This post summarizes a roundtable discussion by the IPR Measurement Commission.

Recently, a dozen members of the IPR Measurement Commission participated in an online discussion about reputation measurement. In this conversation, each member offered their perspective on whether reputation measurement has changes as well as the opportunities and challenges of measuring reputation. Here is what they had to say:

Allyson Hugley (Prudential): We are starting to look at employee data, not just how we present in news or marketing assets, new share voice, or marketing share voice. Now HR, employee engagement, and employer brand are part of brand reputation and add complexity to the different stakeholders that need to be engaged. Organizations are encouraged to think through reputation implications that are farther reaching in the development of content.

Sukhi Sahni (Capital One): One of the biggest shifts I’ve seen is, when you look at all associate surveys and data points, they were always meant to inform the HR teams, and now they are informing everybody. That is a huge shift – how do you take those inputs and bake them into your strategy?

Allyson Hugley (Prudential): Now we’re beginning to think more around the lagging indicators of perception that we would pick up in a survey – in the same way, we have mechanisms for customers where we’re looking at their behaviors and their engagement as a signal of disconnect and reputation erosion, but starting with our employees.

Mo Hamid (IPR Measurement Commission Director and Managing Partner of Radian Partners): One key theme is stakeholder orientation when it comes to measuring reputation. Going from a particular stakeholder group and using inputs from them as a measure of reputation, customers, etc., to a much more inclusive stakeholder representation of what it means to have a strong reputation internally and externally. Leaning into predictive measures versus lagging measures is another change.

From a methodological standpoint, there’s a wide variety of views that exist in this ecosystem about how reputation measurement has evolved. What are your perspectives on the methodological approaches that are used? Has there been a methodological shift over the past couple of years, or is it simply a shift in inputs?

Katie Paine (Paine Publishing): When I first got into measurement, corporate comms departments were the only ones that cared about your reputation. Now I see much more interest at the CEO and board level. Clients are being told, “We want a reputation for xyz, please go get it for me.” For purpose-driven companies, it’s more like, “No one knows that we are xyz, but that’s who we are, make sure everyone knows that.” Regarding methodology, they do not care how I get there, they just want to know that people are talking about them in this way.

Alan Chumley (W2O Group): Measurement for calibration, not celebration. I think the measurement for celebration, enough, gone, let’s get to calibration. That’s what we’re seeing anyway from clients asking us for methodological approaches.

Allyson Hugley (Prudential): The challenge that we typically run into is the cost to do something highly customized. Part of this dynamic is the coming together of different stakeholders and shared accountability to advance reputation. The idea of broader stakeholder accountability inside of organizations or the range of communication signals that influence and drive reputation is a part of the challenge, in addition to methods being either too expensive or too general to give most of us what we need.

Colleen Campbell (Alion Science and Technology): How much does reputation play into the current market capitalization of the company and where do they want to be? Being an employer of choice is very top of mind, making sure we have the right internal messaging, programming to attract talent is very important. Then externally, we’re also competing in highly competitive and evolving markets. Understanding the interplay between the external and internal variables to affect reputational value is critical.

Rob Jekielek (The Harris Poll): It is important to understand the ebb and flow of what’s happening with reputation, when it’s really an “urgent” priority and in the limelight with CEOs and business leaders, vs. when it’s just “important” and maybe more in the background. This is a critical guide for building the appropriate insights system that may either be more centralized around communications or be able to be integrated more deeply into the business. In all cases the closer the reputation insights program is to the core business (e.g. customers, decision-makers, employees, policymakers), the more likely the program is to deliver real value.

Lusine Kodagolian (StratInt Research): Every organization has multiple stakeholders and reputation means different things to different stakeholders. Something that could be a potential growth reputation driver could have no impact on a particular set of stakeholders but have a major detrimental impact on a different stakeholder group. In terms of methodology, even defining and getting the clients to agree to what reputation means is one of the biggest challenges that I see all the time. As we know, reputation is about perceptions. And perceptions are subjective. This is the other big challenge when it comes to reputation measurement.

Mo Hamid (IPR Measurement Commission Director and Managing Partner of Radian Partners): One of the themes here is the bar when it comes to measuring reputation is much higher than it used to be. There’s a lot more scrutiny around the reliability of reputation measurement data. Overall, there’s been a big decline in how much companies are spending to measure reputation. What are your perspectives on this?

Justin Greeves: You are going to see this separation of broader tools for the public, and tools for consumers being very syndicated and hopefully more accurate when they’re aggregated. I believe reputation measurement will follow the same syndicated pattern as the political polling world. Aggregators like fivethirtyeight.com and Real Clear Politics have successfully modeled these larger samples to make meaningful analyses from disparate polling data.

Allyson Hugley (Prudential): I think the challenge that many companies face in trying to adopt that mentality is the stomach to sustain that level of investment on an ongoing basis. The company can invest in partners for tracking, but the actual outputs may not be actionable. It gives you enough to understand what’s moving, but not enough to isolate the impacts.

Sean Williams (Bowling Green State University): We are far more concerned about measuring those actionable components than we are about finding some sort of engagement number because there’s a lot of people who have engagement numbers. Where’s the instruction to the C-suite and this the chief of internal communication? Where’s the direction for them to go? How are they supposed to act upon this?

Mary Miller (Miller Comms): Employee research is a predictive measure that is a leading indicator of what all your constituents think. Therefore, what matters is how engaged you are in driving the business. That depends on reputation measures like corporate social responsibility (CSR), management capability, trust and transparency, product quality, patient focus, customer service.

Katie Paine (Paine Publishing): I was doing some work in regulated industries,  using a lot of the trust questions from Grunig. Because we had the consistency of the Grunig instrument,  we could get a whole lot more detail on how different groups felt about the client. It wasn’t a horrendously expensive project, but they tracked it over the years and, we hope to do a paper next year. I don’t see budgets in the millions, but I also don’t see a lot of reluctance to spend a little bit of money to find out what’s on people’s minds.

Joseph Czabovsky (University of North Carolina): I think the issue is, on one hand, we’re fighting so hard for standardization. Then, from an economic model, standardization helps us share that story with as many different entities out there. I think we need to balance both personal consulting and standardization to some degree.

Allyson Hugley (Prudential): Sometimes one incredibly important stakeholder on making an investment or signing the check or choosing to support an initiative means more to the organization than what we could quantify in surveys. I think that’s also part of the challenging dynamic that’s harder to address in this conversation, but it’s a valid one that you’re making in terms of who gets prioritized.

Rob Jekielek (The Harris Poll): The reason measurement tools such as surveys remain highly relevant and prevalent is that they are still the closest true approximation of reality for companies with large complex groups of internal and stakeholders, across many markets. The key thing is getting as close as possible to actual people or stakeholders who matter most, to understand who they are and what motivates them. Today that understanding is also increasingly driven through curated digital audiences, to both create a bridge between survey/ interview-driven research and media/ social analysis – as well as address the gaps in real-time insights and impact measures that many teams still have.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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