Over the course of the past weekend, I took refuge from the unusually hot British summer weather in a country house hotel deep in the lush green countryside. No spa treatments or weddings for me as for most of the rest of the guests; I was leading a seminar on measuring and managing corporate reputation in our always-on world, for a diverse group of Kingston MBA students.

Investing in the next generation of communicators and business leaders is hardwired into the W2O ethos, and the Group’s partnership with the New House School to create the Center for Social Commerce is testament to our commitment to industry and academic collaboration. So when I was presented with the opportunity to explore the changing face of corporate reputation with tomorrow’s bosses, I leapt at the chance.

The group included students from late-20s to mid-40s, from half a dozen countries, and in roles as varied as logistics, finance, marketing and IT infrastructure – and interestingly none currently with a direct role, strategic or implementational, in social media or analytics. In preparing content and stimulus material, I deliberately decided to avoid Reputation 101 – this was a group of MBA candidates, after all. I was richly rewarded for that decision.

Much of the W2O world may have been alien to most of them, and removed from the detail of their day jobs. But their interest, engagement and depth of ideas were incredibly rewarding and encouraging. A breadth of thinking developed in their careers to date – honed by the first year of their two-year course – gave them a healthy scepticism for the claims made by many social media analytics providers. They volunteered many practical examples of how they’ve personally helped to break down silos between different areas of communications in recent years. And they also had a clear interest and understanding of how new approaches to monitoring and measuring the impact of social conversation can – at last – provide the C-suite with the type of metrics that breed confidence, not suspicion or contempt.

Where my cohort really came into its own was during the group exercise. Three groups tackled what they would do today, tomorrow, in a month’s time and six months from today in the following scenarios:

  • Being Boeing … after last week’s fire on an Air Ethiopia Dreamliner, just after the company has gotten over the reputational damage of lithium batteries catching fire
  • Being Google … in the event that the British Government were to decide to enforce payment of millions of dollars of corporation tax
  • Being Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain … in the wake of the recent horsemeat scandal, in which burgers and ready meals were found to contain “up to 100%” horsemeat, not beef

Like any good teacher, I had plans worked out for each scenario, and what impressed me with each group was the quality of thinking in the strategic plans they developed in all of 45 minutes. One had set a compelling vision (for Tesco to become the country’s most transparent supermarket) and worked all activation, operational and communications, back from that end point. The next created a compelling matrix for all stakeholders – and influencers of stakeholders – to leave no audience unaddressed, no channel untapped (Boeing came up smelling of roses). And the third took a deliberately contrarian position to ensure that Google didn’t only mend bridges with the British and EU-level Government officials. They also planned for to use the company’s data analytics and visualization skills to set the global agenda on corporate taxation. Gratifyingly, all three baked social media outreach and engagement into their plans, with hard KPIs at every time point.

Not only did I feel I’d learned a lot from a richly diverse group of students from a wide variety of backgrounds. In discussion over lunch afterwards, I also walked away with a couple of new contacts from companies and organizations who were interested in learning more about how our approach to social analytics could help kick-start their businesses’ engagement in social media.

A very productive and thankfully chilled way to spend a Saturday.