The Impact of the Social Web on Corporate Reputations

In this McKinsey Quarterly article (free registration required), the authors look at the impact of two key factors changing what they call the ‘reputation environment’:

  • “the influence of indirect stakeholders–such as NGOs, community activists, and online networks–has grown enormously.”
  • “the proliferation of media technologies and outlets, along with theemergence of new Web-based platforms, has given individuals andorganizations new tools they use to subject companies to greater andfaster scrutiny.”

As result of these changes, they point out that centralised models of PR that rely on spin, not action, won’t allow companies to respond effectively or authentically enough to emerging issues in this new environment.

Their recommendations call for companies to listen more broadly so they can understand the facts (this may require pushing PR responsibilities closer to where the action is), focus on issues that matter the most to stakeholders (and this may require more transparency) and engaging in ways that go beyond traditional PR approaches (e.g. two-way dialogue). The impact of the Social Web is clear in those recommendations, but in an understated way.

What follows is a more traditional approach to analysing needs andstakeholder groups – however, the role of social media and socialnetworks are now integrated into it. The Social Web has changed thereputation environment, but it doesn’t mean we throw out everythingthat was old or stop talking to people face to face. They point to Chevron’s Will You Join Us as an example – a Website like this is now an important part of this new reputation environment, but it is not a silver bullet on its own.

Ultimately, the impact of the Social Web on corporate reputations is that it has changed the flow of information and enabled networks of like-minded people (who may either support or oppose your corporate view point) to come together very easily. Avoiding the need for transparency or greater engagement with those stakeholders is no longer an option.