Reputation monitoring is the gathering of information to check the reputation of an organization and follow changes in reputation over time. It is a form of environmental scanning. Nowadays, the social environment of organizations is volatile. By collecting and analyzing data, an organization can understand changing stakeholder views on its performance.
The purpose of reputation monitoring is twofold: (1) to listen to and understand stakeholder views and (2) to be able to anticipate developments that affect the organization’s reputation. The latter includes brand protection, brand values, and overall performance of the organization. Monitoring cannot be seen as separate from evaluation of the data gathered, as the observations require interpretation. In this way, monitoring and carefully evaluating the data gained support decision making on communication strategies—for example, if and how the organization should react to the insights gained in its own social media activities.
Traditionally, reputation is measured by asking questions of a sample of stakeholder groups. This is done by surveys with a quantitative approach that has made comparison or ranking of organizations possible—for example, the Reputation Quotient or the RepTrak models. Complementary, custom-made qualitative interviews are used to gain in-depth information where the impressions and the position of an organization can be compared with those of the competitors. Such measures still bring useful insights for a fuller understanding of organizational reputation. However, the current media environment is so turbulent that the emphasis is now on continuous monitoring of media discourse to gain an up-to-date overview of how an organization is discussed in the media.
This entry discusses the purpose of reputation monitoring, what media monitoring can focus on, and which tools can be used. Furthermore, it addresses problems with the use of big data, ways in which monitoring supports decision making, and the importance of monitoring in times of crisis.
Through media monitoring, organizations try to identify who is talking, about what, and with what tone of voice. The focus can be on particular stakeholder groups and their opinions or needs in relation to the organization. One can look into the frequency with which certain topics occur and whether they go together with other topics or with a certain sentiment or mood of the conversation. The topics can directly concern the organization and its products or services or can be social issues that relate to the organization. It has been suggested that most people do not have a stake in an organization but rather in an issue that means something to them personally. Issues management focuses on those issues that people associate with the organization and thus affect the organizational reputation or have the potential to do so in the near future. Monitoring activities can identify issues that may grow and subsequently track the development of these issues. In this way, continuous monitoring can serve as an early warning system for organizations.
The monitoring activities may focus on different media. It is customary to follow news media content and include print media, online news media, or a combination of both. This can be done in-house or through communication agencies. In addition, the interaction on the organization’s own online platforms is often analyzed. However, it is the continuous monitoring of social media discourse outside the organization’s own platforms that is considered most demanding. While it has obvious advantages, it also incurs considerable costs as it is time-consuming and involves the use of analytics.
Monitoring of social media discourse calls for specific competencies in collecting and interpreting data. The activities consist of a number of steps:
- Preparation: Deciding on the aims and choosing the focus and method
- Gathering data: Manually through samples, using tools for large quantities of data or a combination
- Analysis: Using statistics, textual analysis, or network analysis
- Reporting: Including visualization of results
Often, the method of textual analysis is chosen that may include keyword search and machine learning. For example, when a brand name is used in a search, one takes into account that the name could also be differently spelled. One can check if the name goes together with certain sentiments or is connected with particular issues. Values important for the organization’s identity can be emphasized in the observations. Changes over time need to be noticed, especially if negative sentiments or issues are on the rise that call for attention. In addition, positive attention can be noted—for example, when tweets on organizations with a positive sentiment are often retweeted or receive many “likes.”
Network analysis focuses on how messages disseminate. It provides a snapshot at a particular moment in time or shows how messages are spread over time. Network mapping clarifies which linkages are effective in the spreading of information and potentially cause viral spread of messages. For example, some bloggers function as “influentials”—that is, individuals who reach many others.
As social media interaction generates a large volume of data, there are tools and solutions to ease the collection and analysis of such data. New tools are constantly being made, and the rapid developments in this field make it hard to provide an overview of the possibilities. They differ from limited to more advanced systems. Tools and solutions can be open access, require client payment, or be custom-made for a particular client. Unfortunately, it is not known how many tools operate, so their accuracy is difficult to evaluate.
Often, search engines and dashboard services are used that provide an overview of current discourse in various social media. Less often included are geo-mapping features that show locations of social media posts; these are especially useful for emergency organizations. Sentiment trends are investigated by machine-based algorithms that track positive and negative phrases to identify changes in opinions. There are also tools specific for one particular social medium, such as for Twitter, to gather and analyze this type of social media content. In addition, there are tools for further processing of data and creation of visualizations of outcomes—for example, the visualization of the intensity of the discourse or of the main themes shown in the discourse. Full-service listening platforms are offered at a price by communication or research agencies that may also offer related consulting services. However, many organizations prefer to have analytics and the capacity for their interpretation in-house, to benefit from staying in touch with consumer feedback.
Social media data are voluminous and very diverse. It has been said that big data investigated in social media also bring big accuracy problems. If data are taken out of context, conclusions can be wrong. Therefore, to reduce errors, a search can best be focused and limited. The representativeness of samples, and similarly of the social media users for the population as a whole, has been questioned. Social media data could also be prone to manipulation of data or malicious use. In addition, there are language borders that often limit the messages investigated or complicate their interpretation. The interpretation of messages, especially when using computer-assisted methods, is often not precise anyway, so that only broad trends can be determined from social media messages.
Privacy problems exist as people who place messages in social media publicly may still not intend them to be used for organizational purposes. Some have turned away from open messaging toward closed systems, for example, by moving from Twitter to WhatsApp, rendering their messages invisible for those who are not linked to them. Therefore, not all social media exchange is available for monitoring. Furthermore, some social media, such as Twitter, have limited archiving capacity and can only be followed in real time as there is no function that allows going back in time. In addition, Internet companies may limit the access to data, and there could also be outages and losses of data.
Even though there are major challenges involved, the possibilities that social media monitoring offer seem to clearly outweigh the difficulties for organizations. Nowadays, public groups often expect organizations to read their messages and respond to them. Expectations have risen, and not responding when matters are voiced online may lead to a negative social media and search engine reputation.
From Monitoring to Action
Monitoring activities bring together diverse views from diverse people exchanged in diverse media. Communication practitioners need to make sense of all this input and prioritize what needs attention. Positive results will reinforce decisions taken earlier and are likely to lead to a continuation of a strategies set. Negative results call for new decision making, which can result in diverse actions.
Diverse input derived from monitoring activities is brought together in the decision-making process, where alternative strategy options are considered that usually include a variety of (social) media. The results of monitoring provide feedback on organizational behavior. Monitoring results can indicate which issues are often addressed and on which social media platforms users most often address these issues. They can also show the tone of voice and the level of urgency. These matters can be taken into account in strategy making.
Monitoring results clarify the current communication climate. In this way, monitoring also allows for reflection on the basis of future communication strategies. After adapting the strategies, the effects on the discourse can again be monitored, rendering the sequence of monitoring activities, decision making, and the implementation of strategies to be a continuous rather than a linear process.
In Crisis Times
When an organization is involved in a crisis situation, continuous monitoring ensures that it stays up-to-date concerning stakeholder views. During a crisis, the volume of online messages often peaks as related posts gain more attention. Various issues may pop up during the life cycle of a crisis, and they may overlap or be visible in different peaks in frequency graphics of social media messages. Stakeholders may express not only information needs but also disappointment or anger related to the organization. Rumors need to be addressed. Social media not only offer positive opportunities for interaction but also have the potential to let crises grow. Issues addressed during crises spread fast in the social media and often travel from social media to news media or vice versa.
Monitoring aims at a better understanding of stakeholder views and enables organizations to anticipate developments that may affect organizational reputation. Points of attention are the following:
- Reputation monitoring can serve as an early warning system, in ordinary as well as crisis times, but to do so, it needs to be a continuous process.
- Media monitoring focuses on interaction concerning the organization and related issues in the news media, an organization’s own online platforms, and other social media.
- Monitoring activities support decision making by showing feedback on organizational performance and also allow for reflection on communication strategies.
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