Can you fluently describe what your business’ unique selling proposition (USP) is? What makes you stand out from your competitors? If you say it’s the quality of your service or product, or your quick turnaround time, isn’t that exactly what they are also saying?

If you were to describe what it is that your business does in eight words, what would you say? Would your answer sound the same as the receptionist or intern’s answer? How does it compare to the person that has been with the company for ten years or more?

If you took time to ask everyone in your organisation, you might be quite surprised to find out what the rest of your team are saying. What your team is saying, becomes the the message that is communicated internally and externally, to friends, customers and other stakeholders. It has a direct impact on how your business is perceived and influences your company’s reputation. The perception of what your company does is not necessarily the truth, but it is that person’s reality which becomes their opinion that is communicated to people around them.

A few years back I realised with a shock that we didn’t have a succinct USP, our ‘eight words’ were all rather muddled. I recall asking the team to share a voice note with me describing what we do in eight words. Everyone’s voice note was quite different and varied a lot in length. Clearly, we definitely needed clarity on our eight words.

I really didn’t want to dictate what the eight words should be and I believe in being collaborative and involving the team in key decisions. If everyone is on board and gives their inputs, the chances of them buying into it, and adopting it as their own, are much greater. So at the next strategy session, we set time aside to work out what our eight words are, combing the USP and our vision. The reason for this is so that when we share our USP, we automatically share the bigger vision of expanding operations into the rest of Africa as well. Our agreed eight words: Africa’s go to reputation specialists building resilient businesses.

At your next team meeting, why not ask everyone to take a few minutes to write down what they consider it is that the business does.

There are a number of reasons it is so important to be clear in your offering:

  1. If you are fluent at what you do, it is so much easier to explain it to someone else and for them to understand and welcome it;
  2. Target your sales effort: knowing exactly what it is that you do makes it a lot easier to identify opportunities that you want to focus on which are aligned to your core services. You will also feel a lot less guilty saying ‘no’ to work that does not fit into your core offering;
  3. It helps you to identify growth opportunities;
  4. Your reputation is built upon what is communicated internally and externally. When everyone sings from the same hymn sheet and consistently sends out the same message, you are all building your company’s reputation. Keep in mind that reputations are all about consistency; you are either consistently good (building a positive reputation) or consistently inconsistent (building a negative reputation). If your core message is inconsistent, and all over the place, your service offering will most likely also be all over the place as everyone has their own version of what they should be doing. The more consistent you and your team are, the more solid your reputation will be;

While you are crafting your eight words, it is also a good idea to review your communication material and check that everything aligns to the eight word principal of describing your business. Also remember to check your internal messages and don’t neglect your induction pack for new employees. Consider finding out what your other key stakeholders think your business does, because it will help you to know if you need to re-align key messages and identify gaps in your communication initiatives.

To continue the reputation management discussion, visit www.reputationmatters.co.za or call +27 21 790 0208 or mail research@reputationmatters.co.za. We are also on Facebook www.facebook.com/yourreputationmatters and Twitter @ReputationIsKey

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COVID-19 doesn’t change top CEOs’ social media habits

[CAPTION] Top CEOs across the globe tend to stick to their existing communication habits during the COVID-19 crisis. Only those who were already active on social media before the pandemic used these platforms to interact with their stakeholders during the COVID-19 crisis. This is according to research by the international communication network ECCO.

ECCO analysed the personal Twitter and LinkedIn accounts of the top 20 companies (by market capitalisation)’s CEOs in 17 countries worldwide. This year was the third time that ECCO conducted the research. ECCO found that CEOs all over the world have been reluctant to send their messages through Twitter and LinkedIn.

Contrary to the general assumption that social media becomes more important during a crisis, ECCO observed a nearly unchanged share of CEOs using Twitter and LinkedIn compared to previous surveys in 2017 and 2019. The research even shows a slight decline in activity on LinkedIn, where only 46% of CEOs have and use a personal account.

Even fewer CEOs have Twitter accounts. Since 2017 the share of Twitter users has grown marginally from 15% to 20%.

South African results

Reputation Matters, the South African regional representatives in the ECCO network, conducted the research of the top 20 CEOs as listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)*. Findings indicate that Twitter is far from the preferred choice as a personal communication channel. Whereas an average of 20% of top CEOs globally have taken to Twitter, only one top CEO in South Africa had a Twitter presence. LinkedIn shows a greater uptake amongst top CEOs, although many of these personal profiles have not been active for several months, if at all.

“Social media is often a great way for companies to reach the public, but on a personal level it depends on each individual’s communication strategy,” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager at Reputation Matters. “It would appear that, for now, social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn are not high on South Africa’s top CEOs’ radars as personal communication channels.”


Rebuilding resilient reputations as we phase out of lockdown: Four lessons from research across the globe

“What the world needs now is solidarity. With solidarity we can beat the virus and build a better world,” ~ United Nations.

 

Reputation Matters, a proudly African firm that focuses on reputation research, has embarked on a research study to determine the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research focussed specifically on the impact that the pandemic had on business communication and how people have been affected on an individual, company and country level. The results, which are presented in a series of free online sessions this week, highlights the importance of crisis communication and having a communication policy in place before a crisis hits. Apart from the negative economic impact of the pandemic, respondents indicated that they enjoyed spending more time with family and building stronger bonds. Businesses also noted that they were forced to think outside of the box in order to reach their customers. They also indicated that working from a remote office and using technology have delivered a more productive workforce. 

 

For the first time since the second World War, the Eiffel Tower has been closed for more than 100 consecutive days, major sporting events like the PGA have been cancelled and life as we knew it has come to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many countries start phasing out their lockdown, people are eager to get back to business.

 

“With the help of our strategic partner, ECCO International Communications Network and the African Public Relations Association (APRA), the questionnaire was distributed across Africa and translated into French,  German and Hungarian to make it accessible across Europe,” says Chanell Kemp, reputation specialist at Reputation Matters, who led the research project. The survey delivered responses from Africa, Asia, Europe, North- and South America. The majority of responses however came from Africa and Europe and the data focused on these two continents. “The main thing that stood out for me is that the world is ready to relook the way we work. Technology has allowed us to work remotely and make better use of our time,” indicates Chris Bischoff, reputation manager, who was part of the project.

 

Participants were asked what the effects were on their countries, and the majority of respondents, regardless of the country or continent, indicated that the macro-economic effect was devastating. Respondents mentioned the GDP, increases in poverty, loss of revenue and the closures of borders, travel and businesses as the major influencers on a macro-economic level, indicating that  the ‘worst is yet to come’. “Albeit the big effect the lockdown had on all three levels, the positive message that came through from the respondents is one of hope and optimism, with the biggest focus being on family time, relationship building and generally more time for self-reflection” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager that was research support on the project.

 

“The data that we collected was very rich and insightful. There are numerous lessons that we learnt from the research that can help businesses re-establish and rebuild a resilient reputation after the lockdown,” indicates Kemp. Here are four lessons that businesses can focus on, coming out of lockdown:

 

  1. The pandemic changed the way we engage with new and current clients: Communication to employees and customers is more important than ever and businesses need to adapt their marketing and customer relations strategies to take advantage of digital opportunities and new communication platforms.
  2. It is important to have a crisis communication plan in place before a crisis takes place: A crisis can only be managed effectively if you plan appropriately. The research indicated that 42% of organisations in Africa did not have a crisis communication plan in place before the pandemic surfaced.
  3. The pandemic, and its economic impact, is far from over: Organisations need to have a financial strategy in place to help businesses survive and thrive in the new economy.
  4. The pandemic affected everyone, regardless of age, continent or country: The research highlighted the importance of empathy, humanity and unity. Businesses need to share these messages of positivity with the rest of the business community in Africa.

There are even more lessons that surfaced from the research and Reputation Matters is hosting a free online session to give detailed feedback on all the research results. “We want to invite the media and the members of the public to join one of the two sessions this week: Tuesday, 30 June 2020 at 14:00 (RSA) or Thursday, 02 July 2020 at 14:00 (RSA),” concludes Kemp. To be part of this session, please send an email to research@reputationmatters.co.za. Organisations can draw inspiration from the positive aspects that arose from the research, take the lessons learnt and implement it in order to build resilient reputations coming out of lockdown.


Working within ecological boundaries: Five steps towards a sustainability strategy

As more countries around the world are shifting toward a circular economy, the business community is also expected to work within the ecological boundaries. This tied with consumer demand for sustainable products and services, makes sustainability a top priority.  Businesses that ignore this environmental responsibility will get called out, having a detrimental impact on their reputation.

Chris Bischoff, reputation manager and sustainability specialist at Reputation Matters, shares five steps to successfully adopt a sustainability strategy on all levels of business.

  1. Establish your environmental policy: Your environmental policy is your overarching vision for how your company will fully own its environmental and social responsibility. Like your vision, it is one sentence that everyone should know.
  2. Leadership should walk their ‘environmental talk’: The leadership team needs to be the driving force that will ensure that the environmental policy and subsequent environmental management plans are implemented throughout all areas of the business. Management needs to lead by example and ensure that it is implemented by all employees.
  3. Your employees are your environmental ambassadors: Ultimately your employees are the ones who will determine whether implementation of the environmental policy and sustainability strategy is successful. As with any company policy, it is important to ensure that your employees receive enough communication and training to know how things are done according to the environmental policy. It is also really important to communicate the ‘why’ of your environmental policy. Employees need to understand the value of sustainability, for business and the environment.
  4. Business partners affect your sustainability: Your business is not just confined to your office; your business is your entire supply or value chain. Do you know if your business partners along every point in your supply chain are complying with your sustainability strategy or environmental management plans? Communicate your environmental policy and plans with all your business partners and find out what they are doing to comply with your strategy and what their environmental policy is.
  5. Measure buy-in from your stakeholders: It is valuable to understand what your stakeholders know about your company’s sustainability. Reputation Matters has specifically design a research model, the sustainability check, to provide you with insight into your different stakeholder groups and their perceptions and understanding or your company’s sustainability strategy. Having this insight will help you communicate your sustainability strategy with your different stakeholder groups.

“Communicating your sustainability strategy increases support from your stakeholders, forces them to comply with your environmental policy and management plans, and will improve your reputation as a sustainable business,” says Bischoff.


Reputation Matters launches free reputation management eBook

Reputation Matters have launched a free ebook outlining 40 tips and tricks to manage your reputation and communication during the lockdown. Their specialist team have compiled this practical guide based on their extensive knowledge and experience that they have gained over the last 15 years.

“At Reputation Matters we believe in growing businesses and growing people. We build businesses that people want to do business with,” shares founder and managing director, Regine le Roux.

“The team have been absolutely amazing in turning this ebook around in a week,” says le Roux. Your Reputation Matters, 40 tips and tricks during lockdown, is an easy reference book and is aimed at guiding people on how to manage their reputation and communication during a crisis, such as this current COVID-19 lockdown situation.

The content is aimed at providing practical advice from managing your communication during a crisis, etiquette tips on setting up a virtual office, embracing communication tips from millennials to planning for the future. 

If you would like a free copy of the ebook register for it here: www.reputationmatters.co.za/ebook 

Reputation Matters have also made several free webinars on reputation management available, for more information on these sessions contact: research@reputationmatters.co.za


Visit the official COVID-19 resource portal

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we all know how important it is to get your information and updates from credible sources.

In line with our governments request, please visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ to get information directly from the National Department of Health’s official COVID-19 South African Resource Portal.

Please note that as we heed the government’s call for physical distancing, we are still fully operational and continue to work virtually should you require any reputation or communication support.  We wish to thank everyone at the front line fighting this virus, and we thank our President and the leadership teams steering our country. 

We wish you health, safety, and strength during this time.


Seven habits of highly successful crisis communicators

For the first time since the digital age, the entire world is faced with same health pandemic crisis and the same threats and fears. It’s a crisis of such magnitude that no textbook could ever have fully prepared any of us for it.

Whatever your location or type of business you run, the way in which you communicate during a crisis remains the same. Regine le Roux, founder and managing director of Reputation Matters, shares seven habits of highly successful crisis communicators.

ONE: Have a plan. In the ideal world, everyone would already have a crisis communication plan in place having scenario planning plotted out with high risk / high impact; high risk / low impact etc. identified. Part of the plan would include:

  • Who the key stakeholders are that need to be communicated with;
  • How: The channels of communication to be used and,
  • What the key messages need to be .

The minute there is a crisis, everyone should know who needs to communicate what to whom. It’s very important to have a clear spokesperson during the crisis: this person should ideally be the leader of the organisation, e.g. Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer etc.

“Linking it to COVID-19, I don’t think anyone anticipated this virus to morph into a global pandemic. It’s difficult to know exactly how to prepare for something like this, but every business should be prepared for a worst case scenario where their offices may need to be shut down in the event of an emergency.

But, having a plan in place of how to engage with your key stakeholders should at minimum include: employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers,” shares, le Roux. 

TWO: Be responsive and give timeous feedback. It’s a very uncertain time for everyone. Communication is key.

Key things to communicate and to keep in mind during this time:

  • Respect: Adhering to government decisions and guidelines
  • Office hours: Will the business be open or closed?
  • Team availability: Will the team be available? Will they be working remotely?
  • Contact information: If anyone has questions, who can they contact?
  • Health advice: Bring in the health message of social distancing / washing hands / sanitising

 

THREE: Keep stakeholders updated. The South African government has been a prime example of how it should be done, keeping the public up to date with the situation and what needs to be done, and there is regular communication directly from the President. Because of government’s consistent and proactive communication, the majority of South Africans know that we are going into lockdown from tonight, Thursday, 26 March 2020 and we understand the seriousness of the matter.

If you work in the event or training industries, or were looking forward to an event yourself, you know that there is a lot of uncertainty about whether the event is going ahead or not. It’s important to let delegates know as soon as possible whether it’s going ahead, being postponed, or being cancelled. Delegates need to know what is happening to their bookings. Ditto for the tourism industry: what is happening to flight and accommodation bookings?

FOUR: Stick to your guns. The message needs to be clear and consistent: “This is what needs to happen; these are the parameters; and these are the consequences.”

FIVE: In any crisis, empathy is very important. Whenever there is a crisis, people are impacted and we need to remember that we are dealing with human beings who are each coping in a different way. Be sure to highlight that in any communication

SIX: Keep in simple. The best way to help people listen and remember things is to keep it simple. “I have been receiving many newsletters around the pandemic,” says Le Roux. “I think a lot of it should be simplified to get the message across. Sometimes short and sweet cuts through all the noise.”  

SEVEN: Take action. “Here’s a basic example,” shares le Roux, “It wouldn’t help saying we need to social distance ourselves and then to call a meeting where you need people in the same room. I have actually noticed a few press conferences taking place where the media are invited into a room and the key message is about social distancing; leaders need to walk the talk and set the example.” It may also be tricky to balance the need for profitability with the need to provide employees with safety and a stable income. However, the businesses who are as committed to their employees’ well-being as they say they are will have to demonstrate it in the coming weeks and months.

And here’s a bonus good habit: before sharing anything, check the sources. There is a lot of fake news doing the rounds, spreading panic. Distributing fake news is now a criminal offence, and you may be liable for a fine or imprisonment.

Le Roux concludes, “I read a great line in a Harvard Business Review article earlier today:  This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.* We wish to thank everyone at the front line fighting this virus; thank our President and leadership teams; and wish all the best to everyone during the national lockdown.


Taking a page from the Millennial communication book during COVID-19 lockdown

Millennials: often described as the ‘instant-gratification-generation’, the multi-tasking individuals who are glued to their phones and the generation who makes use of different communication channels, as opposed to their Generation X or Baby Boomer parents. With the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are going to be home-bound. For businesses to remain functional to some degree, it is crucial to optimise the virtual office space. There have been many negative connotations to the Millennial generation, but for once, we can learn something from their communication style and preferences.

 

Millennials are individuals aged between 25 to 39 years of age. Their parents are usually classified as Baby Boomers (aged 55 and older) or Generation X (aged between 40 and 54).  Numerous academic articles have confirmed that the older generations view Millennials as individuals who are overconfident, requires constant praise and are generally seen as high maintenance. Chanell Kemp, a reputation specialist at Reputation Matters, who completed her Masters dissertation on the topic, says that now is the ideal time to take a page from the Millennial communication book.

 

Here are five preferences that characterise Millennial communication that can be used during lock down and working from a virtual office space:

Topic: Millennials prefer communication to be brief but meaningful and engaging. Provide enough detail but keep it to the point and stay positive. “When in lockdown, we should focus on staying positive and energised during the pandemic. Keeping the communication brief and meaningful mean that it is more likely to be read, especially as there is a lot of social commentary from all angles at the moment,” says Kemp.

Medium: Millennials prefer texting and sending WhatsApp’s as the most preferred medium for communication. Their phones are often described as their greatest asset. During the lockdown, mobile phones will also be one of the biggest assets for organisations and friendships. Organisations can use mobile phones to conduct meetings and instead of having a get-togethers over weekends, friends are already communicating and sharing their favourite beverages using WhatsApp groups or Facetime apps.

Time: Millennials function on a 24/7 cycle and they like to have all the information, all the time, regardless of business hours. “Organisations are currently saving on travel time, but strong measures should be put in place to ensure that employees don’t fall into a 24/7 work schedule,” warns Kemp. This brings us to the fourth communication preference, respect. Millennials prefer to feel respected when older generations are communicating with them. The entire world is influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we should not only communicate in a respectful manner, but also respect the measures that the Government put in place to protect businesses and limit the spread of this virus through complying with the lockdown rules.

Finally, Millennials focus on communication with meaning. Millennials have a strong sense of responsibility for the contribution towards the “greater good” and committing to the social bottom line. “Although the COVID-19 virus has an enormous impact on the global economy, we should focus on the messages we spread and how we communicate in a time like this,” says Kemp. “It is crucial to remain positive, comply with the measures that Government have set in place and keep your workforce motivated. We should also ensure that we spread the correct messages, information and statistics and steer clear of fake news. Now is the time to stand together, empower and inform your workforce in order to equip them for this lockdown.” concludes Kemp.


Reputation Matters launches new service to support public participation

South Africa is a developing nation; infrastructure is being upgraded, new housing developments are frequently springing up, and different industries are quick to adopt new technology to keep up with the rest of the world. While we see this advancement in development, it does not come without its environmental impacts on the surrounding environment. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA’s) play an important role in ensuring the environmental and social impacts are mitigated as much as possible. Equally as important is including the voice of the public in the EIA process.

Reputation Matters has launched its public participation service to support environmental practitioners and developers with the public participation process.

Reputation Manager and sustainability specialist at Reputation Matters, Chris Bischoff elaborates on their new service, “We have been involved in the public participation element with past clients and we have seen the value that good media coverage has towards sharing information with the public.

Our EIA public participation service is designed to achieve media coverage that highlights the projects benefits. We also include a public survey to collect comments from affected stakeholders and to include all public concerns and recommendations in the environmental management plan. Lastly, based on the public feedback on the proposed development, we will guide the project management team and EIA practitioners on how best to communicate with interested stakeholders based on their preferred communication means.”

The purpose of public participation is to provide a source of information for the public about the EIA and proposed development. It also allows stakeholders to register as interested and affected parties (I&AP’s) to submit their comments, concerns and recommendations. Public participation is a vital component to the EIA process and will largely influence the Department of Environmental Affairs’ decision to approve a development based on the EIA.

“We want to ensure that the public participation aspect goes beyond the minimum requirements; our service is designed for this. Our team has extensive public relations and stakeholder engagement experience, along with a comprehensive understanding of the EIA process in South Africa,” says Bischoff.

For more information about Reputation Matters and their new EIA public participation service, get in touch with Chris Bischoff at chris@reputationmatters.co.za or visit www.reputationmatters.co.za. Follow Reputation Matters on Facebook (@yourreputationmatters) or Twitter (@ReputationIsKey).


Working from home during COVID-19: Tips for a virtual office

With new measures to contain COVID-19 announced by the South African government, many employers are encouraging their workforce to work from home. Reputation Matters, a proudly African research agency, has been successfully working from a virtual office space since 2008 and shares four tips for acing it.

A virtual office is an office that exists almost entirely in cyberspace. Employees are free to work from anywhere that has an Internet connection. With the arrival of COVID-19 in South Africa, an increasing number of employees are working from home to avoid spreading the virus. Besides the immediate benefit of minimising exposure to the illness, there are several benefits to adopting this approach on a permanent basis.

“Benefits of the virtual office include cost cutting on items like physical office maintenance, along with increased employee happiness and productivity as the daily commute is eliminated and they spend more time with family,” says Nalene de Klerk, reputation manager at Reputation Matters.

De Klerk explains that a virtual office does require a shift from the traditional office mentality and shares some tips for making it work:

#1: Have the right tools in place. Employees require functional laptops, cell phones, and Internet connection to work from anywhere. The virtual office also requires cloud storage and digital systems for scheduling, conferencing, and task management. Luckily, there are a host of business applications for every aspect of the business.

#2: Maintain set office hours. With increased connectivity comes the temptation to simply never switch off. Nowhere is this truer than in a virtual office, where the home environment would double as the office for many employees. ”We are encouraged to only be online after 07:00 and to switch off by 19:00, as a balanced lifestyle key for productivity,” explains de Klerk.

#3: Have set team get-togethers. With the spread of the COVID-19 virus, face to face engagements may not always be possible, but it is important for employees to check in with one another to prevent them from feeling isolated. “We have weekly Skype meetings and we check in with management telephonically for a monthly one-on-one,” suggests de Klerk. Once the virus subsides and business starts returning to normal, monthly face to face team get togethers may also help.

#4: Have the right team on board. It takes discipline and a lot of intrinsic motivation for employees to work from home. Management needs to be able to trust them to deliver quality work within agreed timelines. In the long run, management needs to ensure that they have the right people on board who will continue to function optimally from a home environment. “We have an extensive recruitment process that gauges potential employees’ ability to work remotely,” says de Klerk. Part of this is having shared corporate values that are communicated regularly, helping to build trust and guiding employee appointments.

“Those working from home for this period may find it a feasible long-term solution to boost productivity and morale,” concludes de Klerk. “We encourage you to make the most of the opportunity to step into the future of virtual offices and we would be happy to share more tips for those making the shift.”