Managing Perception

How Do We Measure Reputation?

Six-Dimensions to seeing yourself as others do

by John P. David

Mr. David is a principal with The David PR Group, specializing in media relations, branding and name recognition. Reprinted with permission. Visit davidpr.

Measurement in the world of public relations has always been an ethereal concept. Putting a value on media coverage or social media awareness remains a bit of a Holy Grail.

How we measure reputation appears just as daunting to me, but it turns out that analysts at the Harris Poll have been studying this since 1999, gauging the reputations of the most visible companies in the U.S. through the eyes of the general public.

I spoke with Sarah Simmons who gave me a great rundown as the firm tracks many companies and compiles data each year for its poll. (Simmons works for Nielsen Holdings which purchased Harris Interactive in 2013.)

While the companies at the top of the poll aren’t really a surprise – Amazon, Apple, Google, USAA, The Walt Disney Company (pre-alligator attack), Publix Super Markets, Samsung, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson and Kellogg Company – it’s interesting how the results are determined.

Starts with “The Reputation Quotient”

Harris surveys consumers, asking them to rate companies across six key dimensions: 1) products and services, 2) emotional appeal, 3) social responsibility, 4) workplace environment, 5) financial performance, and 6) vision and leadership.

For example, under products and services, Harris wants to know if customers perceive them as high quality, innovative and a good value for the money. Harris also asks if companies “stand behind” their products. For workplace environment, as another example, Harris asks if a company is a good place to work, has good employees and if the company rewards employees fairly.

The data is crunched and each company in the survey earns a “Reputation Quotient.” The companies at the top (mentioned earlier) score in the 80s on a 100-point scale while the cellar dwellers are in the 50s – think BP and Halliburton. Companies that rebounded this year include AIG and Facebook while major decliners included Starbucks and CVS. Volkswagen dropped the most, following its emissions scandal. According to the survey – and this presents an interesting lesson for all companies in my opinion – drops in “social responsibility” were the most common factor in prominent declines.

What causes the most damage to corporate reputations?

What hurts companies the most is not making mistakes but rather doing bad things intentionally. “Intentional wrongdoing or illegal actions by company leaders” and “lying or misrepresenting the facts about a product or service” are considered very or extremely damaging by 80 percent of respondents. A “product recall due to technical or equipment failure” is considered damaging by only 45 percent of respondents. Make a mistake and we aren’t happy. Do it intentionally and we’re pissed.

A company can’t plant a few trees and then claim it is “socially responsible,” as a one-hit-wonder doesn’t make for a great reputation

Building reputation takes time — and a plan

According to Simmons, building a reputation takes time and a plan. A company can’t plant a few trees and then claim it is “socially responsible,” as a one-hit-wonder doesn’t make for a great reputation. It requires planning that goes beyond traditional marketing. Determine your organization’s reputational narrative, consider the categories that impact reputation and then identify your stakeholders. Reputation goes beyond your customers and may include opinion leaders, media, the financial community and others.

Are you an opinion elite?

We often here the term opinion leader or thought leader bandied about. Again in the PR world, this is a subjective and sometimes self-appointed title. Harris has identified its own group of “opinion elites” who Simmons says are akin to early adopters in the tech world. Harris’s opinion elites are more informed, engaged and active, exerting influence on the public at large; therefore influencing a company’s ability to compete for market share, talent and mind share.

In the survey, opinion elites hold other companies in highest regard including UPS, Costco, Meijer, The Coca-Cola Company and BMW.

Who are opinion elites? Simmons says they are more engaged individuals who are more involved in their communities and exert influence over others. You might be an opinion elite if you answer affirmatively to questions like these:

  • Have you written your member of congress?
  • Do you lead a community organization?
  • Do you consume an above average amount of news?
  • Sign petitions?
  • (Bloggers, perhaps? I asked. One can aspire.)

While I still find measuring reputation to be a bit subjective, what we can learn from the Harris Poll is that a company’s reputation is impacted by many factors which can be quantified. Consumers like financially stable companies that treat employees well and provide vision and leadership for the future.

The general public also wants socially responsible companies that offer good products which they can feel good about. The formula is not that complicated, but the companies in the poll (on both ends of the spectrum) show that it takes time and effort to consistently have a great reputation. For more info on the Harris Poll, check out: http://www.theharrispoll.com/reputation-quotient/.