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“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.”

Warren Buffet

Brand reputation management today is largely focused on the online sphere where reviews and social media hold sway over customers’ perception of your business.

That means that a brand’s online activity can have an impact on the company’s finances:

0 2011

65% of senior executives reported that a brand’s reputation is tied to its online sociability, as compared to 52% in 2011 and 45% in 2010

Corporate reputation is estimated to be worth 4 to 5% of a business’ yearly sales.

It’s crucial that businesses make a priority of protecting their reputation online, and it’s not difficult to find cases of companies being poorly affected by bad online publicity and mishandled social media activity.

Building a social media presence has become a greater priority for businesses, with many using it to market their brand.

A study by Social Media Examiner conducted on over 2,800 marketers in 2014 found that:


Social media has a lot of value with 92% of participants indicating that social media is important to their business


97% have used social media to market their business

92 %

92% feel their social media efforts has generated more exposure for their business

Customers are also turning to social networks to communicate directly with brands:

33% of users prefer using social media to contact brands instead of the telephone.

Search engines are becoming increasingly influential over consumers’ shopping habits, with more shoppers now using them to research products before making a purchase. It’s therefore important that search engine results showcase your brand positively.

44% of online shopping now begins with a search engine.
0 %
61% of shoppers research products online.

People buy from people and word-of-mouth is still the primary driver of a customer’s purchasing decision.

0 20- %

Word-of-mouth drives 20-50% of consumers before purchase.

0 %

85% of consumers say they will read up to 10 reviews before they can trust that business

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92% of consumers will use a local business if it has a 4 star rating

0 %

83% of consumers say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions

0 %

Only 5% of consumers will convert if they encounter negative reviews on a product

How can your online reputation get damaged?

The Internet has created new channels for consumers to learn more about a brand through research or communicating with them directly. However, what goes online, stays online and any criticism of your brand will be there for everyone to see. Unhappy customers, disgruntled employees, and poor choices made by brands themselves can all damage your online reputation.

Brands leveraging social media to increase their exposure may find it’s a delicate task. Whether mistakes are made from the company’s official social media accounts or an employee’s, they can easily affect your online reputation.

These actions include publishing inappropriate photos, sharing offensive content or poorly-timed jokes, employees mixing up personal life with business, dishonesty or exaggeration in posts or profiles, direct attacks by competitors, excessive self-promotion, and failing to respond to customers’ inquiries.

Employees using social media can have a real impact:

8% of US companies had their reputations damaged by employees using social media in 2009, compared to 2% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The motor manufacturing giant Chrysler Autos unfortunately learnt the hard way. In 2011 an employee accidentally wrote a personal tweet from the company’s official account disparaging Detroit, America’s “Motor City”.

Other causes of reputation damage include plagiarism and theft of intellectual property (such as photos). Users can easily point out a brand’s malpractice by venting their outrage online where the news can quickly proliferate.

Sometimes there will be individuals who will deliberately aim to tarnish a brand’s reputation through defamation.
These can take form of blogs criticising your business, false negative reviews, social media harassment, and websites such as Ripoff Report.
Some internet users will even go as far as creating websites for the purpose of spreading negative opinions about a business.

Dissatisfied employees can now vent their anger or frustration at their employers online and usually in a public space such as social networks.

11% of under 35s have posted derogatory or negative comments about their boss or employer on social networks.

Some employees may look to damage a business by leaking a company’s confidential information.

Reasons for employees leaking corporate information:

11 %

11% would when they get fired

7 %

7% if they weren’t satisfied with their performance review

0 %

7% if they don’t get a promotion or a raise

Employees are the brand ambassadors for the company, and their actions or views can affect a company’s reputation.

An employee airing their personal views that may be controversial or disagreeable online can mean customers may associate these views with the brand, especially if they’re in a senior position. Or some employees may have an unscrupulous past which can be associated with the brand.

In 2009 two of Domino’s pizza employees filmed themselves contaminating food to serve to customers in the restaurant’s kitchen and posted it online. Within a few days the video was viewed more than one million times on YouTube. They were fired soon afterwards and faced felony charges for delivering prohibited foods.

Prospective consumers will often check online reviews before making significant purchases. Bad reviews can have a huge impact on their likelihood of buying:

72 %

72% of customers place as much weight on online reviews as personal recommendations.

52 %

52% said that positive reviews are likely to influence their decision to buy

Customers are more likely to share poor experience than a good one:

0 %
0 %

On a survey of 1046 individuals 95% share bad experiences and 87% share good experiences with others

45 %
30 %

45% share bad customer service experiences and 30% share good customer service experiences via social media

Neglecting your online reputation can cause harm if a company is not aware of the problem. Companies who do not manage their online reputation cede their reputation to other parties, or blind luck.

British Airways failed to respond to a customer’s complaint on Twitter because it came outside of normal operating hours. In retaliation, the upset customer paid for promoted tweets so his complaint could reach Twitter users in the UK and New York.

After the tweet had been seen and retweeted many times British Airways finally responded with a tactless response.

How can your online reputation get damaged?

In 2009 United Airlines accidentally damaged David Carroll’s guitar but made little effort to compensate him for it. So David Carroll wrote a song and created a music video about his experience which went viral online and attracted over 13 million views. There is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to this incident.

In addition to causing embarrassment to United Airlines it was reported that 4 days after the video release, their stock price dropped 10% which cost stockholders over $180m in value.

A damaged online reputation can have negative repercussions for businesses:

Three negative reviews can cause 75% of potential customers to reconsider their purchase

A one-star review (out of five) can cause a 10% fall in business

Four out of every five consumers who read a negative review of a product reversed their decision to buy it.

A positive or negative online review can cause a 5 to 9 percent gain or loss in business.

Steps to managing your online reputation

There are plenty of steps you can take to protect your online reputation. It’s also worth being aware that professional help is also available if you feel your brand needs it. Here are some things to think about:

Brands should check regularly to see what’s being said about them. In the online world, news, whether good or bad, can spread quickly at any hour of the day.

  • Search for your brand name to see the content associated with you

  • Subscribe to monitoring tools such as Google Alerts which will inform you of mentions of chosen search terms in articles, blog posts and social networks

  • Search employee review sites such as Glassdoor and check for false or negative reviews

  • Check for negative content by searching for terms such as “I hate [your business name]”

These are best practices for managing online reviews about your business:

  • Check review sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor to see what customers are saying about you. You can’t control what customers will say but you can dilute their effect with positive reviews by asking satisfied customers to write a review.

  • Monitor online reviews regularly and respond quickly and professionally to negative ones. When addressing negative reviews be civil at all times and offer a solution, such as refunds or discounts.

  • If you believe a review is genuinely libellous, you can try to have it removed by working with the website or the author. Be wary, though, sometimes trying to have something removed only draws more attention to it.

Here are some best-practices for managing your social media presence:

  • Establish a strong social media presence on all major platforms. This gives you lots of channels for addressing negative issues and solidify a positive reputation.

  • If damaging information does surface on social media, the worst thing you can do is ignore it.

  • Customers may contact you about their concerns on social networks so ensure your responses are prompt, courteous and helpful.

  • Sometimes for whatever reason negative content associated with your brand can surface on search engines. To counteract develop a business blog for creating fresh, relevant content that will help bury negative content on Google’s search pages.

  • If a publicity crisis does break out you should control the situation before it causes reputational damage: be up front and control the flow of information; apologize if necessary; remove the damaging information if possible; use search engine optimization and create fresh content to drive damaging information down in the search engines.

Here are some examples of how companies across various industries leverage social media for customer support:


Average response time (hours)

Average response rate

Most common solution brand points users to



Direct users
to site


Direct users
to site


Direct users
to site
@HSBC_UK_Help 1.160-70%


Direct users
to site

A study by American Express found that customers would spend 21% more with companies who delivered great service on social media, so a well-managed approach can pay dividends.

It can be difficult to remove a hate website and the first step is to report it. The website may violate the terms and conditions of the web host provider or domain name registries such as encouraging hate speech or profiting from defamatory attacks so it can be removed under these terms.

But sometimes it’s difficult to define a “hate site” so organisations will need to have a strong case to the website host to show that the content is an act of hatred rather than criticism.

If this doesn’t prove to be successful then there is the option to take legal action where the case must prove that the site caused financial and reputational harm and it was founded on false information.

For social network profiles created using your brand name for defamation purposes it can be reported to the hosting provider. You must submit evidence that this individual is using your trademarked name to gain ownership of the account.

Sometimes negative content about your brand written by a blogger or journalist might be based on inaccurate information. To remove or correct the content you should resolve it first by directly contacting the author in an email or letter with an explanation that a mistake has been made. Then provide the correct information or outline what should be removed and explain it’s publication will (or has) hurt you financially.

94 %

According to research from Technorati – 94% bloggers will retract, edit or delete incorrect information if you contact them

If the author is not willing to redact the information then you should suggest that the author note that they made a mistake.

Try to avoid legal action but if there is a lack of cooperation from the author and it’s seriously damaging your reputation and harming you financially then this step will need to be taken. If in doubt, consult a legal professional.


It’s clear that, today, the internet is a powerful tool for businesses, but it can be a double-edged sword. The most important thing is to think carefully about how your company presents itself online. Consider what you post to your social media profiles, how you engage with customers in public arenas and what impression you want to convey to the general public.

When it comes to tackling negative press, be aware that trying to remove the offending content can often attract more attention. Always be courteous and civil in your dealings and save legal action as an absolute last resort.