news into new stories – and reputation is the shadow that falls in behind: the reviews, gossip and corporate maligning. It’s the quiet bedrock that no matter how much is built on top, peeves and perturbs the customer relationship.

We can’t flush reviews from the Internet. We can bury them with new reviews, but negative sentiments oftentimes beget negative sentiments, and damnation of a company is contagious across the digital space. 90% of people say online reviews influence their purchase decisions (Dimensional Research, 2013), whilst an incredible 92% people hesitate to do business with companies sporting less than four stars (BrightLocal, 2014). Meanwhile, it only takes four or more negative articles about a company or product to cause a company to lose 70% of potential customers (Moz, 2015).

As a potential customer, I can attest to this. If I’m interested in a product, I immediately turn to reviews to inform my decision. Likewise, I care what my fellow customers and critics have to say; in consumer electronics, the explosive rise of home-grown review channels (through the likes of YouTube) shows how mainstream media has been dethroned as the primary point-of-contact for product impressions.

But bad product reviews are different to bad press. EA (Electronic Arts) is a good example of a company working over a pretty miserable reputation. Its energetic gaming brand is well-received by younger audiences, but it’s not been able to lose its toxic reputation amongst millennials. The Consumerist has named EA America’s worst company twice, for example. The company was at first bitter and argumentative in its public responses, but has since stopped fighting the rep. It continues to develop and is still in business.

That said, negative reputations create a slow-to-surface rot, and giants take a long time to fall. They leave indelible marks that no brand, no matter how carefully cultivated, can cover entirely. Huge companies like EA can survive, even after a struggle, but in a company’s early years reputation can either fuel or suffocate a brand. 

Brands and reputations are intertwined, but not so far that the loss of one will cause the collapse of the other. Brands can be replenished and rejuvenated to distract from poor reputations, whilst reputations themselves can never be entirely restored. Bury anything deep enough and people will forget it was there at all, and it’s fair to say consumers are prone to forgetfulness when there’s something new desired. The lesson is don’t overly invest in one whilst ignoring the other, but also don’t try to undo what can’t be undone. Poor reputations will make it harder to reinvent your brand, but nowhere near impossible – it’s just a challenge of ingenuity and imagination.