Corporate reputation is defined as a “perceptual representation of a company’s past actions and future prospects that describe the firm’s overall appeal to all its key constituents when compared to other leading rivals” (Gottschalk, 2011, p. 29). Key to understanding how corporate reputation works is the notion that it is “a socially transmissible [emphasis added] evaluation of the company” (Smaiziene & Jucevicius, 2009, p. 98). Corporate reputation is a challenge to manage because it is inherently social in nature and because, ultimately, it consists of the perceptions-whether warranted or not-held by others about you (Hiles, 2011). Corporate reputation is valued as it is “related to being able to increase market share, lower market costs, lower distribution costs, charge a premium, avoid overregulation, weather bad times, align employees, attract and retain talent, attract investors, gain access to new global markets, and have more favorable news coverage” (Carroll, 2010, p. 3). In simplest terms, corporations do not own their prized reputations. Their reputations, rooted in the perceptions people hold, often precede understanding of their products and services; and, for better or worse, may continue longer than desired or warranted. Corporate Reputation is a valuable asset that, once denigrated, is incredibly difficult to regain (Winkleman, 1999).
Central to the struggle of managing a corporation’s reputation is the phenomenon of media framing: “the process by which a topic is presented from a particular angle […], inviting audiences to draw particular conclusions, and to make particular allusions to other topics” (Giles, 2010, p. 137). Media framing is a key component of corporate marketing campaigns and an ongoing consideration for managing corporate reputation.
One of the more popular measures of corporate reputation is the Harris Reputation Quotient (RQ) Assessment which claims to “measure the reputations of the most visible companies in the U.S.” (Harris Interactive, 2012, p. 23). Amongst other things, the Annual Harris RQ assessment ranks the reputations of the sixty most visible companies in the U.S.
While it is generally accepted that social media play a critical role in determining corporate reputation (e.g., Qualman, 2010; Paine, 2010), recent studies on the impact of social media illustrate a mixture of expected and unexpected results. Utilizing the Harris RQ in concert with message framing analyses, DiStaso and Messner (2012) concluded that Wikipedia, one of the largest and most popular websites on the Internet, surprisingly, contains more negative than positive content for companies with the worst and best reputations. While there was a correlation between corporate reputation and the amount of positively-framed content, in all cases the negative outweighed the positive. In response to this, the study’s authors encourage companies to pay close attention to their Wikipedia pages and for “public relations professionals [to] move beyond monitoring” (DiStaso & Messner, 2012, p. 64) and alter the articles to be more balanced in their tone and topic. This is not surprising and is consistent with the modus operandi of a burgeoning technology industry aimed at safeguarding reputation through the monitoring and manipulation of social media. Examples of this are found in the form of companies such as Radian 6 (radian6.com), Sprout Social (sproutsocial.com), and Reputation Changer (reputationchanger.com).
But what are we to make of this from a psychological perspective? It’s clear that there is an interplay of forces at work, whereby social media’s impact has given rise to a very human response of wanting to manage perceptions, ironically, using the very media capabilities causing concern. This interplay is what Baym (2010) refers to as social shaping, where “consequences arise from a mix of ‘affordances’ […] and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of those affordances” (p. 44). In this particular instance, people (i.e., authors), technologies (i.e., social media platforms), and institutions (i.e., corporations) are reciprocally and collectively influencing each other. Let the interplay continue!
Carroll, Craig E. (2010). Corporate Reputation and the News Media: Agenda-Setting Within Business News Coverage in Developed, Emerging, and Frontier Markets. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-87153-0.
DiStaso, M., & Messner, M. (2012). Wikipedia’s Role in Reputation Management: An Analysis of the Best and Worst Companies in the USA. Digithum. No. 14, May, 2012. pp. 59-66.
Giles, D. (2010). Psychology of the Media. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Harris Interactive. (2012). The 2012 Harris Poll Annual RQ Public Summary Report. In Harris Vault. Retrieved July 21, 2012, from HarrisInteractive.com Web site: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/vault/2012_Harris_Poll_RQ_Summary_Report.pdf.
Hiles, A. (Ed.). (2011). Reputation Management: Building and Protecting Your Company’s Profile in a Digital World. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Paine, K. D. (2010). Wondering about Wikipedia? You should be. KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog. Retrieved July 21, 2012, from KDPaineBlogs.com Web site: http://kdpaine.blogs.com/kdpaines_pr_m/2010/03/wondering-about-wikipedia-you-should-be.html.
Qualman, E. (2010). Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business. John Wiley & Sons.
Smaiziene, I., & Jucevicius, R. (2009). Corporate Reputation: Multidisciplinary Richness and Search for a Relevant Definition. Inzinerine Ekonomika-Engineering Economics(2), 91-100.
Winkleman, M. (1999). The Fickle Finger of Reputation. Retrieved July 20, 2012, from ChiefExecutive.net Web site: http://chiefexecutive.net/the-fickle-finger-of-reputation.