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Business Strategy Best Practice

Digital Strategies for Enhancing Reputation

by Paul A. Argenti and Georgia Aarons

Executive Summary

  • This chapter provides an overview on the changing environment for business and the impact recent scandals have had on the public’s trust in corporations.

  • Understanding the potential value of reputation is a competitive advantage, and knowledge of the potential value of reputation and specific messages can drive communication strategy. Reputation must be measured and managed.

  • With the rise of social media, reputation management is more challenging than ever, but those companies that embrace change have an opportunity to reposition themselves.

Introduction: The World We Live In

TMI. Of all the acronyms to enter the hallowed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011, this one may be the most apt in describing the world we now live in. Of the thousands of media impressions each of us faces on a daily basis, it seems that many relate to leaked information and corporate scandal, be it investment guru Warren Buffett’s involvement in an insider trading deal, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, or the most illicit, US Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sweatpants1—TMI, or too much information, indeed.

These headlines underscore a central irony of today’s environment: never has trust in business been lower, yet never has it been more important. Beginning most notably in 2001 with the infamous dissolution of Enron, corporate scandals have become ubiquitous in recent years, and trust in business institutions has subsequently dropped. In the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 46% of Americans and 44% of Britons polled said that they trusted business to do what’s right; despite this decline, respondents ranked “transparent and honest business practices” as the second most important factor influencing corporate reputation.2

This rise in public scrutiny correlates strongly with the emergence of new digital communications platforms and their widespread adoption. An ever-growing list of interactive tools has given stakeholders the ability to communicate with one another, to disseminate messaging, and, ultimately, to threaten companies’ increasingly vulnerable reputations. A third of the world’s population uses these tools, or more than two billion people.3 Where before, messages were created by executives to meet the needs of particular groups, information can now be shared and interpreted by billions of people. For the first time in marketing history, consumers are as influenced by their peers as by the company behind the message.4 The result is that companies have never been less in control of their messaging. This uneasy reality requires business leaders worldwide to redefine their strategies and brands in the context of these new platforms, and to find a way to use them to their advantage.

This chapter provides an overview of the current business environment and the reputational challenges that have emerged with the growth of digital channels. We will take a closer look at reputation and how it relates to identity, brand, and image, and more importantly, examine why reputation matters. Finally, we will outline the strategies and tactics needed to regain control by exploiting new channels.

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Further reading

Books:

  • Argenti, Paul A., and Courtney M. Barnes. Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009.
  • Keller, Kevin. Strategic Brand Management. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2008.
  • Aaker, David A. Building Strong Brands. New York: Free Press, 1996.

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