If A Tree Is Recycled In A Forest And No One 'Likes' It On Facebook ...

I’d like to modify the philosophical query, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” to ask: if a tree is recycled in a forest and no one ‘Likes’ it on Facebook, does anyone care?

This week, pollster firm Harris Interactive released the findings from the 13th annual Reputation Quotient study, which is described as measuring and ranking the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in the United States.

It’s an interesting evaluation of corporate reputation, not only for the findings it produces, but additionally for the message it sends to marketers – in order for your company to be ranked, first you must be known.

To determine the ranking, Harris surveyed more than 17,000 ordinary Americans. The study begins with a ‘nomination’ phase used to identify the most visible companies. Respondents are asked to name two companies that stand out as having the best reputation and two companies that stand out as having the worst reputations overall. From those responses, 60 companies are selected and then those 60 companies are evaluated and ranked.

Though I’ve denied this my entire career, maybe there is something to be said for bad publicity! Being consistently ranked as a company with a bad rep will get you on the list faster than a solidly middle-range company.

Once on the list, the 60 companies are ranked on certain reputation factors, such as emotional appeal (did you cry when you watched their commercial? or raise your fist in anger?), products, social responsibility, vision and leadership, workplace environment and financial performance. Rounding out the top five are (1) Apple, (2) Google, (3) Coca-Cola, (4) Amazon and (5) Kraft. 

Harris found that consumer perceptions are growing increasingly negative and, as a result, people have higher expectations and demand more information and transparency from companies with which they plan to spend their hard-earned dollars.

This year, Apple dethroned Google to claim the #1 spot on the list. However, it should be noted that the sampling period occurred in December 2011, about a month before the New York Times wrote a series of powerful articles that revealed some troubling issues regarding Apple’s supply chain. It will be interesting to see how Apple fares during next year’s survey and if consumers will still be as dazzled by Apple.

By contrast, a few months ago Newsweek ran its annual “Green Rankings” and the top five companies in the U.S. were (1) IBM, (2) Hewlett-Packard, (3) Sprint Nextel, (4) Baxter and (5) Dell. Similar to the Harris ranking, tech giants dominated the Newsweek ranking, and yet, none of the companies in the top five of the green ranking make it into even the top ten Harris positions. No. 1 green company IBM ranks No. 23 on the Harris list.

For the green marketer, communicator and strategist, it’s a bit brow furrowing that there is such disparity in so many of the leading rankings, indices and polls. My own hypothesis is that green initiatives must not be created, marketed or communicated within a silo, otherwise they risk being unconnected to a company’s larger corporate reputation and visibility. Green initiatives must be interwoven into a company’s core identity as an end-to-end solution.

It’s good business that’s good for business. It’s also good business that needs to be known and celebrated whether it’s in CSR reports, internal and external communications … and yes, maybe even on Facebook.

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