Retailers and manufacturers know that their brand is not only the identity they expressly communicate to their customers, but also what those customers think and say about them. The rise of social media means that what a single individual thinks or says about a retailer can impact its brand in profound ways that were unthinkable before the Internet. A single message – or, sometimes worse, a single photo – can spread across the Internet and expose a retail reputation to real damage in a matter of hours that may take months to fix, if at all.

What does this mean for a retailer or manufacturer facing attacks on its reputation? The answer is to play good “defence” but also sharpen your plan of attack and learn to play “offence.” 

Our seven saviours for safeguarding what may be your most important asset – your brand:

  1. Listen to what the kids are saying. Invest resources in listening and understanding what is being said about you and your products. Use social media as an “early warning system” to catch “bugs” in your products or services, address complaints promptly, and reduce the likelihood of negative attention and litigation.
  2. Be sophisticated about how you handle consumer communications. Remember that every consumer interaction – including each response to a complaint – is an opportunity for brand enhancement or brand damage. Develop a strategy for handling suggestions, complaints, and threats from your customers. Involve legal advisors to make sure that your words don’t have important legal consequences.
  3. Don’t just stand there. In the face of a brewing controversy or scandal, taking a “no comment” approach to allegations can sometimes just add fuel to the fire. Legally, not seizing an opportunity to present your side of the story can also give the media an important potential defence in the event that they make defamatory statements associated with your brand. In certain provinces, legislation permits apologies to be made without admissions of liability. Consider using your response to controversies to reinforce your key brand messaging.
  4. Tell your story before someone else does. Consider thoughtful and proactive responses to early signs of trouble, such as negative product or customer service reviews; rumours; or inquiries from traditional or untraditional forms of “media.” Coordinate your media and online strategy with legal advice.
  5. If it’s really bad (but maybe only then), consider attacking the attacker. Know your rights under the law of defamation, which protects corporate reputations as well as personal ones. In the face of online harassment of your employees or attacks on your brand, consider using the courts to “unmask” online attackers who think they are anonymous. In all cases, however, you will need to consider whether bringing or threatening a legal action may just make things worse.
  6. Update the small print. Don’t assume your original “Terms of Use” and “User Agreement” for your website will last forever. The pace of change online means the online risks change too.
  7. Make sure you’re covered in case things go wrong. Audit your insurance coverage for the perils of the internet age. Are you covered if there is a litigation claim arising out of posts on your customer reviews forum? Are you covered for the time and liability associated with dealing with hacking, data theft, and other forms of cyberattacks?