Monday, 1 September 2008

The Future of Reputation Management

Reputing is focusing on stakeholders’ needs

The world of reputation is expanding. This is one of the main conclusions of the 12th International Conference on Reputation, Brand, Identity and Competitiveness which was held between May 28th and June 1st 2008 in Beijing. This conference marked the end of an era and the beginning of the next wave in how to create value from reputation. Let’s go back in time and review how the field has evolved.

At the first conference in 1996 in New York the discussion was about the concept of reputation. What does it mean? How is it defined? Does it matter? Can it be measured? Is it relevant? The first conference launched a period where scholars and practitioners were focused on defining how reputation was influencing organizations and behavior between people.

Approaching the year 2000 the field became further defined and the focus became "if and how reputation can be measured". How can we measure something that is intangible? What creates reputation? How do we understand perceptions? How do we link perception to behavior? The conference in Copenhagen in 2000 marked the next phase where the Reputation Institute began to get real measures of corporate reputation. The Institute was able to look at data from stakeholders evaluating the reputation of companies. These data gave a better understanding of what drives reputation and how perceptions are formed.

Today we know what reputation is. It is the trust, admiration, good feeling and overall esteem people have for an organization. Reputation is created by the perception people have about 6 key dimensions: Emotional Appeal, Products & Services, Leadership & Vision, Workplace & Environment, Financial Performance and Corporate Social Responsibility. We know that strong reputations lead to supportive behavior. And we know that supportive behavior leads to improved performance of organizations.

The next phase of Reputation Management will focus on two key areas: Reputation Systems and Reputing

Reputation Systems
Now that we know how to measure and track reputation we need to integrate this insight into the business decisions we make. Executives will expect from the Reputation Institute to use the knowledge it has to make better business decisions. They also expect the integration of the different measures in a simple and powerful system that works together across functions and stakeholders. This challenges the way organizations are structured. It requires more cross-functional collaboration and common vision for integration.

Organizations need to engage with their stakeholders on what is relevant to them in order to create trust, admiration, good feeling and high esteem. Companies need to understand what the stakeholders want from them and how they can become relevant to their stakeholders. Reputing are the actions and communications a company takes to become relevant to its stakeholders. Reputing is using an outside-in perspective rather than an inside-out perspective. It is focusing on stakeholder needs and not the company’s own plans. The strategy is centered on co-creation of trust, respect and admiration through interactions with the ones who are evaluating the organization. The fact that stakeholders do not trust organizations means that there is a need for more personal interactions. Companies need to open up and engage with all stakeholders in a dialogue. Companies need to listen instead of talking. Companies need to ask questions they don’t know the answers to, trust instead of being skeptical, and empower employees to represent the organization because they are the only ambassadors that stakeholders believe.

These two areas of Reputation Systems and Reputing will become the focus of the next period. The question is “How can we create strong reputations?” And so organizations must now ask: “What are the actions that stakeholders like? Which ways can we co-create a better future? How do we involve our employees in the creation of support from stakeholders? How do we manage the risks and leverage the opportunities?

This poses some challenges to the community involved in the reputation management conversation.

1. We need to focus on integration of measures. How do we link research on reputation, brand, satisfaction, and engagement? How do we link the reputation measures to specific financial performance? How do we make all these measures work together in a simple and integrated matrix so executives can have a quick overview of all the factors influencing business performance?

2. We need to focus on practical examples of how to improve reputation. What works? How do you do it in real life? Which methods work best? Who are the influencers among stakeholders? How do we start and sustain a dialogue with them? How do we involve them in the co-creation of our reputation?

These and more questions will be answered in the coming months.

Source: Kasper Nielsen and Nicolas Trad, Managing Partners of the Reputation Institute, The Summer 2008 Reputation Institute Newsletter. Visit to read the latest on RI News.

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