A guest post by Jay Buerck of Online Reputation Management.
When studying successful reputation and brand management strategies, learn from the best. Instead of trying to determine the most reputable companies yourself, you can check out the annual Forbes list of America's Most and Least Reputable Companies.
How Forbes Determined America's Most Reputable Companies
With the help of the Reputation Institute, Forbes compiled its list based on a study conducted among about 10,000 consumers in the first quarter of 2012. Consumers' perceptions of companies considered to be the 150 largest in the United States were measured. Each company was given a RepTrak Pulse score ranging from zero to 100 that indicated people's feelings about a company. The institute derived the scores from four emotional indicators: trust, esteem, admiration, and good feeling.
Additionally, seven dimensions of corporate reputation were analyzed. In the analysis, it was discovered that perceptions of the company itself (including workplace, governance, citizenship, financial performance, and leadership) were more essential in terms of driving behaviors than product perceptions (including products, services, and innovation).
Based on that criteria, General Mills topped the list with a score of 83.03, a score 5.6 points higher than it got last year and almost 3 points higher than runner-up Kraft Foods. The company rose from No. 15 on last year's list. Following Kraft on the list in the top 10 were Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg, Amazon.com, UPS, Coca-Cola, Apple, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble.
The types of companies at the top of the list included consumer products, industrial products, food and beverage manufacturing, computer, and general retail companies. Telecommunications, energy, and diversified financial firms were ranked at the bottom.
What You Can Learn From the Most Reputable Firms
The first company to learn from is the winner---General Mills. Forbes said General Mills topped the list because it performed well in all dimensions that impact reputation. The company has a reputation as a good corporate citizen by improving the health of its cereals and by making its packaging more sustainable, while also focusing on citizenship and governance in recent acquisitions and growing community support around the world. The company received praise from the general public and politicians for its effort, indicating the importance of public opinion in a company's reputation.
Another company to learn from is No. 2---Kraft Foods, which has remained in the top 10 since 2006. Kraft proves that consistency is key, and relationships must be built over the long term. The company employs thoughtful and strategic planning to maintain its relationships. In the online space, the company sends messages through a YouTube channel, recipe website, social media community, and magazine full of company messages. All these channels help build relationships with consumers and provide great outlets for the company to pass its messages directly to consumers.
Apple finally broke the top 10 by exposing its enterprise-related reputation to the public---in part due to the death of founder Steve Jobs. Although the company had a good product reputation prior to last year, Apple lacked transparency in terms of its governance to solidify the spot it earned on last year's list. Its solid financial performance also played a key role in its reputation last year.
Amazon.com, which topped the list the previous year and was ranked No. 5 this year, kept a spot in the top 10, thanks to its value to consumers, emphasis on technology and innovation, and quick and ethical response to scandals. The company did not make changes to its strategy last year, but its change in spot on the list proves that consumers are fickle. It's tough to maintain a top spot in terms of reputation---no matter how good you are.
What to Learn From the Least Reputable Firms
Companies at the bottom of the list (which included a lot of financial firms still recovering from the economic crisis) can also provide reputation lessons. Many of these companies, including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and AIG, have remained on the bottom for years. That proves that once consumers lose trust in a brand, it may be a long while before trust is regained.
Although Capital One and AIG both saw their scores spike from last year, thanks to ethics and transparency efforts, they still have a long way to become reputable in the eyes of consumers. Companies must be patient when emerging from a crisis. They should take proactive steps to address consumers concerns during and after a crisis. Consumers need time to regain trust in the company.
If your company or one of its employees experiences a reputation crisis, don't be surprised when your reputation doesn't bounce back immediately, even if you employ all the SEO and social media strategies in the book. Allow consumers to heal from the crisis. Prove you're reliable over the long term.
How Your Company Can Earn a Good Reputation
If you combine what you've learned about reputation from the best (and worst) major companies with what you've learned from your company's experiences, you may one day find your firm topping a reputation-based list such as the Forbes list. Though reputation does not mean your company will grow to the size of your firm, the quality of your reputation matters more than the quantity of reviews you can gather.
A good reputation takes time to be built... and repaired. Take time to learn and foster a good reputation as you grow your company.
Jay Buerck is the COO of Online Reputation Management. He has worked in online marketing for Inc. 500 award-winning companies.
(Photo courtesy of Bigstock: Heart)