Simpson Grierson media litigation expert Tracey Walker has penned Reputation Matters,a guide to reputation management in the digital age.
What prompted you to write the book?
I saw both international and New Zealand-based research in which corporate leaders cited reputation damage as the number one risk for their business. Protecting reputation has become infinitely more challenging in the past 5-10 years and I wanted to draw together some of the scattered legal rules and principles which businesses ought to know about to help prevent or mitigate reputation damage. I also wanted to dispel the notion that lawyers and comms people work across each other in this field. I think the best outcomes are achieved when comms strategies and legal strategies are aligned. My aim was to produce a practical legal guide to managing reputation risk in the 21st century.
What was the most surprising thing you encountered while writing it?
How challenging social media and the internet have proven from a legal standpoint. New fact patterns are being shoehorned into the existing legal framework with some interesting results. There’s also the constant redrawing of the balance between freedom of expression and private interests such as reputation and privacy.
What’s the number one thing to keep in mind in terms of reputation management?
Managing your reputation is more profitable than mopping up reputation damage. Don’t wait for someone to attack your reputation before you defend it – build up a positive presence both online and offline, and always be generating goodwill towards your brand. There’s little value in having a reputation management strategy if you aren’t aware of what people are saying about you or your company – monitor and record your activities across all your platforms and act before an issue escalates. The timeline for crisis management has shrunk dramatically.
Any predictions for where we’ll go with the legal issues around social media in years to come?
I suspect that we are going to see the tipping point between speech freedom and privacy and reputation shift towards greater protection of private interests. There has already been a consumer backlash – for example, people are increasingly circumspect about giving up personal information online because of concerns about the permanence of information shared online, and what their personal information might be used for. Online security, cyber-bullying, harassment and confidentiality are already big issues, and are likely to get bigger the more we live our lives online. The challenge for lawmakers and for the courts is to make sure the restrictions currently being mooted restrict freedom of expression only to the extent necessary.
How have the internet and social media changed the landscape when it comes to issues such as defamation?
Significantly. The internet has given everyone their own customisable ‘soapbox’ to stand on and a global audience to shout their message at. Everyone is a publisher, and publishing is now easier than ever before. One of the by-products of this digital revolution is the view that ‘first is best’. Fact-checking or risk analysis falls by the wayside but a cavalier approach to publishing, combined with the viral nature of social media, ups the risk of defamation and subsequent reputation damage.
For more, follow Tracey Walker @TraceyWalkerJ.