Brand Security: Maneuvering in the Wild, Wild West (AKA Social Media)
Physical employee safety and the protection of business assets are paramount responsibilities for Chief Security Officers (CSOs) and their teams. To accomplish these responsibilities, the best security teams need to be able to quickly coordinate and act on any arising situations. Doing so benefits companies and their brands by allowing them to timely take advantage or avoid negative impact from developing, real-time situations. This is crucial in today’s quick-to-generate-a-viral-meme internet culture.
In part one of this series, I discussed ways in which a vigilant, responsive security team can mitigate a broad range of corporate security risks, and demonstrate value to their larger organization throughout a variety of crisis situations. By now, it’s well-known that while social media has created opportunities for organizations, it has also been a constant source of threats to brands and brand reputations. Online conversations, images and incidents can amplify and go viral in a matter of seconds, spinning out of control and creating problems with little or no warning. In the face of this type of digital crisis, brand reputation represents a major opportunity to expand the definition of “security” and demonstrate value to the company.
The window of time in which pre-news – an incident, statement or conversation that has the potential to spark a big story – can take over the airwaves is small, providing a fleeting and difficult to capture mitigatory advantage for teams looking to react before situations escalate. Harnessing this narrow window maximizes time to respond and coordinate with relevant stakeholders, potentially saving millions in future brand repair efforts.
Companies increasingly have to be ready for the hypothetical impact to their brand resulting from seemingly innocuous incidents that happen on social media. Even what appears to be the simplest thing can go terribly awry – so who should take responsibility for the overall brand security?
Consider multiple recent incidents of companies’ use of well-intentioned but ultimately highly controversial commercials, many of which are only aired or were published online for short periods of time. In the immediate aftermath of these controversial ads, social media commentators often harshly condemned the companies involved. Not only was the content poorly received, but the fallout created a one-upmanship online conversation at the expense of the content publishing companies. These companies were forced to quickly pull the ads and release statements which failed to satiate their social media audiences. Similarly, many financial services companies have also been on the defense against a seemingly ceaseless barrage of federal and state regulatory issues, public and private sector complaints, activism and legal challenges which presented themselves through social media.
If companies in these unfortunate situations had taken advantage of the pre-news window, they would have been able to respond quicker, and minimized the overall negative impact to their brand faster. Had these companies had a monitoring and an early notification system in place, they could have responded quicker to the incoming potential threats, and engaged appropriate internal teams (communications, brand and marketing, crisis management, investor relations) with proper actions, sooner. Faster reaction time would have addressed the key issues and stakeholders better, and would have provided additional insight to the developing commentary and marketplace perspectives.
The central focus of the CSO is to help executives and the company stay ahead of the news before key stakeholders such as clients, shareholders or media start asking questions, ensuring the CEO or other executives don’t react publicly in a way that creates or exacerbates a crisis. Additionally, due to the frequently passionate nature of some of this social media dialogue, early awareness allows CSOs to proactively assess executive protection measure and adjust their programs as required. CSOs have the opportunity to demonstrate further organizational value by identifying potential threats to safety before they become viral incidents that potentially damage both security and the brand.
It’s often said that “knowledge is power.” This is especially true in corporate brand security management. Staying informed and having a preplanned response process with clear delineation of cross-company responsibilities is vital. There needs to be a defined role and plan of action relating to social media monitoring which would act as an early warning system. Without this, real-time reaction without preparation can stumble. An example of this was recently witnessed in several airline incidents where citizen-journalists recorded confrontations between staff and passengers which were ultimately unflattering to the airlines. In these public cases, the airlines failed to recognize the developing situations as they were unfolding on social media. By the time the airlines issued responses, in most of these examples, the situations had already sprung out of control. By the time the issues were addressed, reputational damage had already been done, and the companies’ bottom lines were affected.
While the monetary cost of reputational damage is difficult to value, the impact can range from losing a significant portion of clients, bottom line impact, loss of equity, and more. All this, just from failing to properly monitor and manage online reputations.
Being well informed is no longer optional. An understanding and knowledge of breaking events, both big and small, enables CSOs to bolster their organization’s brand by preparing executives for situations before they arise. In this fast-paced era and 24-hour news cycle, it’s more important than ever to be on top of the conversation, and proactive about handling any direction – whether negative or positive – that it might take. A crisis can erupt and go viral more quickly than ever before, and in this environment, the opportunities for and responsibilities of CSOs are expanding.