Building a strong reputation can take years, but it can fall apart in just minutes. An environmental crisis, executive scandal, unreliable product, employee tweeting a damaging picture, improper behaviour by a celebrity spokesperson—those are just a few very real examples. And while you might think you’re company is rock solid and impervious to a negative reputation, the reality is that it’s not. We’ve seen it happen to big, strong brands and to notable public figures, athletes and celebrities.

Harris Interactive recently released its 14th annual Reputation Quotient survey  rating 60 large American companies on product quality, trust, social responsibility and how employees are treated. The common thread for Harris Interactive’s ten companies with the highest ranked reputation is emotional appeal and innovation, while the companies with the worst reputation took a hit for their lack of being safe and stable.

So how can you build a strong reputation for your company?

Be innovative
Tech companies, like Apple and Sony, are often ranked among the top for reputation. Innovation is one of the key reasons. Companies that don’t innovate become stale and irrelevant. In the words of Sam Moreau, the director of user experience for Microsoft Windows, “You can’t just change stuff for change sake. Change is bad, unless it’s great.” Although Windows 8 has come under fire for its drastic innovation, it demonstrates the importance of evolving your product or service to meet the changing needs of your customer.

Deliver on your promises
Innovation is important, but are you delivering a product or service that lives up to customer expectations? And, are you doing so in a way that is consistent with your company’s values and brand? For example, if you commit to buying local, being sustainable, having a no-hassle customer service, or offering a superior experience, your company has to deliver on that. Word of mouth is incredibly powerful. When a customer feels wronged and doesn’t get the experience you have promised on your website and in your ads, they are going to talk about it, and not in a positive way.

Engage with your audience
According to the Harris Interactive survey, 73% of information seekers participated in a conversation about how a company conducts itself. Make yourself part of this conversation by getting to know your audience and where they seek information. Once you have that figured out, look for ways to be visible and engaging so you can be part of the dialogue, mitigating negative comments and/or building upon positive ones.

Show confidence in leadership
More than just managing the financial performance of a company, the CEO and leadership team must uphold and build corporate reputation through the actions they take and the decisions they make every day. They should also be visible across communication channels, including social and traditional media. This is particularly important during a large announcement, an issue or crisis when the CEO needs to be at the forefront to build and maintain reputation.

Turn employees into brand ambassadors
Although the CEO is just one person, they should empower their team to become brand advocates. By engaging employees at all levels in your company’s vision and values, and encouraging them to experience your product or service, there is a greater chance they will feel more connected to the brand and will talk positively about the company to friends and family.

Navigating the waters of corporate reputation is a continuous journey. Proactive planning and a strategy that is tied to your business’s values will help chart the course for a strong, trusted brand. If you don’t already have a strategy in place, work with a PR firm with expertise in building strong reputations to make it happen.

What company’s reputation do you most admire and why?