| Sep 26, 2023 | | 14 min read

Reputation crisis: How to recover from a damaged image


Key Takeaways

  • A reputation crisis can happen to any business, big or small.
  • A reputation crisis can have a significant impact on a company's bottom line.
  • A crisis reputation management plan is crucial to deal with any issues that come up.

If you work with business owners, you know how important reputation is. Especially for small-to-medium businesses, what people say about you is everything. And people will check: nine out of ten customers do the research and check reviews before making a purchase (Globe Newswire). If a reputation crisis happens, it can be devastating — but there are crisis reputation management techniques you can use to help your clients.

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But what is a reputation crisis? It simply refers to a situation where a company's reputation is at risk of being damaged or destroyed, and it can happen to businesses of any size. It can happen for a variety of reasons, such as a product recall, a data breach, or a social media gaffe by a staff member. When a reputation crisis occurs, it can have a significant impact on a company's bottom line. Customers may lose trust in the company, and sales may decline. In some cases, a reputation crisis can even be significant enough to lead to businesses closing.

Understanding a business reputation crisis

A good reputation can help your clients attract new customers, retain existing ones, and build brand loyalty. However, a business reputation crisis can quickly erode all your hard work and leave the business vulnerable.

How does a business reputation crisis happen?

A business reputation crisis can happen for many reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Product or service failures: If your product or service fails to meet customer expectations, it can lead to negative reviews, complaints, and ultimately a damaged reputation.
  • Scandals or controversies: If your company is involved in a scandal or controversy, it can quickly damage your reputation. This can include issues related to company leadership, ethical concerns, or legal violations. The public outrage involved can even lead to something known as review bombing.
  • Social media backlash: Social media has made it easier than ever for customers to share their opinions and experiences with brands. If negative feedback goes viral, it can quickly damage a company’s reputation. You’ll want to master the art of responding to negative reviews to minimize the damage as much as possible.
  • Data breaches: With the increasing amount of data that companies collect, data breaches have become a major concern. If your client experiences a data breach, it can damage their reputation and erode customer trust.

How can you prevent — and manage a business reputation crisis?

Preventing a business reputation crisis is much easier than managing one. Here are some steps you and your clients can take to prevent a crisis from happening:

  • Focus on quality: Make sure your products or services meet or exceed customer expectations. Doing what you say you’ll do can help prevent negative reviews and complaints.
  • Be transparent: If something goes wrong, be open and honest with your customers and stakeholders. This can help build trust and your client can get ahead of the narrative.
  • Monitor social media: Keep an eye on social media channels to see what customers are saying about your brand. This can help you address issues before they become major problems.
  • Keep a close eye on reviews: Review monitoring management is just as important as it is for social media. Here are five ways to master review management.
  • Have a crisis plan in place: Develop a crisis plan that outlines how your company will respond to a crisis. Knowing what you’ll do ahead of time means you’ll always be prepared in any reputation crisis situation.


If a business reputation crisis does occur, there are steps you can take to manage it:

  • Act quickly: Respond to the crisis as quickly as possible. This can help prevent the situation from escalating.
  • Take ownership: Be honest and transparent with customers and stakeholders. This can help rebuild trust and prevent further damage to your reputation.
  • Apologize if necessary: If your client made a mistake, they should apologize and take responsibility for the situation.
  • Take action: Take steps to resolve the issue and prevent it from happening again in the future.


By taking these steps, you can help prevent and manage a business reputation crisis. Remember, reputation is everything, so it's important to take proactive steps to protect it.

What exactly causes a reputation crisis?

A reputation crisis can be caused by a variety of factors, both internal and external. Understanding these factors can help you take steps to prevent or mitigate the impact of a crisis on your client’s reputation.

Internal factors leading to reputation issues

Internal factors are those that are within your client’s control as an organization. These can include:

  • Poor management: A lack of effective leadership or poor decision-making can lead to reputational damage.
  • Employee misconduct: Employee behavior that is unethical, inappropriate, or even illegal can reflect poorly on an organization.
  • Product or service issues: If products or services aren’t living up to their promises, people are going to be unhappy. This can severely damage a brand’s reputation as word spreads quickly online.
  • Financial mismanagement: Poor financial decisions, such as fraud or embezzlement, can lead to a loss of trust in an organization.

External forces on a business’s reputation

External factors are those that are outside an organization's control. These can include:

  • Negative media coverage: Negative media coverage, even when it’s untrue, can damage an organization's reputation.
  • Social media: Negative information spreads quickly on social media — and there’s even less fact-checking than in media coverage.
  • Economic factors: Economic factors, such as a recession or market downturn, can impact your organization's reputation, especially for more high-cost products or services.
  • Competitor actions: Competitors may engage in negative campaigns (buying fake negative reviews, for example) or other actions that damage an organization's reputation.

The impact of a reputation crisis

A reputation crisis can have a significant impact on your business. It can damage your brand image, reduce customer trust, and lead to financial losses. In today's digital age, where information spreads quickly, a single negative event can quickly escalate into a full-blown crisis.

Here are some of the impacts of a business reputation crisis:

  • Lost revenue: Reputation issues can lead to a loss of revenue as customers may stop buying from you. They may switch to your competitors or simply stop buying altogether. This can be particularly damaging if your business relies heavily on a few key customers.
  • Damage to brand image: A reputation crisis can damage your brand image and make it harder for you to attract new customers. It can also lead to negative media coverage, which can further damage your brand.
  • Reduced customer trust: It can also erode customer trust, making it harder for you to retain existing customers. Customers may start to question your business practices and wonder if they can trust you.
  • Legal and regulatory issues: A reputation crisis can also lead to legal and regulatory issues. For example, if your business is found to be in violation of laws or regulations, you may face fines or other penalties.


If you offer digital marketing services (whether it’s white-label reputation management or a full suite of services), it’s important to have a plan in place. This plan should include steps for how to respond to negative events, how to communicate with customers and stakeholders, and how to rebuild a brand image. By being prepared, you can minimize the damage caused by a reputation crisis and get your clients back on track.

Getting to know crisis and reputation management

No matter how careful or safe your clients think they are, crises can happen to any organization. Effective crisis and reputation management can help mitigate the negative impact of a crisis on both the organization's image and reputation.

Crisis and reputation management is the process of planning, preparing, and responding to a crisis in a way that protects the organization's reputation. The goal of crisis and reputation management is to minimize the damage caused by a crisis and to restore the organization's reputation as quickly as possible.

Crisis and reputation management involves several key elements, including:

  • Preparation: It is important to have a crisis management plan in place before a crisis occurs. The plan should outline the roles and responsibilities of each member of the crisis management team, as well as the steps that need to be taken to respond to a crisis.
  • Communication: Effective communication is critical during a crisis. The crisis management team should have a clear and concise message that is communicated to all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and the media. It is essential to be transparent and honest in all communications.
  • Monitoring: It is critical to monitor the situation closely and to be prepared to adjust the crisis management plan as needed. This may involve changing the communication strategy or taking additional steps to mitigate the impact of the crisis.
  • Recovery: Once the crisis has passed, you’ll need to focus on recovering your client’s reputation. This may involve repairing damaged relationships with stakeholders, implementing changes to prevent a similar crisis from occurring in the future, and rebuilding the organization's reputation.

Need to know strategies for crisis reputation management

No matter how well-prepared you are, a reputation crisis can happen to any individual, business, or organization. However, the way you handle the crisis can make all the difference in the outcome. In this section, we'll discuss two main strategies for crisis reputation management: preventive measures and mitigation strategies.

Before a crisis: preventative measures you can take

The best way to handle a crisis is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some things you can do beforehand to minimize the risk of a reputation crisis:

  • Establish a crisis management plan: Create a plan that outlines the steps you will take in the event of a crisis. The plan should include a crisis communication strategy, a list of key stakeholders, and a designated crisis management team.
  • Monitor your online presence: Regularly monitor your online presence, including social media, review sites, and news articles, to stay aware of any negative comments or mentions.
  • Encourage positive feedback: Get as much positive word of mouth as possible by encouraging customers to leave reviews with a ‘Review us on Google’ sticker. Remember, it’s never a good idea to buy Google reviews.
  • Train your staff: Provide training to your staff on how to handle a crisis, including how to respond to negative comments, how (and when) to communicate with stakeholders, and how to follow the crisis management plan.
  • Be transparent: Be honest and transparent in your communications. If a mistake has been made, acknowledge it and take responsibility.

During a crisis: how to respond

If a crisis does occur, it's important to act quickly and effectively to mitigate the damage. Here are some mitigation strategies you can use to manage a reputation crisis:

  • Respond promptly: Respond to negative comments or mentions as soon as possible. Acknowledge the issue and provide a solution or explanation — or both.
  • Stay calm and professional: Keep your emotions in check and maintain a professional tone in all communications.
  • Be consistent: Ensure that your messaging is consistent across all channels and that all members of your crisis management team are on the same page.
  • Provide updates: Keep stakeholders informed of any updates or changes to the situation.
  • Generate positive content: Publish positive content on your website, social media, and other online channels to counteract any negative comments or mentions.


By implementing these preventive measures and mitigation strategies, you can minimize the risk of a reputation crisis and effectively manage one if it does occur. Remember to always act with honesty, transparency, and professionalism.

The good and the bad: Case studies of reputation crisis management

When a company's reputation is at risk, it's essential to have a plan in place to mitigate the damage and restore trust with customers. Here are some examples of companies that have faced reputation crises and how they responded:

United Airlines

In 2017, United Airlines faced a public relations nightmare when a passenger was forcibly removed from an overbooked flight (Change Management Insight). The incident was captured on video and quickly went viral, sparking outrage and calls for a boycott. In response, United CEO Oscar Munoz initially defended the airline's actions, but later issued a public apology and announced policy changes to prevent similar incidents in the future. Despite the initial missteps, United was able to recover and rebuild its reputation over time.

Johnson & Johnson

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson faced a crisis when seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with and laced with cyanide (University of Oklahoma). The incident led to a nationwide panic and a massive recall of Tylenol products. However, Johnson & Johnson's swift and transparent response, including working with law enforcement and implementing tamper-resistant packaging, helped restore public trust in the brand. Today, Johnson & Johnson is widely recognized for its crisis management response to the Tylenol scare.


In 2015, Chipotle faced a series of foodborne illness outbreaks that sickened hundreds of customers across multiple states (Bloomberg). The incidents led to a significant drop in sales and a hit to the company's reputation for food safety. In response, Chipotle closed stores for a day to train employees on food safety protocols, implemented new safety measures, and launched a marketing campaign to rebuild trust with customers. While the road to recovery was long and challenging, Chipotle has since regained its footing and restored its reputation for quality food.


In 2017, Equifax suffered a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of millions of customers (Forbes). The company's slow and inadequate response to the breach, including a delayed public announcement and insufficient remediation efforts, led to widespread criticism and calls for accountability. Equifax CEO Richard Smith resigned in the wake of the scandal, and the company faced significant regulatory fines and legal action. The incident serves as a cautionary tale for companies to prioritize cybersecurity and have a robust crisis management plan in place.

These case studies demonstrate the importance of having a well-planned and executed crisis management strategy in place to protect a company's reputation in the face of adversity. By responding promptly, transparently, and with empathy, companies can weather the storm and emerge stronger on the other side.

The importance of ongoing reputation management

We all know that especially today, a company’s reputation can make or break the business. A good reputation can attract new customers, retain existing ones, and help you weather any crisis that comes your way. On the other hand, a damaged reputation can lead to a loss of credibility, a decline in sales, and even bankruptcy.

That's why it's essential to have an ongoing reputation management strategy in place. Reputation management is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that involves monitoring your online presence, responding to customer feedback, and proactively managing your brand image.

Here are some reasons why ongoing reputation management is crucial for your business:

1. Builds trust and credibility

When customers trust your brand, they are more likely to do business with you. Reputation management helps you build trust and credibility by ensuring that your brand is seen as reliable, trustworthy, and transparent. By responding to customer feedback and addressing any concerns they may have, you show that you care about their opinions and are committed to providing excellent service.

2. Increases brand awareness

A positive reputation can help a business stand out from the competition and attract new customers. By managing your client’s online presence and promoting positive reviews and testimonials, you can increase their brand awareness and reach a wider audience. This can lead to more traffic to your website, more leads, and ultimately more sales. You can even share Google reviews to get more out of each positive interaction. On the other side of the coin, here’s what to do if your client’s Google reviews aren’t showing up.

3. Mitigates the impact of negative reviews

No matter how good a business is, negative reviews are inevitable (think a client has been unfairly reviewed? Here’s when and how to dispute a Google review). However, with ongoing reputation management, you can mitigate the impact of negative reviews by responding promptly and professionally to customer complaints. By addressing the issue and offering a solution, you can turn a negative experience into a positive one and even win back the customer's trust. Remember, it’s better to respond to and manage negative reviews than it is to turn off Google reviews full stop.

4. Protects a business from reputation crises

Reputation crises can happen to any business, big or small. However, with ongoing reputation management, you can be better prepared to handle any crisis that comes your way. By monitoring their online presence, you can detect any negative comments or reviews early on and take action to address them before they escalate into a full-blown crisis.

In conclusion, ongoing reputation management is essential for any business that wants to build trust, increase brand awareness, mitigate the impact of negative reviews, and protect itself from reputation crises. By investing in reputation management, you can ensure that your brand is seen as reliable, trustworthy, and transparent, and ultimately, attract more customers and grow the business.

About the Author

Lawrence Dy is the SEO Strategy Manager at Vendasta. His career spans from starting as a Jr. Copywriter in the automotive industry to becoming a Senior Editorial Content Manager in various digital marketing niches. Outside of work, Lawrence moonlights as a music producer/beatmaker and spends time with friends and family.

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