In my view, there is a very significant “large wave” trend that deserves special mention outside of the narrower segment analyses that make up this month's cover story.
That trend is reputation management and it's not a new topic, per se. It's been around as long as people, institutions and brands have. But it has taken on vastly new significance in the era of social media and instant communication we have today.
Many discussions of this issue in onsite foodservice tend to get caught up in stories about customers who, fairly or unfairly, bad mouth an operation or its food on the Internet. But it's much broader than that.
Reputation management encompasses the protection of longstanding personal, brand, business and institutional reputations, the strategies necessary to head off attacks before they get started and the tactics required to cope with those that do get traction. It also affects how internal resources are allocated. That's because managing reputations in the future is fast becoming a full-time job (or multiple full-time jobs) for virtually all organizations. That requires management time, money and strategic focus, all elements that are already in short supply among our readers.
Wikipedia defines online reputation management as “the practice of monitoring the Internet reputation of a person, brand or business, with the goal of suppressing negative mentions entirely, or pushing them lower on search engine results pages to decrease their visibility.”
For those who have struggled unsuccessfully to do something (that should be) as simple as deleting a Facebook page, the immensity of the challenge — and the technical sophistication needed to meet it — is quickly apparent. But society is only beginning to see the full import of such issues.
Consider the dining departments on college campuses, which up to now have been the onsite readers most affected by this problem. They have to deal with everything from online lambasts by dissatisfied customers to diatribes from always-ready-to-advocate-against-something students, to misinformation distributed by a broad swath of issue activists and critics. Anti-dining campaigns, Facebook pages, pranks, boycotts and rumors can materialize at any time and “go viral” moments later.
Every operator now is beginning to have this problem (and the management companies have to deal with it on a global scale!)
Think of times past when a 60-Minutes-type “expose” and a short video clip could put a Fortune 500 company completely on the defensive. Today, any customer with a smart phone who is knowledgeable about social media and Internet technology can create a comparable stir for any institution at any time.
Finally, consider the food blogs that have proliferated in the past two years, with photo tagging for social media and Search letting foodies share their food experiences — good and bad — rapidly and to large audiences. (There are over six million food images tagged this way on Flickr already!)
Indeed, an entire generation of such food bloggers may be heading your way according to food and restaurant “guru” Phil Lempert. Speaking at the School Nutrition Association's Industry Conference in January, Lempert warned that just such a generation of Koodies (Kid-Foodies) is appearing in school cafeterias today. They're modeling the behavior of food-blogging adults and parents they've seen photographing meals in restaurants and commenting on them via social media. (You can view a video clip of Lempert's remarks at http://video.food-management.com/pages/fm-editorial).
“Whether you are a large organization or a small one, your reputation is all you have,” says one foodservice executive I spoke to about this recently. “How you manage communications is crucial, especially with the way people communicate today.
“When you talk about risk management, it is about being proactive,” he adds. “It's about mitigation, about managing problems before they happen. That is the way risk management teams approach it and it is a responsibility every manager and employee shares today.”
Your thoughts? E-mail me at [email protected] or follow me @johnlawn.