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Today’s business landscape is almost entirely digital. While the opportunities brought about by the digital age are nearly limitless, this new era has also ushered in waves of new threats — and savvy business owners must be not only aware of those threats but ready to protect their businesses against them and the damage they can do.

Your brand’s reputation is everything. Today’s customer has a wealth of options at their fingertips and is more selective than ever. Simply stated, a good reputation attracts customers, and negative brand associations repel them. Creating a solid and strategic brand management plan is the first step in mitigating the potential harm that can come to your company via the internet, and this quick guide will help you get started.

Related: 7 Ways to Recover After a Reputation Crisis

Identifying potential threats

Before you can create a plan to mitigate potential threats, you need to understand where they might come from. For instance, social media is a common culprit. While social media can be harnessed to connect with your customers and spread the word about your company and the products or services you provide, it can just as quickly turn into your worst enemy.

When customers feel they have had a poor experience, they often take their complaints to social media. Depending on factors ranging from the popularity of the unhappy customer’s account, the severity of the experience and how many others have had a similar negative experience, a post like this can quickly go viral, destroying the reputation you’ve built for years in a matter of hours.

This type of public criticism can be difficult to manage. It can happen fast, even overnight, and a prompt response is needed to mitigate the damage. If a business is unprepared and takes too long to formulate that response (or the response doesn’t resonate), the damage may be irreversible.

Strategy: Outline potential threats to your business’s reputation, including social media, unfavorable news stories, product or service quality issues and negative reviews. Just knowing where to watch is critical, and this list is a good starting point.

Proactive brand monitoring

Now that you know where potential threats could occur, how will you know when they do? It’s impossible to monitor every possible channel around the clock personally. Fortunately, plenty of tools are available today that can actually do that for you. This makes a huge difference in brand protection because the earlier you can respond to negative activity, the better off you’ll be.

Strategy: Invest in reputation management software. Compare tools to determine what will work best for your company and your industry. Look for tools that offer social media listening, sentiment analysis and competitor monitoring to start with, although you may wish to add more depending on how frequently you find that your company is discussed online.

Related: Why You Must Monitor Your Online Reputation Before it Hurts You

Addressing negative feedback

It’s been brought to your attention that a customer has made a complaint about your company. Unfortunately, it’s gone viral, and your brand’s reputation is diminishing quickly. What do you do now?

In almost every case, the right strategy is to address this issue head-on with honesty and transparency. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and if attempts are made to hide the full story, it will become an even bigger problem when the truth eventually comes out. A negative media experience doesn’t have to be the end of the road, though. Use the negative feedback to improve your products or services, and you — and your customers — will come out ahead.

In 2018, Starbucks received serious backlash when a manager called the police on two Black men who were waiting for a business meeting. The two men were arrested, and the situation blew up in both the press and on social media, with #BoycottStarbucks trending. Starbucks responded quickly, with CEO Kevin Johnson releasing a sincere statement and apology, referring to the situation as “reprehensible.” His statement included a promise to do better, and the following month, more than 8,000 Starbucks locations across the country closed for an afternoon of racial bias training.

Strategy: Create social media scripts and talk tracks around every situation you can imagine, no matter how unlikely they may seem. Nobody ever wants to admit that a member of their organization could make a bad decision or that their product could injure someone, but both of these scenarios happen all the time, and organizations need to be prepared for the possibility. Train members of your team on how to talk to the media, and let employees know to whom they should direct media inquiries.

Maintain transparency and authenticity

Transparency is always the ethical choice, but it’s even more important during challenging times. Your choice will significantly impact how your company is perceived by the public and even whether it can successfully navigate a crisis.

Customers, investors and internal stakeholders like your employees need to feel like they can trust your company. Listening to and honestly addressing concerns offers reassurance during challenging situations. Acknowledging mistakes and committing to improvement displays authenticity and prevents rumors from starting and spreading.

Strategy: Always speak honestly and authentically. Show empathy, especially if a party has been harmed. Listen when feedback is given. Has a deficit in your company been highlighted? Be prompt in creating a plan to address this deficit and then follow through.

Don’t let a crisis catch you off guard. A smart and strategic communication plan partnered with transparency and authenticity will help you successfully navigate the inevitable challenging situations that an online society is bound to throw your way.

Related: The Crisis Won’t Kill Your Business If You Get the Response Right