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Digitalis Reputation COO Charlie Bain will be speaking on crisis communications at CIPR Internationa

Here, to whet our appetites, he discusses the importance of managing online reputation and pre-empting digital vulnerabilities well ahead of crisis scenarios.

The former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward once said: “The more you’ve thought about challenges in advance, the more you can sail through them when they happen.” This is never more applicable when it comes to crisis communications and highly prescient in the digital age.

We’ve reached an important inflexion point when it comes to the amount of information which intentionally or unintentionally ends up on the web. The arcane nature of the challenges this poses to reputation management professionals will dominate and radically re-shape the industry in the years to come. And just like most things tech – it won’t be a gradual change – it will be disruptive, it will be fast and it will redefine the comms skillset.

Sharing our business or personal lives via social media – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter in particular – is now an unstoppable train. It is entirely normal and in some cases necessary. Whereas ten years ago, even five years ago, it would have proved unthinkable. While we and our friends or colleagues project every aspect of our lives online, an uncontrolled narrative is created. As more and more historical paper archives about our lives get digitalised, so the picture grows. Before we know it, there is a wealth of information about us in the digital stratosphere, some we may be aware of because we posted it ourselves, but most often not.

So what - might you say? My personal online profiles are very much private and separate from my corporate digital footprint. But are they really?

Then the crisis occurs.

The historical, irrelevant comments made in an interview by the CEO suddenly become very relevant, indeed. A run of the mill Twitter posting from two years ago is suddenly picked through for nuance. Worst of all, you unexpectedly and bafflingly find the CEO’s daughter or son’s Facebook picture of the family holiday on their personal yacht in Ibiza plastered on the cover of the Daily Mail. A perfectly engineered story about them – with their help – is constructed in seconds. And you, as the comms adviser, can only helplessly watch it unfold.

And this is where the inflexion point has occurred. Hostile third parties, criminals or cyber hackers and dare I say it, often journalists, can skilfully and efficiently navigate through the wealth of information online – a precious digital library at their fingertips. Yet we continue to share…

The answer isn’t to ban social media, call a halt to any interviews or live the life of a hermit. However, it does mean that for those of us reputation management advisers, it is imperative to be continually aware and possess the technological weapons and intelligence to manage the digital footprint and therewith digital vulnerabilities of your clients. It goes beyond vanilla social media and traditional monitoring and directly into the “unknown” area of deep web trawling, information extraction and big data analysis.

That is where the evolution for crisis communications and risk management is taking us - fully pre-empting your client’s digital vulnerability, on a personal and professional level, on the indexed and unindexed web, a long way before the crisis hits.

Digital reputation mitigation is earning its place at the Board table now that the biggest issue in the board room is online risk (PWC report cybersecurity) and reputational damage is the second biggest threat (2017 Deloitte report).

Some say you have ten minutes to respond to a crisis and control it in the social media age. With an in-depth understanding of your client’s digital vulnerabilities and strengths, as Sir Clive Woodward might say, “when the waters get choppy you will be able …to sail through them far more confidently”.

Charlie Bain is the Chief Operating Officer of Digitalis Reputation, tech-powered online reputation and digital intelligence firm.


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