Reputational damage often results from a gap between what a company says and what it is perceived to have done.
One of the most important aspects of our business success is our reputation which takes a lot of time and/or money to build. If we think of the ways this was done in the past apart from delivering a quality offering consistently we think of channels such as newspapers, magazines and then more recently radio and television. One of the requirements of mainstream media is that they adhere to a code of ethics which is designed to protect the public. This all seems very sensible otherwise there would be advertisements for all types of weird and wonderful products guaranteeing everything from a full head of hair to immortality. However, modern technology and communications have created a medium whose behaviour is not supervised and who has the ability to influence people in ways we have never envisaged.
Anyone can engage with this technology and be propelled into star like status overnight becoming ‘influencers’ with the ability to create followers quickly with numbers that the established media can only dream of. With this new found power you would expect a close monitoring of its impact on the vulnerable with a robust code of ethics but that is not the case.
This has potentially a huge impact on business as well as society as a whole. We believe that there is a sense of fair play rightly or wrongly and that those who spread false rumours or promises are taken to task. Under the old form of communications this was more likely the case but not any more where those influencers can say what they like with impunity. These comments are uncensored and so business is at the whim of someone who may have undue influence and an agenda of their own. We are disconnected from the truth in a more connected world.
For example a restaurant or business in the hospitality sector can have its reputation destroyed virtually overnight by an influencer who for whatever reason decided to target it. More worrying is the potential for a concerted attack on a brand where the damage is done before anyone can respond.
To give you an example I remember signing up for a well known banking app but very quickly heard rumours that it was unregulated and had links to organised crime which made it vulnerable to some form of Government sanction in the future. In fact I heard these stories coming from many unrelated sources obviously picked up online. My reaction was to be cautious and to keep my balance to a minimum with this provider. I know people who stopped using the service altogether. From research I see this provider is registered with the right authorities but the question is how damaging was the rumour and how lasting will its effects be.
Could your brand withstand an attack and how quickly could you respond to limit the damage. Do you have in place a robust plan to handle an attack of this nature. There is no doubt that influencers will have more impact in an unregulated medium which suggests that
you may be more vulnerable than ever before to an attack on your brand driven by nothing more than a rival wishing to unseat you from your position in the marketplace.
According to the annual Ipsos survey of more than 25,000 internet users in 25 countries published in 2019 more than 86% of internet users admit being duped by fake news. This suggests that people may only take their information from a single source or more worryingly take as fact what they are told without researching it further.
So what can you do? I suggest the 3 R’s, recognise, respond and review.
Recognise the threat by monitoring what is happening online, how it is changing and how could it impact on your organisation. Respond by having the right assets around you. This may be a specialist who monitors what is happening on the internet, a PR company or advisors who are briefed and ready to protect your interests and finally, make sure that you constantly review the situation in relation to the rapid changing landscape of communications and technology.
This new type of threat is a product of the 4th Industrial Revolution which we are experiencing but have yet to understand in terms of it long lasting implications.
This is part of the Disconnected in a Connected World talk from Alec Drew - The Business Expert (if you would like to know more please schedule an appointment)