An illustration of a crowd of protestors in silhouette

Stakeholder engagement is always front and centre of excellent reputation management. After all any reputation is ultimately in the gift of others: how they experience and choose to perceive behaviour, the things we do and say as individuals or organisations.

Companies have always needed to understand how different stakeholders perceive their activities in order to protect and enhance their license to operate. This is perhaps more challenging and important than ever in current febrile times.

Global connectivity has enabled new communities and networks, like Extinction Rebellion, to form rapidly and flex new muscles on the global stage that can bring cities and businesses to a halt. Hyper-transparency means crimes and misdemeanours, corporate or political, no longer stay hidden for long, while apparently small acts of defiance, like Greta Thunberg’s lone school climate strike in Sweden a year ago, can have an iconic worldwide impact almost overnight. The power of social media to deliver visual imagery and ‘cut through’ language can, at best, powerfully inform and galvanise impassioned constituencies and, at worst, feed into disruptive and divisive polarisation that tears at the fabric of society and long-established institutions.

What does this mean for businesses? Larry Fink, the billionaire head of Blackrock writes every year to the CEOs of the companies in which his firm invests nearly $7 trillion. At the start of 2019, his CEO letter said:

_‘As a CEO myself, I feel first-hand the pressures companies face in today’s polarized environment and the challenges of navigating them. Stakeholders are pushing companies to wade into sensitive social and political issues – especially as they see governments failing to do so effectively. As CEOs, we don’t always get it right. And what is appropriate for one company may not be for another. One thing, however, is certain: the world needs leadership. Companies cannot solve every issue of public importance, but there are many – from retirement to infrastructure to preparing workers for the jobs of the future – that cannot be solved without corporate leadership.’ _

Given the diversity of issues that any company may face at any single time, it can be extremely challenging to understand and keep track of the bandwidth of shareholder voices shaping debate and expectations about a business, its sector and the corporate world more widely.

Companies may have good relationships with certain stakeholders that they engage directly or via industry bodies and whose views may be seen to serve as a proxy for the opinion of wider communities. Companies will also undertake primary research into markets and segments of the population, as well as social media monitoring to track the ebb and flow of discourse about their brands.

These activities are all important, but each also falls short when it comes to stakeholder intelligence. Traditional social media monitoring cannot give you metrics on how different stakeholders – as individuals and as aggregate groups – are impacting your corporate reputation and the key issues and topics to which they are attached. Primary research can only ever deliver intelligence at a point in time and so is inevitably a view, albeit valuable, through a receding rear-view mirror. And long-established stakeholder engagement programs sometimes run the risk of being a false comfort by failing to anticipate and engage with radical new voices and more challenging disruptors.

Polecat has spent over a decade understanding how to interrogate the universe of public discourse online and in social media to identify critical insights for business, particularly the issues driving corporate reputations and the different stakeholders attaching to issues and companies over time. Today, with a click, our RepVault platform enables businesses to see the investors, regulators, politicians, NGOs, think tanks, trade unions, industry bodies and academia engaged in public discourse about any company and hundreds of peer or competitors in real time.

The resulting intelligence enables real-time assessment and refinement of corporate stakeholder engagement strategies. Polecat’s impact algorithm gives companies a clear, live and instant metric of the significance of each stakeholder’s voice on a particular topic and enables instant benchmarking of how that stakeholder’s impact may differ for other companies or issues and how it changes over time. Real-time analysis of how other companies are engaging and being engaged also help identify new influencers to consider for engagement to help build alliances and perhaps mitigate potential hostility.

All businesses depend utterly on society for customers, investors, employees, future talent, innovation, infrastructure, regulation and constructive challenge to ensure they operate and remain relevant, valuable and trustworthy. Polecat exists to help business thrive at this interface with society and to deliver intelligence that guides and enables outstanding stakeholder engagement and reputation, particularly in times of rapid change.