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What’s driving your reputation?

It’s a well-worn adage that what gets measured gets done. In the fitness industry, tracking food intake, calorie output and health markers makes a substantial difference to individuals’ gains. Similarly, business targets are more likely to be met if profit and loss forecasts are made, and goals clearly defined. But what about an organisation’s reputation? If, as posited in an earlier blog, reputation cannot be managed, can it in fact be measured, and can targets be set?

Yes, it can: and understanding how to measure, map or score reputation is about knowing what drives it. Correctly interpreted and tracked, these drivers will allow organisations to predict, pre-empt, and effectively respond to events that could cause shifts in their reputational value.

A company’s reputation is formed by stakeholder response to hundreds of issues, varying in weight and importance, all playing out in real-time and competing for visibility and attention. Reputation is constructed as different sets of stakeholders are affected by different events, and form their opinions of that organisation based on both those issues and – crucially – how the company is seen to deal with them.

The challenge lies in the fact that there could be 50-100 different issues affecting a business on any given day, all being discussed in relation to that organisation, all ebbing and flowing in importance, all of them competing for stakeholder attention, media attention – and ultimately for impact on reputation. Reputation tracking requires an understanding of what these drivers are, which ones are occurring more frequently and with greater impact, and how individual, seemingly innocuous issues combine to create a reputation shock that is more than the sum of the whole.

Timing is also key. Reputation drivers are known to have a five-stage lifecycle, evolving from early to emerging, current, crisis and then dormant, and recognising which phase they are in makes a company’s ability to respond more sophisticated. As it progresses through the stages, it becomes more entrenched, the news cycle surrounding the issue expands, more stakeholders are drawn in, and the business’s ability to influence outcomes contracts, with responses becoming reactive.

Registering these drivers and their impact is the most important thing when looking to measure reputation. Traditionally, the approach to reputation tracking has involved a very fixed, top-down framework method, assessing a company’s reputation against preconfigured drivers. Predefined factors – corporate culture, leadership, innovation, financial performance – are held up as markers to quantify reputation.

Organisations using this method tend to focus on a static set of five to 10 drivers. While they may lay greater emphasis on some depending on the nature of the business being assessed – for a financial services company, financial performance could hold more weight than corporate culture, while in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), the reverse will be true – the overall approach is often static and predefined.

But this ossified system doesn’t reflect the changing perceptions and priorities of stakeholders, or the fact that there are dozens of potential drivers, all of them constantly changing. Reputation is organic, so a fluid, organic approach is needed in analysing them. A holistic process, looking at the sum total of the discussion around an organisation in a particular period, in every forum, and then unpacking that information using flexible modelling techniques, will have a far greater chance of identifying the themes that are driving sentiment towards, and ultimately the reputation of, an organisation.

This kind of methodology starts with mindful research into the organisation’s environment. Data should be gathered from as broad as base of publicly available content as possible – written and broadcast news, social media, industry analyst reports and relevant research. Machine learning and semantic analysis can be used to extract measures of sentiment from this data, over which is laid different lenses – geographies, stakeholders, issues – providing different perspective and building layers of insight.

Only by tracking all of the drivers, and understanding the weight of each, can reputation be measured – and then acted upon so that surprise threats and missed opportunities can be eliminated. This is the power of reputation intelligence.

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