Tag Archives: #brand risk

Research Integrity: The Achilles Heel of Content Marketing

The marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Protected Properly from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that a premise based on such shoddy research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking the facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost work as a result.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you ran the credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become the hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment, and avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. And by not adopting the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through content marketing.

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Managing Brand Alpha: The Next Frontier for Investment Firms

Performance remains a critical selection factor for investors; but increasingly in a post-Madoff world, it’s not what’s most important to them.

Although investment firms understand this, many choose to ignore the qualitative factors that have significant influence on investor decision-making, which include:

 

  • What You Stand For: INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL is what motivates investors to place their capital at risk. This does not involve how much you know. Investors need to understand what you believe in, and to appreciate what you’re attempting to achieve.

What does “intellectual capital” sound like?

Here’s a letter to investors from Phil Goldstein of Bulldog Investors, regarding one of his funds: “As these statistics suggest, we are risk averse. Thus, we tend to outperform in down or choppy markets. On the other hand, we expect to underperform the stock market when it booms…For the most part, we eschew any attempt to predict the markets. Instead, we focus on trying to find investments where we think we have an edge. By seeking out and exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace, we hope to generate above average returns for our Fund with reduced risk. We also will use activism when necessary to try to unlock the value of our investments. This strategy has worked quite well for us in the past and we see no reason to alter it.”

  • Who You Are: PERSONAL INTEGRITY qualifies you for consideration by investors. Lacking confidence in your character and reputation, both as a firm and individuals, they will dismiss your performance and your ideas.

What does “personal integrity” sound like?

Here’s what Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates stated in an interview, “I started Bridgewater from scratch, and now it’s a uniquely successful company and I am on the Forbes 400 list. But these results were never my goals—they were just residual outcomes—so my getting them can’t be indications of my success. And, quite frankly, I never found them very rewarding. What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning—and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.”

  • What Others Think of You: CREDIBILITY must be validated by respected third parties, to provide investors with the confidence they require to consider you as their financial fiduciary.

What does “credibility” look like?

Media exposure in objective, respected publications is one of many ways to achieve third-party endorsements. Here’s the head, subhead and opening of a recent Barrons’ profile: A Top African Hedge Fund Is Buying Markets Others Are Deserting: Andrew Lapping, who runs the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund, has been moving into markets like Zimbabwe and Nigeria that others are deserting. “Investing successfully in Africa’s volatile and illiquid stock markets requires as much patience as courage. Andrew Lapping has acquired a bit of both as the South Africa–based portfolio manager of the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund…”

Investment firms with the talent and discipline required to generate consistent risk-adjusted returns are entitled to investor interest on that basis.

But firms that focus exclusively on their performance to attract and maintain assets — without addressing the selection factors that build understanding, trust and loyalty among investors and their advisors — demonstrate a reckless approach to enterprise brand risk management that not only compromises their financial acumen, but should provide current and prospective investors with some cause for concern.

How an investment firm manages its enterprise brand alpha should be part of the due diligence process for investors.

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The Herb Schmertz Era: When Public Relations Had Some Balls

The recent passing of Rawleigh Warner, Jr., former Chairman and CEO of Mobil Oil Corp., brings to mind what many consider to be a golden age for Public Relations: the period from the mid-60s to mid-80s, when the PR profession had the mandate, the skills and the balls to stand up to criticism leveled against the organizations and people they represented.

The tip of Mobil’s public relations spear was guided by Herb Schmertz, who served as Vice President of Public Affairs under Warner (and whose credentials included a law degree from Columbia.) During Warner’s tenure, Mobil operated at ground zero of the 1970’s energy crisis, and was a primary target of the American public’s frustration over the availability and price of oil. For more than a decade, Mobil remained in the media’s crosshairs and often served as the corporate poster child for greed and unbridled capitalism.

Herb Schmertz countered public criticism against Mobil with hardball PR tactics, under the pretense that if companies don’t pro-actively participate in pertinent discussions, they deserve what they get, in terms of reputation. Under his regime of “creative confrontation,” Schmertz applied a number of innovative and controversial tactics including:

  • Introduction of modern-day advocacy advertising, or “advertorials,” which first appeared on the OpEd page of the New York Times in 1970. Mobil’s weekly commentaries, which Schmertz called “the honorable act of pamphleteering,” covered a broad range of energy related topics – the environment, oil reserves, taxation, regulation – and also took on detractors. The Mobil advertorials eventually were published weekly in several leading daily newspapers over the course of three decades, and serve as the template for what the PR profession now calls thought leadership.
  • Corporate underwriting of artistic endeavors unrelated to Mobil’s core issues, including sponsorship of the PBS television series, Masterpiece Theatre. Herb Schmertz called this “affinity-of-purpose marketing,” where audiences associate successful ventures with the companies that sponsor them.
  • Slash and burn public relations, where all communication is shut down with a media source considered to be biased or not acting in good faith. Notably, in 1984 Mobil boycotted the Wall Street Journal – refusing to provide the nation’s premier business publication with any information, to respond to its reporters, or to advertise – following what Schmertz considered to be history of inaccurate and biased reporting on Mobil. Although this over-the-top tactic was and is considered childish by many PR and media executives, it made a strong statement to the public and Wall Street Journal editors as well.

Herb Schmertz was no reckless PR cowboy. His communications philosophy was well-grounded in democratic principles, and his tactics well-reasoned and effective. In this 2-minute YouTube clip, Schmertz (who is now 84 years-old) eloquently describes how Mobil’s confrontational and sometimes abrasive public relations strategy reflected the company’s obligation, as a custodian of significant physical, human and economic resources, to maintain its role as one of the pillars of a free society.

In contrast to Schmertz-era brand management, most current PR practitioners are hamstrung by corporate legal counsel, who advocate non-confrontational PR strategies, advising CEOs to simply hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.  This enduring one-sided focus on the aversion of legal risk not only has precluded many organizations from opportunities to manage their brand reputation effectively, but has also emasculated the Public Relations profession in the process.

As the PR profession’s role is increasingly relegated to management of Tweets, Likes and unread press releases, as its practitioners continue to lose their seat at the senior management table, and as the long tail of online content extracts a heavy price for avoiding legitimate and timely confrontation, PR professionals will likely wonder why their role as architect and defender of the company’s reputation no longer belongs to them.

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4 ½ Reasons To Avoid Using Celebrity Endorsements

With those big guns, can we be sure that Tony's not using HGH?

With those big guns, can we be sure that Tony’s not using HGH?

Here are 4 ½ good reasons to avoid celebrity endorsements:

  1. OJ Simpson
  2. Tiger Woods
  3. Lance Armstrong
  4. Oscar Pistorius

4.5  Elmo the Muppet

The marketing world is littered with celebrity endorsements similar to these train wrecks. Yet companies will continue to dole out lucrative contracts to sports heroes, actors, politicians and other personalities du jour…in hopes of leveraging their popularity or notoriety.

Why do marketers continue to roll the dice with their company’s brand reputation?

One reason: celebrity endorsements require no creativity and very little effort. Nike’s ad agency simply shoots some footage of Tiger bouncing a golf ball 25 times off the face of a pitching wedge, and voila…there’s a 30-second commercial.

Companies rationalize this brand risk by assuming that the public will assign them some sympathy for having been duped by the murdering, philandering or drug abusing ways of their fallen celebrity. Marketers also may believe a celebrity’s fall from grace will provide their company with an opportunity to publicly cancel the contract, express sorrow or indignation, and gain additional time for their brand in the public spotlight.

But in terms of long-term brand management, association with a celebrity who’s fallen from grace is a losing proposition. For starters, it demonstrates poor judgment. So ignore the assurances from your ad agency, even if the celebrity they’re proposing is Mother Teresa.

But if you’re determined to use a celebrity, it may be a safer bet to hire an animal than a human. To my knowledge, RinTinTin never bit anyone, but Orca whales have a very poor track record.

Better yet…create your own celebrity. The Geico Gecko, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger, and StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna all have clean rap sheets. So far.

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PR / Media Pros Should Stand Firm on Requiring Quote Approvals

Quote Approvals Lower the Risk of Media Burn

The practice of requiring journalists to submit on-the-record quotes for approval by a source in advance of publication has long been a sore point between the media and the PR profession. A new spotlight has been cast on the issue, with writer Michael Lewis’ acknowledgment that he’d agreed to quote approval for his Vanity Fair profile on Barack Obama, and the new policy issued by the New York Times, which forbids their reporters from agreeing to “after-the-fact quote approval by sources and their press aides.”

Notwithstanding the New York Times’ effort to protect the integrity of the Fourth Estate, there are at least 3 reasons why it makes good sense for companies and organizations to stand firm on stipulating that reporters obtain quote approval as a pre-condition for granting an interview:

  1. Reporters Are Human. They often don’t bring the depth of knowledge that’s required to cover the assignments they’re handed…so they will make mistakes. They also bring their own points of view…so they will be selective in how they quote sources. And sometimes, they don’t always play by the rules. This blogger was told by a New York Times reporter that if I pressed for a correction to an error he had made regarding one of my clients, that he would never feature any of my clients in his column.
  2. The Spoken Word and Written Word are Very Different. A comment or offhand remark that’s expressed during an interview can cast a false or unfair impression when taken out of context, and when it is read rather than heard. Very few individuals have the ability to envision…as they are speaking…how their spoken words will look in print and to know what message those words will convey. Mark Twain recognized that “talk in print” results in “confusion to the reader, not instruction.”
  3. Journalism Is a Cat and Mouse Game. Reporters are frequently looking for a “gotcha” quote that can juice up their coverage, or support a point they’re seeking to make. Their questions can be contrived, or their approach designed to wear down a source. This blogger learned that lesson the hard way, when a Chicago Tribune reporter twisted a fact-based comment in a very long conversation that enabled him to write a story entitled, “Amex Official Admits CBOE Superiority.”

If you’re willing to participate in media interviews without the safety net of quote approval….here are some guidelines that will lower your risk of being burned:

  • You Can Never Be “Media Trained” – Regardless of whatever training, practice sessions or actual interviews you’ve had, believing that you are “media trained” provides a dangerous and false sense of security. Every reporter is different, every interview is a unique opportunity, and you need to be properly prepared every time.
  • Don’t Lead Lambs to Slaughter – For a host of reasons, and regardless of their org chart position or years of experience, some people are media disasters. If your senior manager or client has a track record of interviews that did not go well, avoid putting them in harm’s way. If a heart-to-heart conversation regarding their poor interviewing skills is not an option, at least ensure that they are equipped for interviews with tightly scripted talking points.
  • Tape Record all Interviews – When there’s a recorded version of an interview, a reporter is likely to be more careful in quoting a source, and you have something more credible than written notes, if there is any controversy. It’s good form to let the reporter know upfront that you will be tape recording an interview. If the reporter objects, and you still agree to conduct the interview, then your organization deserves whatever misquotes or misrepresentation may occur.

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The Harvard Cheating Scandal: Do Administrators Need “Public Relations 101”?

Harvard University announced last week that the school is investigating 125 students for possibly cheating on a take-home final exam for “Government 1310: Introduction to Congress.” After reviewing more than 250 take-home exams turned in last Spring, the Harvard College Administrative Board has opened cases involving nearly half the 279 students enrolled in the class. The school has contacted every student whose work is under review, who now face sanctions that include suspension for up to a year.

In considering whether Harvard may have caused significant long-term damage to its own reputation unnecessarily, let’s ignore some fuzzy facts and conjecture:

  • The course, as measured by the professor’s own words and behavior, did not reflect a level of academic rigor one might associate with a prestigious university.
  • Take home exams, by their very nature, are generally considered a joke by most students.
  • Apparent confusion over at least one of the exam’s questions was exacerbated by the unavailability of the professor during the exam period, causing students to seek clarification from fellow classmates.
  • It’s unlikely that such a large proportion of the class would purposely cheat on what appears to be a gut course.

In examining whether Harvard may have caused significant long-term damage to its own reputation by acting in a hasty and imprudent manner, let’s speculate on a few likely catalysts:

  • After discovering similarities in the exams, and in advance of sending out letters to the 125 students suspected of cheating, Harvard failed to consider the high likelihood that this issue would quickly become a news item. If the school had acknowledged that risk, Harvard would (or should) have announced the scandal in advance of sending out letters to students.
  • Harvard likely became aware of the possibility of negative media coverage either after a call from a reporter, or in reaction to a threat from a student (or their lawyer) to make this a public issue.
  • Regardless of when and how Harvard began to think about negative media exposure, the most significant catalyst that caused administrators to blow the whistle on the affair was a post-Penn State fear that Harvard might be accused of hiding or covering up an incident related to institutional integrity.

If this speculation is correct: that Harvard overlooked the potential media impact of its cheating inquiry, and then blew the whistle on itself mainly as a knee-jerk defensive strategy….here are two fundamental PR lessons from this brand debacle:

  1. Assume the press will always learn about a problem, and plan an offensive strategy (well ahead of time) to minimize the damage. Because Harvard has long enjoyed a pristine reputation, it’s likely that their PR professional was not involved in this issue from the outset, or they had little input.
  2. If the press is on your damaging story, or is likely to be very soon, sometimes it’s better to keep your powder dry if you haven’t planned ahead. Harvard would have been better served if the school had completed its inquiry of the 125 “cheaters” in advance of its public announcement. Even with the media pounding on its doors, Harvard would have provided those 125 students and the school’s reputation with greater justice by responding publicly that “the issue is under investigation and a public statement will be issued only after all the facts and opinions are considered.”

Ham-fisted, panic motivated PR – even when it’s disguised as a self-righteous effort to maintain academic integrity – is not behavior you’d expect from one of the nation’s smartest institutions.

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Augusta National Throws Women a Bone. Should Condi and Darla Return the Favor?

Darla and Condi Have No Reason to Celebrate

Augusta National Golf Club, long revered by the golfing world as the Sistine Chapel of their sport, announced with great pride (a “joyous occasion,” according to Augusta Chairman Billy Payne) that it had invited bureaucrat Condoleezza Rice and financier Darla Moore to join the club as its first female members.

For decades, Augusta National has defiantly withstood public criticism and pressure to admit female members on the basis that as a private institution the club is under no obligation to accept anyone – regardless of sex, race, religion or sexual preference – who does not pass muster with the boys who hold the keys to the front door.

Ever since golfing legend and bona fide Southern gentleman Bobby Jones co-founded Augusta National some 80 years ago, the club has served as the stage for the Masters Tournament, considered by many as golf’s most important international competition, perhaps with exception of the Ryder Cup. And it’s Augusta National’s association with the history and tradition of the Masters that provides the club with a level of prestige (and arrogance) that exceeds St. Andrews and Pebble Beach combined.

During his days as Microsoft’s CEO, Bill Gates faced Augusta National’s arrogance first-hand when denied club membership for publicly stating that he wanted to be a member. As punishment, Augusta forced Gates to eat crow for several years before he was allowed to wear a member’s green jacket.

But Augusta National’s bullying isn’t limited to their admission process. A little known fact is that once admitted to the club, a member is not assured of continued membership and may be dropped at any time for any reason with no explanation. In fact, the only way Augusta National members know if they are still members is by the arrival of their annual dues invoice in Spring. No invoice means your invitation has been withdrawn.

Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about power. It features a golf course that’s closed for a good part of the year to protect the pristine fairways and sacred greens that its well-heeled members rarely play on.  Augusta National is not about golf; it’s about prestige. The club bestows membership to America’s corporate royalty the same way the Queen of England awards knighthoods and MBE titles…but with far less intelligence and transparency than the British monarchy.

The sad truth is that women have nothing to cheer over the “joyous occasion” at Augusta. This publicity stunt does not represent a meaningful change in the club’s policy of exclusion, and provides Augusta National with convenient and high profile validation that it will continue to exercise its right, as a private club, to do whatever it wants whenever it wants.

If Condi and Darla are serious about playing golf, there are scores of world-class private clubs that have been accepting women as members for many decades. And if Condi and Darla are serious about advancing the cause of women’s rights, they should decline Augusta National’s invitation. And they should make a lot of noise in the process.

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Should Companies Manage Their Employees’ LinkedIn Profiles?

Everything Counts in Brand Management

LinkedIn has become an important business channel, not only for individuals to showcase their professional credentials, but also for companies seeking to promote their value proposition and to establish or manage brand awareness.

LinkedIn is no longer simply a social media tool that enables corporate executives to put themselves in play for a better job under the guise of “networking.” LinkedIn also is no longer just a digital marketplace for consultants, freelancers and agencies seeking new clients. For better or worse, LinkedIn has become part of the world’s due diligence process: a public resource that enables employers, customers, regulators, competitors, prospective employees, referral sources, vendors, creditors, shareholders, research analysts and journalists to look beneath the covers, and to establish an opinion (or decision) not only regarding individuals, but also the companies they work for.

Although LinkedIn provides companies with an opportunity to present a basic or enhanced (for a hefty fee) corporate profile, what most businesses either fail to recognize – or are reluctant to address – is that the content, quality and consistency of individual and collective descriptions of the company embodied within their employees’ LinkedIn profiles can have a significant impact on brand perceptions. (These brand implications are less significant on Facebook, which is not generally viewed as a business channel.)

To illustrate the point, simply in terms of brand clarity and consistency, here are 5 different ways (grammatical shortcomings and typos included) that High Street Partners – an 80-person Boston-based consulting firm – describes itself through various LinkedIn profiles of its employees:

“High Street Partners is an international business services firm. We simplify the management and control of international operations, empowering our customers to capitalize on their growth opportunities in foreign markets.”

“High Street Partners (HSP) is the leading professional advisory firm in the international expansion space. We offer a range of cross-border finance and administrative services to organizations with new or existing global operations, including entity set-up, payroll, accounting, tax compliance, advisory and HR services.”

“High Street Partners provides international business services to companies operating overseas. These services include international accounting, tax, global cash management, HR and compliance solutions that mitigates a Company’s risk when operating in foreign markets (www.hsp.com.)”

“Our cross-border solutions enable the HQ finance and HR teams to quickly and efficiently implement expansion plans, establish appropriate entities, get overseas employees paid, and navigate unfamiliar overseas tax codes and compliance regulations.”

“Providing financial, tax and compliance services to companies in their international explansion.” (sic)

There are (at least) two fundamental issues involving LinkedIn:

  • The employees’ right to describe themselves any way they see fit on social media sites, and
  • A company’s right to protect its brand reputation through accurate and consistent descriptions of the enterprise that are posted on social media sites by its employees.

Although the underlying issues related to freedom of expression and corporate intrusion frequently serve as catalysts for heated protests and endless debate, there is really no good reason why both employee and corporate interests cannot both be served, if the process is managed in a reasonable, respectful manner.

At the risk of over-simplifying an issue that can quickly escalate to union grievances, CEO town hall meetings, picket lines and national media coverage, perhaps the company’s Chief Marketing Officer can initiate the change process with an internal memo along these lines:

Dear Valued Employee:

We are encouraged to see that so many of our staff members are using LinkedIn to develop professional networks. Increasingly, social media tools like LinkedIn are playing an important role in personal and corporate life.

While we recognize and support your personal right to participate in social media sites, we would like to ensure that the descriptions used in your LinkedIn profile to describe our company are consistent with the guidelines we’ve established to enhance understanding and appreciation of our corporate brand.

Toward that end, we would greatly appreciate your cooperation in using only the approved description of our company for your LinkedIn profile. This company description is located on Page 3 of our Employee Handbook. In fact, we have recently added some additional suggestions regarding LinkedIn profiles, which you may find helpful.

Thanks for your support on this important issue. If you have any questions or concerns on this topic, please let me know.

Your Friendly CMO

An alternative approach regarding brand presentation in employee LinkedIn profiles is to do nothing. Maybe it’s an issue that’s too insignificant or considered not worth the time. But companies with enduring world-class brands understand that everything matters. That’s one reason why you never see a dirty UPS or FedEx delivery truck.

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BMW’s Storm Cooper: A Mini-Coup Rather than a PR Blunder?

Stormy Weather for BMW?

For a fee, Germany allows people or companies to sponsor the names of weather fronts. So last month, to promote the “wind and weatherproof” capabilities of its Mini Cooper line, BMW’s marketing agency purchased naming rights to a high pressure system that originated in Siberia.

But the Cooper storm turned out to be far more than weather forecasters and BMW expected. As the storm made its way through Eastern Europe, its sustained sub-zero temperatures were attributed to the deaths of more than 250 people.

PR industry pundits and critics have been quick to jump on BMW for its decision to associate its brand with what has turned out to be one of Europe’s most deadly winter storms on record. A headline in the Wall Street Journal announced: “Weather Deal Backfires for BMW’s Mini.”

But did it really?

Although BMW quickly and properly issued a statement saying that it regretted the weather front’s severity, and distancing itself from the deadly consequences of weather, the car company’s $400 investment in Storm Cooper may have been a PR bonanza rather than a black eye.

The Wall Street Journal’s position notwithstanding, few people are likely to blame BMW for the storm’s impact, or to associate the Mini Cooper brand with the casualties. However, if top-of-mind awareness is a beneficial marketing objective for a car company, then the exponentially greater, world-wide storm-related coverage for BMW’s Mini Cooper marque certainly won’t hurt showroom traffic or the company’s balance sheet.

In this case, the old saw, “All publicity is good publicity” may well be true. I’m confident that BMW’s marketing agency considers this a solid win, rather than a blunder.

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Glassdoor.com: Social Media Tool or PR Nightmare?

Learning to Live With Employee Opinion

Since its founding in 2007, Glassdoor.com has become an important research tool for job hunters, corporate recruiters, and anyone looking for unvarnished behind-the-scenes insight into what really goes on behind corporate doors. Although Vault.com – established more than a decade earlier – serves much the same purpose, Glassdoor.com represents a far greater online brand risk…largely because the website provides free access to remarks posted by real, bogus and often disgruntled employees, and because those negative postings are often found on Google page one searches involving the company under fire.  For many of the 250,000 companies it currently covers, Glassdoor.com can be a PR nightmare waiting to happen.

Websites dedicated to employee dissatisfaction were social media pioneers; empowering workers to publicly call their manager a “5-Alarm Nut Job” without retribution, to gripe about low pay or a lousy lunchroom, and to warn others to look elsewhere for a job.  The most notorious of these early sites included RateMyEmployer.com (currently on life support),  F**kedCompany.com (which died in 2007) and JobVent.com, which was acquired by Glassdoor.com in 2009. The demise of this scruffy first generation of workplace gripe sites gave way to an even more powerful and credible second generation of professionally managed, sophisticated sites like Glassdoor.com, backed by private equity investment, and fueled by business models that ensure their long-term existence.

Here’s a survival guide for companies seeking to avoid, minimize or benefit from brand exposure that’s delivered on Glassdoor.com:

Address Root Causes – Companies that focus on employee satisfaction and provide internal channels for rank & file feedback have far fewer negative postings on Glassdoor.com. Effective workforce management, however, does not ensure a positive outcome on the site. For example, Texas-based Beryl Health (formerly Beryl Companies) is well-known for its employee-focused culture, and was a “Best Place to Work in Healthcare” according to Modern Healthcare magazine. Beryl’s former CEO Paul Spiegelman even wrote a popular book about the importance of employee motivation. But Beryl’s current Glassdoor.com rating is 2.5 (unsatisfactory) on a 5-scale, based on a few negative postings (of seven reviews in total) from its employees.

Work The System – To their credit, Glassdoor.com does have a protocol for screening out employee rants that violate their standards of legality and good taste. They also have a viable internal system for moderating comments that are flagged by another party as “Inappropriate.” As a last resort, if a posting is believed to be bogus, particularly harmful or libelous, a company can appeal directly to Glassdoor.com’s corporate General Counsel. There’s no need to be victimized. Companies should monitor employee comments on Glassdoor.com, and respond directly and aggressively when appropriate.

Purchase a Profile – For a fairly reasonable price, Glassdoor.com will provide an “Enhanced Employer Profile,” featuring a comprehensive description of your company. I don’t work for Glassdoor.com in any capacity, or receive compensation for promoting its products, but it’s a no-brainer to take advantage of an opportunity to provide credible, positive content that can offset misinformation, warts and shortcomings that others are sharing online.

Lobby for Support – It’s no secret that many companies “encourage” their happy employees to post positive comments on Glassdoor.com as a means to bolster their overall Company Rating. Unfortunately, some companies assign this role to their PR department, whose staff members pose as anonymous employees, pumping out false praise and motivating detractors to post additional rants. In some cases, it may be beneficial to lobby for employee support on Glassdoor.com by asking them to express their satisfaction with the company. However, this solicitation must be carefully planned and expressed in a genuine manner, or the potential for this effort to backfire, internally and online, is fairly high.

Embrace Criticism – When online detractors echo similar complaints, it usually means there’s some underlying truth to what they’re griping about. It also means that Glassdoor.com visitors will begin to believe them.  Although it’s contrary to corporate instincts, the quickest way for a company to stop online rants is to fix the related problems, or to explain to employees why it won’t or can’t. Allowing Glassdoor.com to serve as a canary in the coal mine can avoid problems that may be more significant than brand reputation.

Glassdoor.com is an online reality that requires pro-active and consistent oversight by fiduciaries of the corporate brand.  Understanding how to peacefully coexist and leverage this influential social media tool enables companies to minimize negative brand impressions, drive recruitment and demonstrate their institutional backbone to current employees.

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