( Photo courtesy Christopher Ranch )

It’s a business owner’s worst nightmare: To spend a lifetime building a brand with a sterling reputation, only to have it ruined in an instant.
This was almost the case for my family’s business, Christopher Ranch, after a poorly produced docuseries aired earlier this year. The show was filled with distortions and outright slander, and portrayed us as a major antagonist to the U.S. garlic industry. 

At the time, I had dismissed social media as a superfluous tool for agricultural businesses. Turns out, I was wrong. We learned the hard way when false rumors from the show started spreading online, threatening to tear down the reputation we’d built over generations.

In all my family’s time building our company, dealing with a tarnished reputation is something we never thought we’d have to manage. But by taking a few fundamental steps to better manage our brand and connect with our consumers, we were able to defend it and make it stronger.

1. Get online

If you don’t already have a presence online, build one. We used to have minimal presence on social media, which is fairly typical for the ag industry. But I underestimated consumers’ reliance on it as a source for sharing information and gathering news. Now it’s one of our primary focuses.

More than two-thirds of consumers get at least some of their news from social media, making it a powerful tool for connecting with customers, regardless of your industry. So if it hasn’t been your priority, start by making it one today.

2. Engage with everyone

Yes, everyone. Even those who are the most vocal against you. 

When rumors from the show first started spreading, people were genuinely concerned. Some even went so far as to call our major vendors to insist they cut all ties with us. 

To clarify misconceptions and put the rumors to bed, we engaged with Nuvi to track conversations about Christopher Ranch as they happened, and even identify the specific people leading them. With that knowledge, we reached out to each individual to listen to their concerns and answer their questions, ultimately allowing us to regain control of the story and turn our adversaries into our advocates.

3. Invest in great content

Great content begets brand loyalty. 

As we reached out individually to concerned customers, we found that by sharing our story and openly offering to shine a light on our business behind the scenes, people found us relatable and their loyalty grew. We continue that strategy today, even capturing what we used to consider proprietary information to share with our customers. It’s that transparency that allowed us to correct the rumors and ultimately protect our hard-earned reputation industry-wide.

So, invest. Put in the time to personally connect with your customers. Hire talented people who understand social media and its movements. And most importantly, be transparent. If you don’t control the conversation, someone else will, and if you don’t fight for your brand, no one else will.

Ken Christopher is the executive vice president and third-generation manager of Christopher Ranch.