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Uber’s reputation stalls: Why Uber needs to turn perceptions around

It has been a turbulent year for Uber, here’s a re-cap on the challenge that it faces.

The company’s first venture into the world of television advertising in the UK (you can view it here) as well as an increasingly prominent role for Arianna Huffington shows that reputational concerns have forced the company to act to arrest an alarming slide in its reputation.

Populus’s research would suggest, however, that much more needs to be done in order to turn around a reputational freefall – a freefall that has led the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, to say using Uber is not “morally acceptable”.

In February 2017, Uber’s Reputation Credit Score (Populus’s established method for measuring and comparing topline corporate reputations) was 409 (out of 1,000) but that has since fallen to 352 in late June 2017.

Potentially even more concerning for the company is the increase in its Intensity Score (Populus’s measure of how strongly people feel towards a company) from 372 to 460 in the last few months.

The combination not only means that people in the UK feel more negatively towards Uber, but that they are also more likely to feel strongly about it (often in a critical way). Even in London – a city where Uber is better-known and more widely-used – Uber’s Reputation Credit Score is 354.

Figure 1: company reputations among the UK public, mapped by Reputation Credit Score and Intensity Score (each dot represents a different company)

More simply, 36% of the UK public (and 38% of people in London) say they feel unfavourably (0-3 on a 0-10 scale) towards Uber. That is higher than the comparable unfavourable figure for companies like Ryanair, and McDonald’s.

A significant proportion of the population are making up their minds about Uber, and not in a good way for Uber. In fact, rather than having a reputation for things companies would like, Uber seems to be developing a reputation for all the wrong things – many say it is not behaving as a responsible company should, not a company that people trust and not one that people want to be associated with.

Considering some of the stories involving Uber in the past 12 months – including scandals about sexual harassment, corporate culture and the departure of senior executives – it is perhaps unsurprising that the company has seen a fall in its reputation, but the company should also be concerned at the company it now keeps.

Earlier this year, the company’s reputation could have been compared to npower or JD Sports (not the best starting point) but now it is closer to that of Paddy Power or Ladbrokes – two companies facing increasing calls in parliament for further regulation.

As a disrupter bringing change (some might say much needed change) to licensed taxis and minicabs, Uber has become both the poster child of the ‘gig economy’ but also a target for its shortcomings. Right now, it can go in one of two directions.

The first is to continue to make hay until it is forced to change by regulation or legislation of the sort suggested in Matthew Taylor’s recent report. Toughing things out though has risks. Suddenly you’re not the cool kids of the digital economy that everyone in power wants to be photographed with but a political liability about which something needs to be done. And that intervention when it comes is likely to drive up costs for Uber (and other companies) at a time when riders are choosing less controversial platforms and ways of getting from A to B.

There is of course an alternative route: to get out front and own some of those externalities of the ‘gig economy’ just as Uber has tried to own its benefits and possibilities. More Arianna Huffington and less Travis Kalanick is a start but it will require more imagination and genuine change to halt the very real slide in Uber’s reputation and the consequences this is likely to have on its business.

In the world of business, reputation is everything. Research is a vital step in building strategies for improving and protecting reputation.

Populus’s reputation measurement approach, developed over 13 years, is a proven series of tools, techniques and analysis which allows reputation to be understood, influenced and improved.

Find out more about Populus’s Reputation Measurement approach by calling +44 [0]20 7253 9900 or emailing info@populus.co.uk

Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a Director at Populus managing a wide variety of stakeholder, political and reputation research projects that aim to equip clients with a better understanding of the issues that matter most to them and their stakeholders. He is a key member of the Reputation & Strategy team who has developed his expertise overseeing qualitative workshops and consultations, examining the reputation of some of the UK’s largest companies among political stakeholders and conducting extensive research into senior opinion-formers’ attitudes towards the post-crash economy.

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