3 Assumptions to Avoid When Building Reputation

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It’s an occupational hazard for communicators: It takes years to cultivate a solid reputation, but it could vanish virtually overnight with one boneheaded move by the company. One way to mitigate that possibility may be for PR pros to rethink (and reconfigure) reputation management.

Corporate reputation, since time immemorial, has been a close cousin to perception. But perception is constantly open to interpretation, for one person’s positive perception could take on negative connotations for another person with a different mindset.

Building reputation is often based on positive messaging. But that runs into the same problems as “perception” because PR pros’ perceptions are limited by their own ability to manage how others view the organization, according to Dorian Cundick, executive advisor at CEB.

Cundick stressed that, when it comes to reputation management, it’s more important to focus on consumer behavior (as opposed to driving perception via messaging).

According to Cundick, CEB research has uncovered three faulty assumptions about perception. Try and avoid them and you might have better luck with your overall measurement efforts.

> People are forming opinions about our company based on our messages. We
 are not the Gamemaker in The Hunger Games, making timely and powerful announcements into a controlled arena of information. In fact, we are not in control of the information about our organization. We’re not even in control of what our own employees are saying about our organization. People are forming their opinions based primarily on information they get within their own customized networks. Yes, we have a voice and should use our messages strategically. But we must consider that our best efforts are likely spent gently building relationships with key influencers behind the scenes, identifying and joining relevant conversations that our stakeholders are already part of and equipping/incenting others to advocate for us.

> People have preconceived notions about your company. Read a typical press release—the tone and content would seem 
to presume that people are walking around thinking about us and just waiting to hear more from us. This is not the case. The information environment has generated a certain practicality in information processing. We tend not to think about things until we need to. It’s only normal, then, that we like to think our consistent positive messaging is cultivating an environment of good will toward our company—one where our target audiences are wandering around with generally positive opinions about us. However, it’s much more likely that they do not have an opinion at all and that, when the time comes and they are forced to come up with one, it will be out of necessity—one which is satisfied in the most pragmatic of ways. This leads us to the third assumption.

> If someone likes us, they will choose us. We tend to overestimate what favorability will get us. CEB research identifies our goal in this networked environment as driving “active support” for our organization. This means that key stakeholders not only like us but that they’re doing something to support us. Generally, out of all the people who really like the company, around 10% of consumers are actually doing something about it. In an atmosphere where advocacy reigns, we need more than that tithing of active support.

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Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1