Today’s messaging landscape can be a daunting space for brands looking to break through the noise. Getting on the radar of the right people for the right reasons is an increasingly difficult task, despite the fact that there’s more social listening and media monitoring data available than ever before. In fact, it could be argued that the sheer deluge of data is one of the obstacles to that goal — making sense of the non-stop firehose of information is a Sisyphean task, at least when approached manually. What should a brand be talking about in order to drive positive sentiment? And where should those conversations be happening?
The Signal AI 500 is a global reputation ranking tool that uses artificial intelligence and big data to turn that flood of data into actionable insights to help answer such questions and understand how a brand is perceived and uncover opportunities. One such area of focus for data analysis is the identification of “reputational white spaces.” This refers to topics in which there’s opportunity for brands to drive reputational gains by being associated with positive conversations that have little competition. Put another way: These are topics that aren’t necessarily the most talked about, but are growing in importance and when they are discussed, coverage is positive and quick to accelerate.
Here’s some facts: In 2022, more than 140,000 tech employees were laid off in the United States. As of March, the 2023 count soars to more than 100,000 year-to-date — and that’s in just one fourth of the time. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that conversations around professional development opportunities, skills training for workers, and discussion of what companies are doing to retain and train employees are huge areas of opportunity.
Companies that are productizing their training and education programs are driving positive media coverage. For example, Microsoft has teamed up with the National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology (NIELIT) to train underserved youth, women, and jobseekers in remote areas in cybersecurity, which is a area of major job growth (it’s estimated that 3.4 million people are needed to fill the global cybersecurity workforce gap). Another great example is Deloitte’s Encore Program, which seeks to train-up those looking to reenter the workforce after time away. The takeaway is that companies that prioritize sharing their knowledge train others garner positive attention and are also seen as leaders in recruitment.
The subject of edge computing, including the hardware, software, and networks that support this industry, makes up the second biggest area of reputational white space according to our data. Last year, an average of just 13,000 articles per month appeared on this topic, with a net sentiment of 80 percent positive. By this past February, the number of conversations had grown 24 percent, which indicates opportunity.
Drilling down further, conversations around hardware and semiconductors, electronics and appliances, telecommunications, and tech received an even higher score of 90 percent positive sentiment. The top performers in this area include Intel, Nvidia, and Microsoft, and those three alone account for nearly one third of “edge computing” conversations, most often centered on new hardware and software offerings.
Closing the digital divide — the gap between communities that have access to high-speed internet and the myriad benefits that come with that, and those that don’t — is an important step to social equity. Currently, telecommunications firms like Vodafone/Verizon and Orange are leading the conversation as they expound on their work to close the divide, while companies like AT&T discuss their charitable efforts, and Big Tech names such as Microsoft and Google talk up their global partnerships to work toward these goals.
Even with all this, conversations about the digital divide averaged just 40,000 articles per month last year, meaning there’s opportunity for other brands, especially non-telecoms, to get involved. For example, companies in the digital education space are well-positioned to capitalize on the need to close the digital divide, while tech and electronics companies tend to see tangible gains in democratizing this access, either through distribution of their technology or by investing in workforce development (see above) and the upskilling of people still left behind.
Partly related to closing the digital divide gap, “EdTech,” the casual colloquialism for “educational technology,” ranks fourth on our list, with a net sentiment reaching up to 91 percent positive. Tech companies like Google and Microsoft lead these conversations because of their free to low-cost online courses. This topic aligns with our number one discussed subject, “workforce development,” as they go hand-in-hand with driving the education and up-skilling of employees around the world.
But when the pandemic lockdowns forced educators to rethink their use of technology, it showed the outsized opportunities the EdTech sector has to impact education and close the digital divide. While a lot of the conversation started around remote work and interactive tools, we’re now starting to see pushes towards how Artificial Intelligence can provide more personalized and accessible paths to understand curriculum tasks at an individual learner’s speed.
As any communications professional knows, sometimes it pays to go narrow and specific. Our fifth greatest opportunity for reputational management is an example of this point: ”Biojet Fuels” has the smallest number of monthly mentions (19,000 monthly conversations) among our potential whitespace topics, yet the phrase received one of highest net positive sentiment ratings of 75%.
Why? The major players in the aerospace & defense and travel industries, including companies like Boeing, Airbus, and United Airlines, are working hard to achieve their goal of reaching 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) usage by 2050. Given the positive environmental impact of this goal, the opportunity to gain reputational value in this relatively under-discussed topic is apparent.