A study conducted by market research firm The Harris Poll found that the most pressing issue on the mind’s of Americans in 2018 was data privacy, followed closely by healthcare, veterans support, and education.
Alongside Finn Partners, a marketing communications company, The Harris Poll surveyed over 2,000 adults (people over 18 years of age) across the country and identified social issues that they wanted private sector companies to address.
This data was then used to inform the development of The Harris Poll’s “Societal ROI Index”, which seeks to “better understand the social role and image of highly visible companies”. The firm describes the index as a “new metric and diagnostic tool to understand a company’s reputation relative to social good”.
Respondents were asked about issues they believed companies should address and issues they believed that companies were actually “making an impact on”. The data was then used to evaluate the gap between “perceived impact and importance” of each issue, essentially testing how well major companies are actually meeting these social needs.
This is known as the Societal Return on Investment (SROI) Index which the firms uses to score and rank the most visible companies according to the public’s perception of their work to drive positive change by quantifying the relationship between a corporation’s perceived social contribution and its bottom line.
According to 24 percent of respondents to the survey, the area that companies have the most positive impact on is job creation, whereas 65 percent of respondents said that the area they most believed companies should be trying to address is data privacy.
A further 61 percent of respondents said that the second most pressing issue for companies to consider was healthcare, followed by supporting military veterans (59 percent of respondents) and education (56 percent of respondents).
Conversely, just 22 percent of respondents said that companies were making a positive impact on veterans support and just 18 percent said they thought companies had a positive impact one education. Less than 18 percent believed that companies were adequately making a difference in areas such as hunger, sexual harassment, LGBTQ+ rights, or immigration.
Clearly, there is still a significant gap between the areas that people believe need improvement and those in which they say companies are making a significant impact. However, it is important to remember that this survey reflects respondents’ opinions as opposed to providing objective metrics for companies’ performance in these areas.
Companies in the grocery and technology industries tended to score better, including Wegman’s a privately owned American supermarket; outdoor clothing brand Patagonia; and UPS, a well-known multinational package delivery and shipping company.
Other companies featuring in the top ten included Aldi, Microsoft, Lowes, Tesla Motors, and Kellogg Company, with Amazon.com, Whole Foods Market, IBM, and Berkshire Hathaway breaking into the top twenty.
In an interview with USA Today, Wendy Salomon, Managing Director of Corporate Reputation at The Harris Poll suggested that these companies performed well because they “evoke comfort” and become “part of your daily regime”.
In order to improve its social score a company must enact systemic change, she added, by “using employees to bring about positive change for decades” rather than just “galvanizing to take a stance in the moment”.
“We know that companies are making big financial investments to help public perception, but perhaps that message isn’t getting out,” Salomon opined. “If you’re a company that’s operating on a national scale—if your values are not coming across to the public then this is something you should think about.”