A Mixed Method Approach to Conceptualizing and Scale Development of Personal Reputations: A Multidimensional Approach Using Legitimacy, Social Evaluation, Parasocial Relationships, and Agency

Farah Latif

Major Professor: Gary L. Kreps, PhD, Department of Communication

Committee Members: Timothy A. Gibson, Kevin B. Wright, Sergey A Samoylenko,

Online Location,
April 16, 2021, 12:00 PM to 02:00 PM


Reputations of individuals – personal reputation – is an overlooked concept and understudied research area in communication studies. Appropriate recognition and critical assessment of personal reputations will have social and political implications for individuals and societies because the way individuals in a society revere or deride prominent figures, is a social commentary on the society's values (King & Fine, 2000). Some crucial gaps in discerning personal reputations exist; for instance, why are some individual reputations resilient to reputational damage despite bad behavior? To understand why, this investigation conceptualized and developed a measurement scale for personal reputations through a mixed method approach. The research relied on the Social Exchange Theory (SET), literature review, and in-depth interviews to test a scale (N = 971) to measure public figures' (PF) reputations. The literature review suggested four main characteristics of personal reputations: (1) publics cocreate reputations of PFs in their social networks; (2) reputations are enduring; (3) reputations are binary, people have simultaneously good and bad reputations; and, (4) adversaries' reputations reinforce each other's reputations. The research began with a grounded research approach by conducting 19 elite interviews, a suitable method to discover unknown aspects of a new concept. The subsequent scale was tested (N = 971) for two United States Presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, using four-factors: (1) perceived legitimacy of the PF (PLgt); (2) the PF's social evaluation (SE); (3) the public's parasocial relationship (PSR) with the PFs; and, (4) the PF's perceived agency. The scale demonstrates validity and reliability to measure the personal reputations of the former Presidents. The research findings introduced six strategies used by adversaries in reputation attacks. The data results revealed that one’s close network’s perceived views about PFs account for approximately 70% of the variance in one’s views about these PFs. The discussion introduces the network influence (NI), a concept that explains how one's mediated networks influence their views about PFs. The investigation presented recommendations for reputation management practitioners. The research benefits theory advancement, practical application of reputation management, and opens doors for future research.

            Keywords: Personal reputations, reputation management, Social Exchange Theory (SET), mixed-method study, scale development, perceived legitimacy (PLgt), social evaluation (SE), parasocial relationships (PSR), agency, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Network Influence (NI), strategic communication.