How to Use Measurement to Manage Reputation

Actively managing your company’s corporate reputation is no longer optional. Just ask Facebook. The company has suffered reputation setbacks over the past year and a half following a series of allegations and missteps; from proliferating fake news, to data and security breaches, to lags in leadership, Facebook’s reputation is now severely compromised.

Our firm’s data shows that Facebook’s reputation took a hit in late 2017 and has been in free fall for much of 2018. This has resulted in Facebook lagging behind in the U.S. technology sector by around 10 reputation points (on a RepTrak® scale out of 100) for much of the past year, while also seeing higher levels of market devaluation relative to peer companies and U.S. markets: In the first three months of 2018, Facebook’s valuation decreased by 14 percent, compared to a four percent drop for the S&P 500 overall.

While the reputational impact of a crisis is clear, what is less obvious are the reputation gains that can be achieved by companies that choose to proactively protect and manage their corporate reputations. Companies with strong reputations outperform their competitors, seeing a 2.5 times better stock performance compared to the overall market. They are employers of choice: 57 percent of the general public would choose to work for a company with an excellent reputation. And they are in demand with consumers, as purchase intent and willingness to recommend increase.

With such clear advantages to reputation gains, it is no surprise that reputation measurement rates are increasing. Sixty-three percent of companies we surveyed in Reputation Institute’s Leadership Survey measured their corporate reputations in 2017, more than double when compared to the prior year. Reputation however, is not the only metric that companies track: employee perception, customer satisfaction, brand metrics, and online conversation analysis round out the key types of measurements many companies conduct.

With such a plethora of data sources, communication teams find themselves armed with significant data points and some insights, but little thread or connection between the various parts. This realization is often a tipping point for many teams as they seek to make sense of the wealth of information at their fingertips.

The question therefore is, How do you streamline your research findings in a way that informs your strategic communication planning? An approach to solve for this is a framework that defines the process according to your priorities. Here are three ways to tackle this.

Centralized reputation measurement dashboard

This framework is based on the idea that a company’s reputation does not exist in a vacuum. Reputation is fluid and changes based on a variety of factors, some of which you can control while others happen to you; how you respond plays a part in the outcome. In short, this framework is about establishing a context for your reputation management. Some of the contexts we employ are:

  • Relative reputation position: How your reputation shifts over time is a fundamental metric (e.g. where you stand over a decade, in last year, last month or even last week.)
  • Another lens is your reputation relative to where you are geographically: country (e.g. U.S.), macro region (e.g. North America) or globally. Evaluating your reputation across one of more of these contexts recognizes that your reputation in one country could be quite different in another country. So being able to evaluate these differences is an important part of this equation.
  • A slightly different context is strategic competitiveness. Here, you want to understand your position relative to your peer benchmark set, to an aspirational group of companies that might be outperforming in certain areas (such as innovation or pricing), or to a broader market or industry sector (e.g. the banking, investment, insurance, or financial space. Depending on how you are positioning your firm, the sector you select will have a significant impact on perceptions of your reputation position.
  • Strategic considerations also include your performance among key stakeholders, on a particular issue, or relative to a current creative campaign, initiative or program.

Stakeholder feedback framework

In this model, as the name suggests, you prioritize stakeholders. The goal here is to understand the needs and priorities for various stakeholder groups. These could include internal constituents such as employees and business partners, where you take a close look at workforce engagement metrics. Other areas to potentially validate include a business success measure using sales metrics and product or Net Promoter Scores that give you insights into customer, consumer and mass influencer needs.

True influencer inputs, however, come from qualitative and quantitative analysis and media metrics related to opinion leaders, key influencers and, where relevant, policy makers. A lens into financial perceptions will come from research among investors, financial analysts and a review of share price/volatility. Data analysis for a stakeholder feedback framework looks for patterns across various stakeholders and identifies common themes across the entire stakeholder matrix. Mapping this information to your reputation drivers and business goals provides a plan designed to meet the needs of your most critical audiences.

Reputation-led communication plan

This is a more holistic plan that requires significant commitment to what you need to do to proactively manage and enhance your reputation, known as your reputation mandate. The objective here is to draft a proactive plan aligned to your reputation imperative, the overarching platform that frames out a direction for your strategy and execution.

There are a number of key factors to be considered:

  1. First, identify what the company must do. It’s important to focus on the overall corporate entity here, as a siloed approach that leads with a single initiative such as CSR or product will not capture the overarching corporate objective. Next, frame out your thinking based on current knowledge and context. It’s important to understand where you’re starting from. The net result of this one-two step is to combine your current and aspirational positions, which will help you understand the outcome you want to drive.
  2. Once you know your objective, it’s important to clarify your understanding using data. Here you might incorporate inputs from any of your reputation metrics (or from the two models above). Your company likely has a number of data sources that could be helpful information at this stage. Gather and interpret the data insights, paying close attention to your current, relative and desired positions. This will then help you to begin defining priorities that you can execute against.
  3. The final planning step is to identify areas for focus. This will include working up to your reputation imperative by identifying your reputation pillar (or multiple pillars)—the ideas or themes that anchor your activities; your messaging platform and channel priorities; mapping proof points to key story lines; and outlining roles, responsibilities and timelines. It is helpful at this point to also note key inflection points where your teams will check in on progress and how specifically you will measure these.

As you incorporate reputation considerations into your communication planning, keep in mind that metrics not only are ways to measure the impact of our initiatives, but also inputs into communication planning. That is why it’s important to be clear on why you’re measuring, because it so closely aligns to what you’re measuring.