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Software // Information Management
Commentary
11/10/2006
10:54 AM
Penny Crosman
Penny Crosman
Commentary
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Stealth Layoffs and Reputation Monitoring

A growing body of search software products aims to help a company understand and manage its reputation on the general Web, among media sources and in the blogosphere. Is software the best method of securing good public opinion?

A current fad in corporate America is what I call the "stealth layoff." Instead of announcing or explaining layoffs, management shucks apparently valued employees onesie-twosie style, in complete silence. Managers are forbidden to discuss the layoffs in meetings, memos or emails out of fear that negative publicity will result, and employees are left to wonder why their former colleagues were sent packing and whether or not they'll be next.On the plus side, companies engaging in stealth layoffs probably do avoid press coverage -- after all, if a journalist got wind of the firings, he'd have trouble getting on-record quotes and details. The downside, of course, is that they create an atmosphere of distrust and unease that leads to morale problems and defections of talented people. And the outside world isn't always easily fooled -- the truth tends to leak out slowly over time.

What does this phenomenon have to do with enterprise software, you may ask? An emerging category of software serves this culture of fear and paranoia by scanning news articles, online communities and blogs for clues to a company's reputation on the Web. IBM's Public Image Monitoring Solution reads blogs, news feeds, consumer review sites, newsgroups and articles in an attempt to analyze tone, facts, opinions, and indirect alliances. Factiva Insight Reputation Intelligence can provide line graphs that track press comments against stock price movements. Room 214's RSSready Reputation Management System is a custom pre-populated RSS reader that tracks and organizes blog postings, syndicated news, and search engine results to monitor a company's brand, industry happenings, covering publications and journalists, and competition, offering instant notification when an online conversation about the company begins. Biz360's Market 360 Point-of-View Sentiment strives to identify and capture positive, neutral, or negative tone ratings in a single article, for each company and product mentioned and across all articles in a market space. Umbria's Brand Tracker searches the blogosphere for posts that may affect a company's brand, providing a helpful demographic analysis of the bloggers' age and gender. Nielsen BuzzMetrics offers a combination of text mining and consulting to help manage a company's reputation, particularly in times of crisis. Cymfony sells audits and reports that summarize the reputation in the media of a company and its competitors, based on financial performance, customer service, social responsibility, innovation, and industry leadership.

These products are interesting and no doubt can be applied to legitimate, useful purposes, such as to imrove products or service delivery. But if the goal is a good reputation, wouldn't it be better, in the long run, to look within and establish company practices that are worthy of a good reputation? Abraham Lincoln said, "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing." Fair and honest dealings with partners and employees would be the best route to a good corporate character and hence a sound reputation in the marketplace.

Do you have any thoughts or opinions on this topic? Please write me at [email protected].A growing body of search software products aims to help a company understand and manage its reputation on the general Web, among media sources and in the blogosphere. Is software the best method of securing good public opinion?

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