Exporting Reputation is Hard

The Reputation Institute just came out with their newest global reptrack looking at reputations worldwide. The survey is among consumers in 15 markets and the findings appeared in Forbes as well as on their website. I was very taken with one of the findings because it answers a question that often comes up -- what companies have the best global reputations? Interestingly, they found that no one company among their top 10 most reputable companies in the world was able to maintain that stellar reputation across all 15 markets they investigated.  They said that only 10 out of 100 companies made the Top 10 in 6 or more of the 15 makets, therefore underscoring the challenges of building a strong global brand reputation. Having a strong reputation in the US and let's say the UK does not translate necessarily into China or Japan.  Here is more on what RI had to say about the difficulty of building global reputations:

  • Up to 20% weaker reputation in foreign markets
  • Companies lose up to 24% of consumers' willingness to recommend in foreign companies

Clearly, getting it right across markets when it comes to reputation would be a major competitive advantage. As RI says, "exporting reputation is challenging."  And so it is.



Reputation Advocates on the Job

I have been preoccupied of late with the launch of our new research at Weber Shandwick that reveals a rising social movement ignited by social media – employee activism. We define employee activists as those that draw visibility to their workplace, defend their employers from criticism and act as advocates, both online and off. We partnered with KRC Research to conduct Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism. Through an online survey of 2,300 employees covering 15 markets worldwide, the study explores the employee activist movement to help organizations understand what it takes to catch this mounting rising tide. We learned that one in five employees (21 percent) is estimated to be an employee activist, and another 33 percent have high potential to be employee activists. Just as there are uprisings around the world such as Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, Gezi Park and a host of others,  it seemed to us that a social movement among employees has to be on the verge. Clearly so since we found 21% of employees to be "activists" and taking nearly all positive actions in support of their companies. Employers have an enormous opportunity to engage and capitalize on these powerful advocates, or risk missing out on an important group of supporters. They might also want to learn how to better curtail detractors who have the potential to upend company reputations. We unveiled this research on April 2nd with an outstanding panel with representatives from LinkedIn, Zappos, Dell, Dynamic Signal and our own Employee Engagement expert. The panel was moderated by the WSJ Management editor. 

This idea came to me a few years ago when I saw a former employee of a big oil major defend his company online when a negative article had been written in a top tier newspaper. At the time, I thought it was odd that someone would risk signing their name and defending their company. However, that is no longer the case. We see it everyday and it is only growing. 

Here are some eye-opening facts from the study that highlight how employees are already talking about their employers, like it or not: 

  • 50% post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer
  • 39% have shared praise or positive comments online about their employer
  • 33% post messages, pictures or videos in social media about their employer without any encouragement from the employer
  • 16% have shared criticism or negative comments online about their employer
  • 14% have posted something about their employer in social media that they regret

Some employers have joined the movement.. One-third of employers – 33 percent – encourage their employees to use social media to share news and information about the organization. And by the way, social encouragement has an out-sized impact on employer advocacy among employees. For example, employees with socially-encouraging employers are significantly more likely to help boost sales than employees whose employers aren’t socially encouraging (72 percent vs. 48 percent, respectively). 

The Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™

Using segmentation modeling, all survey respondents were sorted by their reported actions toward their employers – both supporting and detracting. The Weber Shandwick Workforce Activism Spectrum™ model identifies six distinct segments of employees and in the executive summary, we provide strategic and tactical ideas to harness activists to do good on behalf of their companies and spread the word.

Take a look at this new grassroots movement. I think it is a huge component of employee engagement for the future, meaning tomorrow. 

Insights into Best Places to Work For: Part 2

I mentioned in my last post that there was a Part 2. Here it is. I have been particularly interested of late in employee engagement and activism. At Weber Shandwick, we just released a large global survey on Employee Activism and I will cover that in my next post because it deserves more attention than just a mention. It's a big deal and can seriously impact reputation in a good way.

We think that The Best Companies to Work For are likely leaders in employee engagement given that Fortune assigns scores to companies largely based on employees’ attitudes about job satisfaction and workplace camaraderie. This year, we wanted to look for evidence of this job satisfaction and see if any employees responded to their organization’s Best Company distinction. We searched the comments section on each Fortune Best Company profile for employees posting messages and found that 11% of Best Companies had at least one current employee who posted something. Comments were nearly all positive. Examples of posts found on the Fortune website include:

·          “Benefits are excellent. They have a less hostile work environment than many Silicon Valley companies that seems more focused on cooperation. A very employee centered company.”

·          “I have called [company] my work home for almost four years now and the people and atmosphere are great! I am so proud of my company for being chosen as one of the Top 100 Places to work!”

·         “I’m so proud to work for this company!! It is truly a great place to work!!” (This positive comment was posted by an employee whose company actually reported negative job growth.)

As you will see with our new research, employee activism is the next new thing. Employees can be expected to rise up and support their employers. Just you wait. Years ago when I used to look at these comments to lists and rankings, the commentary was usually pretty snarky and sharply critical. Today, we are seeing a shift whereby employees are defending their companies and making their engagement visible. As I just said, just you wait. Look for my next post, possibly tomorrow.

Insights into Fortune's Best Companies to Work For, 2014: Part 1

Each year Fortune publishes the 100 Best Companies to Work For in the U.S.  They do this ranking with Great Place to Work Institute. While the bulk of the company evaluation rests on a comprehensive employee survey (two-thirds of the evaluation in fact), Fortune publishes a wealth of employer statistics about benefits, diversity and jobs. Weber Shandwick has been cataloguing this data since 2006, enabling us to look at how each factor may be changing over time. This year, we decided to also start tracking the number of employees commenting on their company’s Best Company profile on the Fortune website as a measure of employee engagement (look for in Part 2 of my blog).

Overall, there were subtle changes in the Best Company statistics for jobs, diversity and benefits in the past year. Perhaps the Best Companies have hit a ceiling in terms of improvement. Unless the job market undergoes great change, we think that the Best Companies may post similar statistics during the next several years.

Here’s what has changed at Best Companies since 2013:

  • The rate of companies reporting negative job growth increased from 12% to 23%
  • The average percentage of minority employees working at Best Companies hit a high (31%)
  • The rate of companies offering subsidized gym memberships fell from 63% to 57%
  • The rate of companies offering compressed workweeks increased from 73% to 77%

Below are insights into these jobs, diversity and benefits trends:



Despite a consistent job growth rate, the number of companies reporting negative job growth increased in 2014. After hitting lows in 2012 (11%) and 2013 (12%), the number of 2014 Best Companies reporting negative job growth jumped to 23%. Despite this increase, the number of companies experiencing negative job growth is still an improvement from 2011 when just under half (45%) of Best Companies reported negative job growth. The number of companies reporting negative growth has greatly fluctuated since we first began tracking this statistic in 2009, suggesting that cutting jobs is not an indicator of which companies will qualify for the Best Companies list.

While negative job growth increased over the past year, median job growth was unaffected (5%). With the exception of 2010 and 2011, median job growth has remained steady since 2006. Last year we hypothesized that the Best Company job growth standard may range between 5% and 7%. This year’s growth rate supports this hypothesis.

According to U.S. government data on the jobs market, the rate of Americans quitting their jobs is rising. An increased quit rate in the U.S. job market in general suggests a strengthening American economy because it implies that workers feel confident in quitting their jobs to find work elsewhere. But Best Companies continue to report a steady median voluntary turnover rate (6% in 2013 and 5% in 2014). Like last year, we think the difference between these two trends may reflect the impact that a Best Company’s good reputation can have on retaining its workforce.



Diversity initiatives continue to remain mostly unchanged at Best Companies. For the third year in a row, women comprise 47% of the Best Company workforce.  This supports our hypothesis from 2013, which was that because women make up half of the U.S. population and already comprise nearly half of the Best Companies’ workforces, we may not see this rate increase much more over the next few years.

The average percentage of minorities working at Best Companies has not fluctuated much since 2008, though it did hit a high this year (31%). This rate is nearly in-line with the percentage of minorities making up the American population, which is approximately 37% according to the United States Census Bureau. It is possible that the average percentage of minorities at Best Companies may follow U.S. minority population trends in the coming years.

Although rates have slightly decreased since last year, 2014 was another strong year for gay-friendly policies and benefits. Nearly all Best Companies have gay-friendly policies (98%) and the rate of companies offering gay-friendly benefits hit the 90% mark for the second year in a row.


Overall, there was not much change in the benefits offered by Best Companies in the past year. Two benefits – fully paid sabbaticals and 100% health care – did not fluctuate at all.

The most noticeable change in benefits, and also the largest decrease, is the number of companies offering subsidized gym memberships, which fell from 63% in 2013 to 57% this year. The benefit with the greatest improvement is compressed workweeks, which rose to 77% after hitting a low last year (73%). 

Fortune does not provide statistics on other perks Best Companies offer to employees, which may be enhancing (or even taking the place of) more traditional benefits. It does, however, have a “Top 10 perks from Best Companies 2014” list. Included in the list is a brief workout session in which one company’s employees may participate during long work days. A perk like this one provides the opportunity for employees to be active without the employer necessarily offering an on-site gym or subsidized gym membership (though this company happens to offer those benefits, too). Another Best Company rewards employees who do a good job with the option to come in two hours late or leave two hours early on a day of their choosing. This company does not offer benefits such as onsite childcare or an on-site fitness center, but awarding these flexible hours allows employees more time to tend to their personal lives.

Socializing your CEO reputation

As a big believer in social CEOs (with moderation of course), I found a terrific article to share on how CEOs' usage of social media like Twitter can influence reputation. The article appeared in B2C and is based on research by Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company. They took a look at different CEO tweets and what made them distinctive and popular -- the X factors. I thought it is worth summarizing what caught my attention since reputations are built in many ways today and social CEOs will only increase over time. Of course, all these CEOs are in the technology/social media business so it is not surprising that they recognize the connection between using social media and reputation. The main finding appears to be that demonstrating emotional resonance, connecting with followers and fans as well as sharing what interests them adds to retweeting and connectedness. Maybe it does not actually lift reputational equity much but it seems to deepen authenticity and accessibility, two important reputation drivers today.

CEO of Twitter, Dick Costello (@dickc):  His tweets are personal and he often responds to comments, is easy to relate to and can be witty. I particularly enjoyed this tweet. 

CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella (@satyanadella): As new CEO, his debut garnered much attention -- 22,303,212 impressions.  His first tweet poked fun at former CEO Steve Ballmer. The flash of personality from Satya's inauguarl tweet drove the attention. 

CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner (@jeffweiner): Weiner is described as another engaging CEO who enhances his company's reputation by discussing hot topics and even asking open-ended questions. He posts about his views on movies and media and recently commented on True Detective on HBO.

CEO of Apple, Tim Cook (@tim_cook): An infrequent tweeter although picking up since the start of the new year, he recently shouted out to the late Steve Jobs on his birthday which surely resonated with fans. 

A reputation for civility for 1 day

Because of our annual study on Civility in America, I am particularly fascinated by how Americans can build a better reputation for civility. In an article this weekend, the concept of generosity among strangers is discussed. "Social scientists have conducted experiments demonstrating that the effect of a single act of kindness can in fact ripple through a social network, setting off chains of generosity that reach far beyond the original act." I am glad to hear that generosity or civility is contagious. The discussion got me to thinking about a question we asked in our survey last year about whether Americans would commit to a day of civility on July 4th. A full 87% said that they would and there were no differences by gender, age, household income or region. Hard to believe that everyone agrees on one thing. I still think it is a great idea and wish there was some organization or company that would be interested in making this happen and see if we Americans can pay it forward for 24 hours. 

Civility in America, Weber Shandwick, 2013

Civility in America, Weber Shandwick, 2013

The Reputation Stumble Rate Stumbles

Weber Shandwick’s annual calculation of reputation loss – the “stumble rate” – finds the lowest rate of reputation leadership loss since we began tracking this rate in 2010. During 2013, fewer than four in 10 of the world’s largest companies lost their esteemed status as their industries’ #1 most admired company during 2013. This is good news.

Each year Weber Shandwick measures the rate at which companies lose their #1 most admired position in their respective industries on the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey. We call this the stumble rate. Between 2013 and 2014, 35% of the world’s largest companies experienced a stumble, down from last year’s 46%. For those companies that fell from their perches, there is likely extensive introspection and remedial action plans being discussed as I write this post.

The good news is the non-stumble rate of 65%. This means that about two-thirds of the industries in the Most Admired survey boast companies with durable reputations.



In addition to calculating the stumble rate, we also dig through the data, including the nine drivers of reputation, to glean some interesting insights about stumblers and non-stumblers. A stumbler is an industry whose top company last year is no longer the top company this year. What is interesting this year?

  • 19 industries (out of nearly 60, give or take depending on the year) have never had a stumbler since we started monitoring the stumble rate in 2010. The most admired companies in these industries have been stalwarts of reputation: Automotive Retailing, Building, Materials-Glass, Computer Peripherals, Consumer Food Products, Electric & Gas Utilities, Electronics, Entertainment, Household & Personal Products, Property & Casualty Insurance, Internet Services & Retailing, Metal Products, Mining, Crude Oil Production, Oil & Gas Equipment Services, Pipelines, Newspapers & Magazines Publishing, Railroads, Semiconductors, Diversified Retailers, Food & Grocery Wholesalers.
  • Two industries stumbled for the first time during 2013: Information Technology Services  and Office Equipment & Electronics Wholesalers. This must hurt.
  • The Energy industry is a chronic stumbler. No Energy company has been able to hold the #1 spot for consecutive years.  In the course of six years, there have been five different Energy leaders.
  • Five industries have stumbled four times since 2010. The most volatile industries are: Airlines, Life & Health Insurance, Medical Equipment, Motor Vehicle Parts and Health Care Wholesalers.
  • Six industries have a first-ever number one: Diversified Outsourcing Services, Food Production Information Technology Services, Medical Equipment, Mega Banks and Electronics and Office Equipment. Interestingly, the new leader in Medical Equipment is also new to the industry, having ranked #3 last year in Pharmaceuticals. This probably has to do with a change in their business mix.
  • For most of the stumblers, the People Management driver declined. The biggest drops in People Management (one of the nine drivers) were in Mega Banks (-3 ranking positions) and in Soaps and Cosmetics (also -3 spots).  In 2013, the Mega Banks stumbler experienced a crisis-riddled year that pointed to lack of leadership oversight of personnel.
    • The Soaps and Cosmetics stumbler decline might not be reflection of its own management troubles, but rather strides made by the competitors.  In one case, a well-respected CEO came out of retirement to replace his successor on an interim basis. One of his top priorities is to prepare a lineup of executives who will eventually replace him.
    • The other competitor announced – shortly before the Fortune survey was distributed to respondents – it was rolling out a supply chain collaboration platform to make its manufacturing more responsive to shifting customer tastes. This agile manufacturing process is expected to help add 1 billion new customers.







The pricey costs to social media reputation repair

The third annual study called the Computing Safety Index was just released by Microsoft and it has some real gems in it on the costs associated with online reputational risk. Repairing the damage from social media cannot be ignored because it comes with a big price tag. The facts below came from the blog of Jacqueline Beauchere, the chief online safety officer at Microsoft (cool title). 

  1. Nearly $6 billion was spent in 2013 "to mitigate risks associated with financial and time loss due to personal or professional damage."
  2. On average, the cost to users who experience online reputational damage and have to restore their reputation averages $632 per episode. When you look at this by country, the numbers are incredible. In Canada, the average U.S. dollar equivalent costs to repair one’s professional reputation totaled $484 per incident; in Japan, $500 per instance. In Belgium, that total balloons nearly four-fold to $1,979 per issue and, in the U.S., the average total was a whopping $2,600 per professional-reputation incident. Whopping is an understatement.

There are plenty of risks today but social mistakes are getting costlier and the clean-up sounds like it can wipe an individual out. It is wise to remember that social media can do wonders when it comes to helping you build reputation but it can also do horrors to wrecking what you've built. 

Thanks to Microsoft for collecting this data from 10,000 respondents in 20 countries.