The Organizational Authenticity Index: A Scale to Measure the Authenticity of Organizational Communications

For a CSA or CSR program to be truly successful, it needs to “fit” with your overall corporate mission and identity. All the research agrees on this. Which is why Patagonia, “The Activist Company,” is held up as the gold standard. The causes it supports are all in some way or other connected to its mission and reflect the interests of its customers, people who buy outdoor clothing and gear.

Unfortunately, companies commonly choose to support causes that are more in line with the CEO’s passion or a desire to recover from a crisis than with their brand image. Such efforts are often seen as disingenuous greenwashing. Think BP’s (or any oil other company, for that matter) campaigns touting its environmental responsibility. (That said, greenwashing does sometimes work, even BP’s.)

At the heart of this reality is the absolute necessity to be “authentic” in today’s communications landscape. Authenticity (or at least having an authentic voice) defines high quality communications. But other than “you know it when you see it,” how do you measure authenticity?

As it turns out there’s a large body of research on the subject, including:

While such research is fascinating, it is focused on the authenticity of persons, rather than organizations. And, as many times as politicians and judges may assure us that corporations are people, you can’t use the same scale to measure the personality of a human and the authenticity of a corporate voice.

I’ve been asked time and again about measuring the quality of content: “How do I know if what I’m putting out there sounds authentic?” The obvious answer is to ask your stakeholders what they think. But that’s not practical for every piece of content you produce.

The Organizational Authenticity Index

So we’ve taken a cue from The Authenticity Scale mentioned above and developed a set of ten screening questions to help you define whether or not your statement, campaign, or piece of content passes the authenticity sniff test. Before you hit that “Send” button, ask your team whether they agree or disagree with the following statements about whatever piece of content, campaign, or statement you are about to release:

  1. This content/statement/campaign is open and honest.
  2. We are willing and able to back up our words with action.
  3. This is consistent with and accurately expresses our mission, vision, and values.
  4. This reflects something that we do or stand for and reflects who we really are as an organization and a brand.
  5. This accurately portrays our strengths and/or weaknesses.
  6. It is important to communicate this message, even if others criticize us for saying it.
  7. This content hides or disguises our limitations and shortcomings.
  8. This content portrays our brand/organization as something other than what it really is.
  9. This content portrays something we did in a more positive way than the reality.
  10. People will be shocked or surprised by this content. (This is not always a bad thing, but if it is too discordant with your image the message won’t be credible.)

Rate your answers on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being totally disagree to 5 being totally agree. If you aren’t scoring a 4 or 5 on a majority of these statements, then go back to the drawing board and fix the content.

You can use an average of these scores to compare different pieces of content, or different releases.  If you have one that is really stellar—or one that really stinks—you can then look at your web analytics or media engagement to check for any impact it had on potential readers.

Once you determine that you are in fact putting out authentic communications, then you might want to ask your audience(s) as well. But, frankly, it doesn’t matter if the audience perceives you as authentic. It does matter whether the audience perceives you as more desirable because you support a cause or an issue and are left more likely to consider the brand. To learn how to measure that, read the article “The Right Way to Do Corporate Social Advocacy—and Measure Its Impact.” ∞

Thanks to analogicus from Pixabay for the image.

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