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Project presented in Nordmedia 2011 conference August 16, 2011

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I just came back from Nordmedia 2011 conference, where our DiRe project results were presented along with our starting points for our next project Media2. Nordmedia is the biannual conference of all communication researchers in the Nordic region – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Our subgroup of organizational communications was rather small compared to other groups, but very enthusiastic instead!

Considering the feedback from the presentation and the discussions it seems that in the Nordic countries psychophysiological measurements are not at all widely used or even known in communication research, as we expected (it seems that in Finland, for example, psychologists are doing media reception studies but separately from media researchers). As our conference paper was focusing on the methodological issues, this was a good change to create awareness of these measurements as a research tool. Hopefully this will foster new multidisciplinary research ideas in the future and more collaboration as well.

The conference paper can be downloaded here (updated version!) and also from the Nordmedia conference site.

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On the very concept of reputation November 18, 2010

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When talking with people about our project, those who are not familiar with the concept of organizational reputation are often asking ”Why are you not talking about brands?”. Therefore I thought it would be useful to clarify the concepts a bit.

My favorite quotation on the differences between the terms comes from Pekka Aula and Jouni Heinonen (both of whom are actually involved in our project): Brands can be made, image can be built, but you need to earn your reputation. (translation from Finnish by the writer)

Another, more specific classification for the terminology comes from Brown & al (2006). In their article, the writers categorize corporate associations in four different categories. They begin with the concept of identity, which refers to the mental associations about the organization, held by the members of the organization. Next, they split the concept of image to two: intended image refers to the mental associations the organization wants its important stakeholders to hold about the organization, whereas construed image is the mental associations the organization believes the stakeholder’s hold. Finally, reputation is the mental associations the stakeholder’s actually hold.

Brand, for that matter, is a concept used mainly in marketing and marketing research. A company can have multiple brands; not only for the organization itself but also for its products. As image and reputation, brand also refers to the mental associations held by the customers, but  it also includes ideas of the functional appeal and general awareness of the product. A company can have strong product brands or a strong corporate brand, but can still have a bad reputation (see Fombrun & van Riel 2004). In fact, a brand can also have a reputation on its own  – and this reputation can be good or bad or anything in between, and it’s not equal to the brand being strong or well-known.

Reputation refers also to hearsay and therefore to narratives: what is said and heard and thought about the company? These associations can be different within different publics and stakeholder groups; therefore a company can actually have multiple reputations, each stakeholder group emphasizing the viewpoints important to them. For example, some people might be more interested on the durability of the company’s products, whereas another group might be extremely interested on social responsibility issues. This is why most of the reputation measurement tools use a variety of attributes to cover all different aspects stakeholders use to evaluate a company (see previous post).

Luckily, reputation is also a word used in common language and therefore is usually widely understood as such. The definition in Merriam-Webster is rather helpful: “a : overall quality or character as seen or judged by people in general b : recognition by other people of some characteristic or ability”. So it’s not only about stories and thoughts, but also about evaluation incorporated in them.

In sum, reputation is a concept and a meaning that is built and modified within the public, in their minds and in their narratives. Corporate reputation is based on the actual actions of the whole company. And importantly, the organization cannot fully define their reputation. It’s somewhat possible to push the associations to a favorable direction and thus aim to manage reputation, but not control it – that’s why the first quote about earning your reputation is very much in place.

Note: Besides corporate reputation there are some other scientific uses to reputation as well. Usually research on online reputation is talking about reputation and reputation systems used in online services to evaluate the trustworthiness of other users.  (see Wikipedia)

Product reviews affect usability perceptions October 7, 2010

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A recent study from Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT shows exciting results: the more a user expects to like using a new mobile phone, the more he or she will like to use it. Thus users’ favorable expectations make them forgive encountered usability problems and perceive new mobile phones usable.

In an experiment by Eeva Raita and Antti Oulasvirta, subjects were primed by reading either a positive or a negative product review for a novel mobile phone before using it. After reading the review, subjects performed either easy or hard task with the phone, and then rated its’ usability with a standard questionnaire. The study revealed a strong effect of positive expectations: the subjects who had read the positive review gave the phone 74% higher usability ratings than others – even if they had trouble using it. Interestingly the ratings subjects gave right after performing the task were not affected by the prime. The researchers suggest this might result from the fact that in the post-experiment evaluation phase the subjects were asked to evaluate the system as a whole.

The researchers do not mention reputation in their paper, but the finding naturally have also implications in the reputational field: product reviews or company reviews or reputational narratives for that matter do have an effect on the way stakeholder’s perceive their experiences. And to surmise a bit more, maybe this means the positive reputational narratives heard beforehand diminishes the value of bad experiences users just had with the product?

Of course people do regard different information sources differently. A technical review of a gadget is probably seen more reliable than an angry blogpost – or maybe not, if the reader, for example, happens to know the person writing the blog or the blogger has gained good reputation as a tech-writer. Research has shown that people trust their own networks when seeking information, but they also lay surprisingly heavy trust on search engine results and on well-known brands (see Hargittai & al. 2010). People also tend to believe in statistics and repetition: multiple information sources enhance credibility (to be more specific, according to Edelman Trust Barometer 2010 60% of respondents believe a piece of information is true after they have heard it 3-5 times). All in all, there are a lot of factors involved in creating trust.

The HIIT study, titled “Too Good To Be Bad: The Effect of Favorable Expectations on Usability Perceptions” is published in the proceedings of the 54th annual meeting of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) held in San Francisco last week. Paper can be downloaded from HIIT website.