Last Friday in Canada we presented our qualifications to a major North American energy company in that most bracing of exercises in the consulting business -- the pitch. My role was to be part of a putative "expert" panel and answer a question about reputation building. (I am too diffident about my knowledge of this or anything to claim this without quotation marks.) Herein my answer -- reconstituted for posting:
Building a company's reputation today is tougher than it has ever been . . . at least since the days of the robber barons in the 1920s, or perhaps the England of Dickens' Little Dorrit, Great Expectations or Bleak House. And once built it has never been so fragile or more susceptible to challenge. It's the same with trust. Trust in what a company says about itself has never been harder to fashion nor so easily abrogated. The social philosopher Frances Fukuyama (Yes, I did quote him in my response.) has said about trust that it can be easily and quickly diminished if a person or a company is opportunistic or unwilling to engage.
A company may define and defend the social heart of its core values, but there are a hell of a lot of people ready to say prove it. These are the same people who when considering entering a customer relationship with a company will go first to Google to do a little background research. What they may or are even likely to find is something unflattering, perhaps controversies about the company which evidence opportunism or which put into question the extent to which it can be trusted.
What does this all mean for corporate reputation? What it means is that corporate reputation isn't about a single orgasmic moment when all the corporate positioning stars are aligned. It's about a journey in which a company has to constantly "prove it".
That was my answer, more or less.