Do not pee down both legs

Nobody enjoys sharing negative news. Companies are especially careful when it comes to communicating downhills, often to the point of limiting the information flow or even distorting the truth.


Maersk, a Danish container shipping company, is an exception. When one of Maersk’s ships unwittingly hit a Norwich whale and called into port in Rotterdam carrying the dead whale on the bow, there was not a question about whether or not the company would share the unpleasant accident in social media.

Rather than play down the accident, Maersk posted pictures on the case in Facebook and created an album “In Memory of the Maersk Norwich Whale” on Pinterest. The post on Facebook received more likes than any other Maersk’s posts had before.

“In today’s world it is better to just come out and talk instead of trying to suppress an issue. Before coming out we prepared with a Q&A in which we asked ourselves where, how and why“, told Maersk’s Jonathan Wichmann, head of social media.

Today, the company has 2.278.670 Facebook fans and 113.000 Twitter followers, not to mention Maersk’s Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Openness builds trust. And corporate reputation is based on trust.

Transparency is everything. Corporate reputation is built among the public. The public cannot be bluffed to focus on high-tech port technology, if a company has just hit a whale and is about to carry the body into one of Europe’s biggest ports. Nor can a company distract the public with marketing tricks, if they are, at the same time, placing employees on the register or announcing other negative news.

Reputation is based on trust. If a company blunders, it is the level of reputation that determines how long it will take for the company to get back in the saddle. Negative news on a company with a good reputation is believed by merely 25% of the company’s interest group members, whereas, when bad news on a company with a poor reputation hits the news, 57% of recipients chew the news as such, and reputational downhill steepens.

Additionally, even 58% of a company’s market value can be comprised of reputation (Cole 2012). And 35% of investment decisions are based on reputation or image (Reputation Institute 2011).

What then are the determinants of reputation? We believe that reputation is based on six factors: company’s financial situation, employer image, products & services, encounters, societal role and strategy & renewal. A company can, and should, manage and build the reputation but it is among the public where the reputation is truly formed.

How can a company contribute to the improvement of its reputation? Firstly, the company needs to have a purpose, a meaning for its existence that is shared by all its employees. The narration of the purpose has to be crystal clear for each employee: as with Supercell – the best people make the best games. Employees are important spokespeople for every company, as they are the ones whose word is trusted the most among the wide audience. (2015 Edelman Trust Barometer).

Secondly, the company has to stay true to its promise. In Supercell’s case, the employees have to be put first, always. The starting point for a unique reputation is a story that endures the daylight and remains consistent with its values. Also, a story should not be copied because the audience can tell the pioneer from the imitator.

Back to case Maersk. Power no longer resides in old strongholds. Today, the public gets the last word. Even B2B players must realize that they are not intact or outside the public conversation.

Your company’s success is dependent on reputation and your reputation is increasingly dependent on the wider audience. Live up to the expectation or fade away.