Amazon has topped the latest Harris poll on the reputations of America's 60 most visible companies, followed by Coca-Cola, Apple, Walt Disney, and Honda. While technology companies scored best on the list -- ahead of Travel and Tourism -- Google's reputation took a significant hit, dropping it below Microsoft and Sony.
In the 2012 poll, Google scored 82.82 and was second only to Apple. Last year, Google was down to fourth with 81.32. In the 2014 poll, it tumbled to 14th with a rating of 78.38. This took it out of the Excellent class (80 and above) and into Very Good (75-79). By contrast, Microsoft's rating improved from 76.46 in 2013 to 80.11 this year.
Apple's reputation has also been in decline, though it is still one of the most admired companies in the US. It topped the poll in 2012 with a rating of 85.62, fell to second last year with 82.54, and to third place this year with 81.76.
Other tech companies in the 2014 poll include Samsung (80.65), Sony (79.77), IBM (74.70), HP (74.07), Dell (72.93), and Facebook (69.61).
Bank of America placed bottom (55.34), behind BP (57.00), Monsanto (57.27) and Halliburton (57.29).
Harris polled 18,000 American adults for its 15th annual survey of corporate reputations, with the 60 considered "most visible" rated in six categories: emotional appeal, financial performance, products and services, social responsibility, vision and leadership, and workplace environment.
Amazon came top in three categories, and was in the top five in five categories. Apple appeared in the top five in four categories, Microsoft in three categories, and Google in none. Only Coca-Cola made all six.
There's one obvious threat to company reputations, and perhaps to tech companies in particular: privacy concerns. Harris asked people to agree or disagree with the statement that "I am concerned about the increasing amount of personal information companies capture about their customers these days," and 76 percent agreed or strongly agreed. Only 8 percent disagreed.
Harris also tested the statement: "Overall, I trust companies to act responsibly when it comes to using all the private data they have on consumers." In this case, 44 percent agreed, but 34 percent somewhat or strongly disagreed.
As Harris puts it: "Overall, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of the general public is concerned about the amount of private information companies capture about their customers and less than half (44 percent) trust companies to act responsibly with such information." This is hardly a ringing endorsement, but at least the 2014 score improved on 2013.
Reputation is important. Harris reports that 60 percent of people say they research companies before doing business with them, and "six in ten decided NOT to do business with a company based upon something they learned about the company's conduct."
Otherwise, Harris points out that corporate reputations are improving after a bad spell, and the 2014 numbers are better than the ones from 2008. "Equally telling," says Harris, "for the first time since 2007, no company achieved an RQ score of below 50, the score at which a company's reputation is considered to be in a critical stage."
The 2014 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient study of The Reputations of the Most Visible Companies (PDF) can be downloaded from Nielsen's website.