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Reputation Defense in an Age of Anxiety

Across every industry sector, business leaders face an uncertain environment – consumer confidence in big business has plummeted below 20%. Employees are beginning to resent globalization and technology as jobs are lost or changed dramatically. Corporate outsourcing/offshoring, product pricing, CEO pay, and other issues are under increasing consumer scrutiny. And the rise of cyber leaks, social media, fake news and unprecedented political volatility undermines the C-suite’s ability to predict or control events.

In an environment that’s already nearly impossible to navigate, that last threat – the rise of fake news – presents perhaps the biggest threat to healthcare leaders as they struggle to control the narrative surrounding their organizations.

Today, there are thousands of news sources, social media platforms, and communication channels enabling information distribution. And because the algorithms that feed our personalized information sources have no regard for accuracy or objectivity, the truth can be hard to identify amid the sensationalism.

Queue your news feeds during the recent election.

There were three prominent practices that propelled fake news into the spotlight during the height of the presidential race: 1) filter bubbles: when a media platform selectively guesses what information a user would like to see based on information about the user; 2) microtargeting: intensely personalized messaging based on data collection and predictive market segmentation; and 3) bots: software applications that perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone (like generating twitter content).

Together, these three practices enable the rapid development and distribution of curated content based on a user’s interest that further feeds their already strong information bubble and further separates them from information contrary to their own viewpoints.

Such practices present unique challenges for executives tasked with the already difficult responsibility of defending their organization’s reputation. If a bot (or a person) can generate false information that captures their audience’s attention, how can leaders make sure their brand reputation isn’t compromised for the sake of a sensational story? Just for example, even the Pope fell victim to a fake news story claiming that he supported President Trump – the article gained 960,000 Facebook interactions, about two and a half times more than an average Facebook story.

So what exactly should enterprises be doing to ensure the effective management of their brand’s reputation?

  1. Assess. External risks can be identified by actively listening to conversations happening across all media channels, keeping a close eye on what influencers are saying, understanding vulnerabilities your organization faces in the media, as well as understanding the media opportunities your organization possesses. Internal risks can be assessed through executive interviews, employee surveys, and focus groups to understand what your key internal audiences think and feel about your brand – and what they might say to the media.
  2. Plan. Put the information you gathered during the assessment phase to good use by developing scenario response plans and ways to build a more risk resistant culture. From the moment a story breaks to ongoing reputation management after the dust has settled, having a step-by-step action plan to mobilize your organization is vital to brand defense.
  3. Equip and engage. Training and rehearsal of the plans you have developed is essential to ensure your team is ready to engage at any speed and employees become stewards of your enterprise’s corporate reputation.
  4. Predict. As new news and information is continually generated, organizations must employ ongoing risk detection strategies to both anticipate threats and update reputation management plans as needed.
  5. Build. Most importantly, a deep cultural shift in focus to the organization’s values must be present in order for these tactics to have any meaningful success. Defining, aligning and articulating culture, purpose and values across the organization will proactively protect against a reputation threat and serve as a foundation for any reputation management activities.

With consumer confidence in enterprise dropping steadily, how companies respond to issues and crises will continue to define their reputation. Developing a reputation management plan is imperative for future success.

March 30, 2017
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