As Benjamin Franklin once put it, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” In the digital age, it’s very easy for things like negative reviews and feedback, social media trolls and good old-fashioned gaffes to damage even the most well-burnished reputation.
After all, 90% of consumers now check online reviews when deciding where to do business. And 58% of American adults surveyed by Pew Research in 2020 said that “calling out others on social media is more likely to hold people accountable.” We live in an era when brands and the people who head them up are more visible than ever, and when word of mouth can travel further faster than at any other time in history.
Without a well-timed, tactical crisis management response, the fallout of a faux pas or a bad piece of press can impact not only personal and professional brand perception, but also a company’s bottom line. Reputation management is especially valuable in industries like cannabis that are still working to improve public perception and reverse decades of stigma from the War on Drugs.
It’s more important than ever to invest in quality PR resources—particularly with public relations experts who are fluent in cannabis and understand the unique challenges facing brands in this sector.
What Is Online Reputation Management?
Simply put, reputation management is the process of monitoring a brand or an individual’s public perception and influencing the public as necessary to maintain a positive relationship. In an era of digital and social media, much of this work now takes place online. When combined with professional expertise, these tools can be used to rapidly address negative feedback as it occurs and proactively stay in control of the narrative.
You can think of the relationship between cannabis PR and online reputation management (ORM) like a yin and yang. Proactive PR is typically organized around generating positive news stories and increasing brand awareness. Online reputation management (ORM) is almost entirely a process of addressing negative feedback and identifying when crisis management needs to take place.
ORM can be used to oversee both owned and earned media, addressing everything from salty social media comments on your brand accounts to public backlash that becomes a media story in its own right. And it’s equally valuable for public-facing B2C brands like dispensaries that have more of a local or regional media presence, as it is for ancillary cannabis service providers and B2C brands that approach marketing and PR on a national or even international scale.
Examples of reputation management include:
Why Do Cannabis Leaders Need Online Reputation Management?
Cannabis leaders need online reputation management for the same reason as leaders in any other sector. They need it for the same reason that people have carefully protected and moderated their reputations for thousands of years—because financial currency follows social currency.
As Socrates said in the 4th century BCE, “Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of—for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.”
Online reputation management and social media
In order for customers to connect with and advocate for your brand, they need to feel good about who they’re supporting. Studies show that 63% of customers now prefer to do business with purpose-driven brands that have a clearly articulated mission, vision and values. While the corporate accountability movement has been around for decades, the general public is more literate than ever when it comes to parsing the gap between a brand or individual’s ideals and their actual track record.
Consumers also have a wealth of tools at their disposal to highlight a company’s perceived failures or hypocrisies. Just look at what a handful of Twitter users did to the stock value of blue chip companies like Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin when the social media platform deregulated its identity verification system.
Users impersonating these brands in a critical manner sent markets into chaos with a few keystrokes. One day these brands were executing well-oiled marcomms strategies; the next they were scrambling to address not just a PR crisis of epic proportions, but also the attendant financial consequences.
A rising tide raises some boats
Most brands won’t have to face public relations challenges on this scale. But cannabis leadership in particular should be mindful that PR for cannabis businesses is also PR for the cannabis industry as a whole. Bad press for one brand or executive can easily turn off cannabis-curious consumers and sympathetic regulators wavering on whether weed is right for them and their communities.
It should also go without saying that in an industry still very much grappling with its relationship to systemic racism in legislative policy and criminal justice, activists and cannabis consumers alike are particularly sensitive to fairness, authenticity and optics.
This isn’t intended to sound daunting. Rather, if cannabis brands take a proactive approach to online reputation management as part of their overall public relations strategies, they can head off the need for crisis management at the pass.
By monitoring routine media mentions through tools like MuckRack, Cision, Coverage Book and TV Eyes, PR experts can help cannabis leadership tactically improve and leverage their reputations, pursuing positive coverage throughout the year.