Firms Fear Online Gossip

Bosses are afraid their companies' reputations are being hurt by employees who air complaints about their employer on the Internet, according to a new report conducted by Weber Shandwick Research and the Economist Intelligence Unit. However, top execs are often clueless about the specifics -- and sometimes even contribute to the problem themselves.

Risky Business: Reputations Online is based on interviews with 703 senior executives representing more than 20 industries in 62 countries spanning North America, Europe and Asia Pacific.

Nearly seven out of 10 of the executives said they feared for their corporate reputations as incidents of employees spreading bad will on sites such as JobVent and sensitive e-mails accidentally sent to the wrong people grow in number. In fact, a new acronym of sorts has sprung up to address the problem: online reputation management, or ORM.

However, top leaders are often naïve about the precise ways in which their employees might be sabotaging their companies' reputations. Two-thirds were either unaware or did not want to admit that they were being badmouthed online, said the report. Only a third admitted to knowing of an employee who posted something negative online about their company at a site such as JobVent, which lets visitors rate their employers anonymously. According to a story in The Columbus Dispatch, 70 percent of posted comments at JobVent fall into the "I Hate My Job" category.

The majority of executives admitted to having accidentally contributed to another problem: damaging e-mails which go astray. Almost 90 percent said they had sent or received at least one e-mail, text or Twitter by mistake.

Weber Shandwick is using the results as a springboard for offering their reputation management services to companies to help them reduce their vulnerability. The services consist of early warning tools, online reputation monitoring and rapid response strategies.

"Risks that did not exist a decade ago are now on full display--internal e-mails going astray, negative online campaigns by dissatisfied customers, and online grumblings from disenchanted employees, bloggers and anyone else who has an opinion to voice," said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick.

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