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Even Apple and Facebook can suffer from a bad rep, report says

It's not just products and services that can color a company's reputation. How it handles sensitive issues can also affect public perception.

Samsung scores highest among tech companies in a new report on reputation among consumers. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

Guess which tech company has the world's best reputation.

The answer? Samsung, the Korean consumer electronics giant, is the world's "most reputable" tech company, according to a report released Tuesday by the Reputation Institute, which looked at seven categories that measure customers' "emotional connection" to a brand or company.

Apple, in contrast, landed in the 21st spot.

The report, which surveyed more than 5,000 people, shows that popular products and services don't necessarily equal a good reputation.

Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Google and software maker SAP, in that order, topped the reputation charts. Consumers rated tech companies by products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership and financial performance.

"Reputation has always been a fluffy, nebulous topic," said Brad Hecht, chief research officer of Reputation Institute, the independent research and advisory firm that conducts the RepTrak study. "But until you quantify, you can't measure. And until you measure, you can't actively manage it."

As in any industry, tech companies will eventually face issues that can harm the public's perception. How companies handle those challenges, from public relations snafus to ethical lapses, will color their reputation, no matter how much people like their products and services.

Facebook, for instance, ranks 39th out of approximately 50 tech companies. The world's largest social network, with more than 1.4 billion monthly active users, was called out after manipulating users' news feeds to assess their psychological and emotional responses to what they saw. Apple's reputation has been tarred by China's Foxconn, which manufactures the company's iPads and iPhones and has been criticized for working conditions three years ago that led to riots and suicides.

Apple's "reputation was significantly damaged by Foxconn, especially in the workplace category, and they never truly recovered," said Hecht. "If not for Foxconn, they would have ranked much higher."

Apple, Facebook and Samsung did not respond to requests for comment.

The Reputation Institute has conducted surveys of the tech industry for more than 15 years, but it hasn't made the results public until this year.

According to the study, 60 percent of people's decision to buy, recommend or invest in a company depends on their perception of it, while 40 percent base that decision on the product or service.

Top-rated companies "need to be perceived as a leader in whatever service or product," said Hecht. "Second, and equally important, they need to be perceived as an open company, transparent, with a positive impact on society as a whole in the way they do business."