By Jonathan Ashton, head of marketing and communications, Krohne Middle East and Africa
Company reputation and the attached perceived valuation of that same entity can, sometimes, work along similar lines to personal reputation. This is a great starting point for most public relations professionals to take, as it allows them to run similar tests and procedures in both tracks and also, as the C-suite reputation tends to be closely linked with the company they run, they tend to impact each other. A recent LinkedIn survey claimed that 49 per cent see leadership reputation as a key driver of company reputation. Two birds with one stone, you might say.
So how do you bounce back from a digital reputation incident – let’s not say attack as this is not always the case – when your brand or your character is pulled into an online conversation that may or may not lead to a crisis for all parties involved? Yesterday saw the latest outburst from everyone’s favourite real-life Iron Man, Elon Musk. He directed his immense wealth that he nearly bought Twitter itself with instead to a much more maligned and in-need-of-help-immediately company: my beloved Manchester United. Mismanaged and under financed for at least a decade, the Red Devils have had a terrible start to the 22/23 Premier League Season, their worst for almost a century.
There are many things at play here, so let’s assess them step by step. The football team ceased to become simply that way back in 1991 when it first floated on the stock market. An excellent way to generate increased revenues, the Theatre of Dreams not only had to entertain but from this point also had to deliver solid financial returns to shareholders. This was part of a growing trend at the time, of football clubs cashing in on increased TV revenues and ramping up international merchandising.
Reputation is incredibly important in discerning corporate value and is part of the approximately 80 per cent, according to Harvard Business Review, of intangible elements that contribute to this. The World Economic Forum relate only a quarter of business value to reputation but states that 87 per cent of executives surveyed think that reputational challenges are more pressing than strategic risks. A tweet from a genuine influencer in the business world, as opposed to the other “influencers” who flood my feed too often with brand partnerships aplenty, can shock the market into a devaluation. In 2015, biotech stocks were sent reeling by a Hilary Clinton tweet about price gouging, sending the NASDAQ down by five per cent in a day after biotech stocks had grown 300 per cent over the previous five years. And Bloomberg even mapped how ex-president Donald Trump’s tweets impacted the Dow Jones on a daily basis – remarkable patterns emerge, all based on our human instincts and predictions.
So how do you handle such social ripples? There is an ongoing debate around how much control should a platform such as Twitter have over the content posted to it amid greater calls for fact-checking to reduce the fake news quotient. As a protector of reputations that call might be above my sphere of influence, but as a brand guardian, whether a corporation or individual, we can help balance a perception with verifiable and fact-based content sharing and promotion. Why not promote a tweet that corrects a misconception? Or invest in an advertorial in a magazine that speaks to your key stakeholders? As part of an ongoing content strategy, this should work well, as long as you understand the root of the problem and where to apply your messaging like a soothing ointment.
Of course, there is much more to a business than stock market valuation – for example, there are many successful companies that remain privately held or family-owned. My company, Krohne, is proudly in the latter camp, a decision maintained today that allows the board to make the decisions they feel are best for the company as part of a longer-term strategy, rather than opening up to such rhythms of the financial world. Still beholden to transparency and other international business regulations, companies should be proud to shout their solid financial and ESG credentials from the rooftops rather than forced to do so in the name of financial audit and stock market might.
Ultimately the loudest voices will always hold sway and shift perceptions to a certain extent, but we can, as business experts or communicators, buffer and shield where we can. Having said, all of this, there is a certain disappointment in the fact that, after his initial tweet, Elon Musk added definitively that he was joking. Who can save Manchester United now, if not our very real Iron Man?