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How is technology affecting reputation and public perception?

Managing reputational crisis more challenging for companies

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July 1, 2020

Global Markets P&C Hub, Willis Towers Watson

Many companies are waking up to an emerging socio-political trend concerning the wholesale collection of personal data (people’s browsing habits, locations, likes and dislikes).

The relationship dynamic between companies and people, and between people themselves is changing rapidly, in part due to the social changes brought about by social media but also the changing nature of trust in the era of fake news.

The rocket fuel behind this phenomenon is comprised of three things: smartphones, social media and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

In the past, people would engage using various forms of media, but typically the interactions that would lead to recordable data were undertaken at a relatively low speed.

The data produced by such interactions was also disparate and limited in quantity, in addition to being broadly inaccessible in a centralised mass collection sense, with the exception of intelligence machinery operated by and accessible to a handful of nations.

Social media has changed that paradigm; touch points are instantaneous, global and legion, ranging from passive ‘likes’ on Facebook to full blogging.”

Garret Gaughan
Head of the Global Markets P&C Hub, Willis Towers Watson

Social media has changed that paradigm; touch points are instantaneous, global and legion, ranging from passive ‘likes’ on Facebook to full blogging, video and other forms of complex commentary.

This ‘fast food’ social architype drives global virality and conspiracy, and it can make it very hard for companies to engage with the public and to build crisis resilience.

The social currency companies seek with their customers and the wider public is under threat from growing generalised public anger (possibly represented by the polarisation of politics in the US and UK), mistrust of corporations and government, and the changing nature of how emerging demographics consume news and opinion.

Young people aren’t consuming news solely from mainstream newspapers anymore, the type of publication subject to longstanding ethical and legal principles governing accuracy.

Even more worrying, the lurch towards the consumption of news via ungoverned social media is arguably driving greater sensationalism in the traditional media, as incumbent media organisations some under pressure to hold onto viewership to their content.

For nation state and non-state actors with malign intent, the new data paradigm (increasing quantity and quality of accessible public data) is a playground of opportunity to manipulate and influence perception.

Consider how Cambridge Analytica were accused of launching a social media campaign aimed at a specific demographic in Trinidad & Tobago, with the sole objective to increase apathy in voters to increase the chances a political party with much to gain from this section of society not voting, would win the election.

What other manipulations are possible using new technologies relating to data interpretation and perception influencing? Could a company launch such a campaign against a competitor?

Social media platforms continue to tend towards non-intervention in relation to content shared. This democratically purist ideal has both positive and negative connotations.

While social media has given millions of people around the world a chance to make their voices heard free from repression it has also given people whom society would not otherwise provide a stage, unmitigated freedom of reach.

For companies, control of crises relating to reputation has moved from the board room and into the pockets of the smartphone generation.”

Garret Gaughan
Head of the Global Markets P&C Hub, Willis Towers Watson

The implications of this are beginning to be recognised and closer regulation of social media companies in the future is a distinct possibility.

For companies, control of crises relating to reputation has moved from the board room and into the pockets of the smartphone generation.

Compounding this shift in control is the fact that entities in positions of influence are less likely to be trusted to tell the truth than ever before. Research by Edelman in their 2020 Trust Barometer1 study suggests that many consumers struggle to articulate which brands or companies they truly trust.

So, what can companies do?

  1. 01

    Understand what data says about your brand

    Electronic data is exponentially increasing in scale and quality over time. There is technology available that can help companies to predict, respond and recover from reputational crises by tapping into this public data to discern patterns and threats.

    At board-level, companies are being held responsible for not understanding their data. A rising number of class-action law suits are evidence of this pattern, and things may get worse.

  2. 02

    Plan properly for crises

    In the fast-moving world of social media, stories and allegations can spread like wildfire at any time of the day. Whether or not such adverse media is influenced and facilitated by criminal, nation state or mischief-making actors, having a plan for how to target negative press in the location and format it occurs is essential. Even companies with large PR departments can get it wrong.

    Crises require a different type of capability; one does not have to hire in-house expertise to have this available when needed.

  3. 03

    Consider insurance risk transfer, in addition to updated risk management practice

    The insurance market and Willis Towers Watson specifically, is developing solutions that aim to combine data analytics with insurance risk transfer associated with these types of issues.

    Although a total risk transfer is impossible in most cases, insurance can complement proper risk management.

We look forward to launching our new global reputational crisis solution soon, watch this space!

Source

1 https://www.edelman.com/trustbarometer

Contact

Tom King
Global Markets P&C Hub
Willis Towers Watson

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