Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the nature of retail is changing. Wes Upchurch, Founder of, argues that reputation management is now more important than ever. With so many retail stores closed, e-commerce is rapidly becoming more important and consumer needs are changing. The evolution of retail over the last few months have not been easy for retail brands. But, as we emerge from the Covid-19 health crisis there is much that we can learn regarding how brands and consumers have responded. If nothing else, the sudden restrictions have shown us just how quickly things can change and how easy it is to get it wrong.

Over the last few months, physical relationships have largely been replaced by virtual ones. Internet usage during the pandemic has surged to all-time highest as shoppers turn to online outlets for shopping and engagement.  When social media becomes one of the only channels of communication between brands and people, businesses are increasingly placed under a microscope. These platforms allow consumers to judge their experiences in lightning fast fashions.

These changes have provided brands with an opportunity to quickly build a brand’s reputation, but it has also made it easier for them to make mistakes leaving the digital damage that comes with those mistakes behind. With people stuck at home without their ordinary routines, anxiety runs rampant. These changes mean that, now more than ever, consumers desire brands to be trusted resources, not just another company trying to make a buck. Studies are showing us that consumers spend their money on companies that are both competent and ethical, so those that can prove themselves during these shutdowns and lockdowns will convert this trust into long-term loyalty. Moving into the next stage of the pandemic, consumer confidence and safety will be key pillars for brands to adhere to if they want to have a truly credible reputation online.

Tell Your Story, But Remember People Long For Connections

Real reputations rely on the story that brands are able to tell. But what people want isn’t just a story, they want to see the real difference that companies are making in the world, not just the one that claim they are making. One of the key tenants of social media is that it requires being social. People are more interested in the narratives behind the brand. They want to know the story of the business and the positive changes the company seeks to make. During a time when it’s so easy to be upset about everything going on the world, kindness will win. The coldness of corporate communications reflects badly.  Brands that can connect with customers on an emotional level will build deeper relationships with consumers that will last far beyond this current crisis.

Social media makes it easy to share information, but the core concept of social media is sharing very human stories and experiences. But, Wes Upchurch says “Its the human aspect that is key. It doesn’t matter how much content we create, if people can’t connect with your story they won’t invest in it emotionally.” Social media grew out of an emphasis on the individual person, so empathy and connections matter. Traditional corporate communication just doesn’t work. In a world where connecting should be easier than ever, nothing frustrates people more than a generic robotic response.

Brands Should Listen and Respond

It’s vital that brands closely monitor the moods and feelings of consumers. This is best done by listening. Just as you’d read the room at a real world party, you need to get a feel for what people are saying online, before deciding what action is the most appropriate in the moment. Your actions and responses should directly reflect the brand image and expectations of society. Inadvertently sharing a poorly timed message could be deemed inappropriate,  just as reverting to a corporate tone of voice when customers are angry, confused or inquisitive, can damage reputation. The best brands invest in tools that monitor social media for mentions, and they employ people that are properly skilled in social media marketing. The right tools and people allow companies to respond and communicate quickly and effectively. Getting it right the first time is important. Unlike the days of yesterday, when a news paper would quickly be discarded and forgotten, the Internet is one where posts stay online forever.

“2020 is a year where many issues are playing out loudly, with no end in sight,” Wes Upchurch says, “this is why it’s more important than ever to get your response right, the first time. Otherwise, you’ll need someone like me to play damage control.” Wesley Upchurch is an Online Reputation Repair professional. He says that watching companies respond to the many issues of the day capture the importance of brand management. Today companies can’t just talk, the must act.

Perhaps the debate that best showcases the need to capture the right balance between authentic action and just speaking up is the one that surrounds the Black Lives Matter movement. Some brands got it right, others got it wrong. Some circulated performative messages, others honestly owned up to the need to improve, yet others only talked about how they were trying to make a change.  Yet others, choose to remain silent. But, often times this silence backfires and can be seen as a callous, uncaring response to what is an important civil rights movement.  The way this has played out, and continues to play out online, provides ample evidence that while there are a variety of ways to respond to a single issue, some responses are certainly better than others. Many companies have taken this important discussion and used it to improve their reputation, just as some where harmed by their response or lack thereof.

Reputation Requires Balance, Demands Action

Whether it’s the debate on masks for disease prevention, censorship and politics, or diversity and inclusion, it is more evident now than ever before, that consumers expect brands to lead the way in doing the right thing. They are no longer satisfied with brands just saying the right thing. They want brands to take real action on these issues. There will be blow back for every decision, but the best decision is one which aligns with a companies values while demonstrating it’s concern for the public interest and expectation. Because people can react and report on any company in real time, it has destroyed the notion that a company can simply say one thing, while doing another.

The flow of reviews, news stories, and opinions have brought accountability to corporate choices. You can’t just praise health care workers and essential employees, you have to provide genuine support. You can’t just praise diversity, you must take action to become more diverse. Will mistakes happen along the way? Of course, but a good reputation provides a safety net for when you misstep. Managing a positive reputation is much like walking a tightrope. To find the right balance, a company must be true to it’s value and take action that extends beyond lip service.

The tightrope is high at the moment, but a good reputation provides a safety net below if you put a foot wrong. In order to find their balance, brands need to be true to their values and keep to their word in a way that extends beyond paying lip service.