Staking your reputation in the digital age

In these days of increasingly sophisticated social media it only takes one off-message supplier and a backpacker with a phone camera, to bring corporate reputations crashing down. So what steps can a responsible business take?
Miranda Ingram reports.

Smart companies have already made supply chains sustainable and are active in CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), and promote their initiatives on web sites and Facebook in order to build trusted brands and reputations.

Yet in these days of increasingly sophisticated social media it only takes one off- message supplier and a backpacker with a phone camera, or a disgruntled customer whose complaints are being ignored, to bring those reputations crashing down. What is seen in Bangladesh today can affect sales in Glasgow tomorrow; bad news travels from Twitter to Newsnight in a matter of minutes.

“Behaviour” is the new buzzword, according Sally McGeachie, Head of Communications at GoodCorporation, the business ethics advisors and auditors who count giants like BBC Worldwide, l’Oréal, O2 and the FTSE among their clients.

Behaviour focus

“It is no longer a matter of having a crisis management plan but about prevention. Every aspect of the corporation should now be behaviour focused,” she says. “This starts with identifying behavioural risks such as bribery, fraud, corruption, human rights abuses. Your code of conduct must be embedded in the company and your employees absolutely clear what it is.”

GoodCorporation’s Dos and Don’ts


  • Focus on behaviour: establish a clear code of conduct which states how the company will behave towards all stakeholder groups
  • This approach should start with an overt commitment to establishing an ethical culture from senior management
  • Ensure that the code of conduct is properly embedded and implemented through  effective training and communication (e-learning can be a useful tool here)
  • Identify the areas of the business that may expose the company to reputational damage and develop policies and processes to manage those risks
  • Conduct internal and/or external audits of behaviour and conduct
  • Create an open-door culture with a speak-up system that encourages malpractice to be reported and respond when it is
  • Ensure that an effective and responsive customer complaints programme is operational
  • Include a stakeholder feedback link on the website; monitor comments and respond promptly
  • Provide clear guidelines for all staff on the responsible use of social media with examples of what would be considered misconduct and what is acceptable and appropriate
  • Consider incentives for good behaviour, managed through the appraisal process
  • Ensure a crisis management system is in place and understood.


  • Try to solve a problem by covering it up
  • Assume that no one will find out
  • Punish those who raise concerns
  • Make promises that can’t be kept
  • Make dishonest or misleading statements about company, products or services