CEOs train their attention on the risks that actors and groups pose via social media
CEOs are wrestling with a new form of risk outside their organization’s regular register. Agenda-driven actors and groups, intent on doing harm to brands via social media, are now commanding CEOs’ attention for the first time. How did these groups become top of mind with CEOs and what’s really at stake?
Despite only 3 in 5 (61%) Fortune 500 CEOs having any social media presence, the risks that actors and groups pose via social media are very much on their radar. Intent on causing brand damage, certain actors and groups have cultivated sophisticated risk profiles via social media in both the public and private domain.
Our recent Corporate Leaders Risk Survey reveals why CEOs are, understandably, on edge, acknowledging the immediacy, relevance and scale of this issue. As the risk landscape transforms, CEOs are leaning in to learn how to navigate, predict and prevent risks originated or amplified via social media by new, known (and unknown) adversaries.
Acknowledging the sources of new risk
Online content is created and shared at alarming speeds. Consider that every minute of a single day, Twitter users post 575,000 Tweets — or more than 34.5M an hour. The volume and velocity of social media can sway consumer opinion, whether based on fact or fiction, in a heartbeat. Internet-savvy individuals and organized groups can deliberately exploit social media’s virality and human outrage to spread their messages.
But they’re not acting alone. A Forrester Consulting Total Economic Impact™ study, commissioned on behalf of Crisp, revealed that risky digital content is easily amplified like wildfire, intentionally and unintentionally. A social media marketing and operations director who contributed to the Forrester study remarked “Every other day there’s something new. There’s never a dull time in social media. At least once a week I would say we are dealing with something new.”
As we illustrated in the first of our findings, the speed of social media challenges corporate leaders, up and down the ladder, to manage stakeholder expectations and proactively protect themselves from those organized groups intent on doing harm. For the first time though, our survey uncovered CEOs openly acknowledging the source of the problem is in fact actors and groups, not just the content they spread. Prior to this moment, digital chatter was considered a publicity problem, but CEOs now realize that the escalating risk originated or amplified by actors and groups can no longer be ignored.
Risk lessons from the not-so-distant past
A confluence of recent events have shifted the spotlight to the dangers certain actors and groups pose to our institutions, traditions and beliefs. In fact, the CEOs we surveyed agree that stories such as Wall Street Bets, the January 6 insurrection and COVID misinformation spread via social media made them think twice about the risks actors and groups pose to their business. But this step change was much longer in the making and can be traced back nearly a decade to events in the public and political domain.
“Lies spread faster than truth,” as MIT Sloan Research shows. According to the study, those lies hit all-time highs on Twitter during both the 2012 and 2016 US elections, spreading 70% faster than the truth. Politics has become more divisive in the last decade, both by those involved in campaigns and exploited by outside actors. Fast forward to the events of January 6, which brought the danger of social media’s bad actors to a global stage. Insurrectionists motivated by rampant election lies stormed the Capitol, whipped up into a frenzy by conspiracy theories.
Division has since spilled into the corporate domain as well. Companies face record-speed backlash and boycotts when taking a stand — or being outed for their views — on social issues. Such was the case following voting legislation in Georgia and subsequent legislation in Texas. As a result, crisis management is no longer the domain of the five-day workweek, but now a non-stop newscycle putting corporate leaders and their teams in a perpetual state of risk mitigation.
CEOs: It’s not a question of if, but when
Recent events like those above have raised the stakes for leaders. With eyes wide open to potential harm, more than three-quarters (77%) surveyed feel their brands will be targeted by actors or groups in the next year, and even more (80%) corporate leaders believe social media attacks on their companies will increase.
This new level of urgency permeates the risk agenda for leaders. In the Forrester study, two-thirds (67%) of companies named social media in their annual 10k reports as a top risk. In addition, they agreed that social commentary, whether true or false, can affect brand value, reputation and financial performance. Nearly all (99%) stressed the importance of protecting their corporate assets from social media-driven risks: reputation, image, loyalty and equity.
CEOs have reason to worry. Risky digital content runs the gamut from disinformation to illegal content, internal personnel scandals to violence and physical threats, according to Forrester. Tackling contentious issues is par for the course for corporate leaders, but these bumps in the road for businesses can be deliberately amplified by actors and groups seizing on the moment. A known risk quickly accelerates as it spreads like wildfire across social media platforms, with other risks falling “outside the normal scope of possibility” and no plan to stop them from spreading.
One step change deserves another
CEOs have trained their spotlight on the myriad risks that actors and groups pose. To tackle these evasive opponents, CEOs must adopt an actor-centric approach to risk intelligence. By understanding the motivations, tactics and tradecraft of these groups, organizations can achieve a unique understanding of their narratives and content, who they target and where they begin online. However, this transformation in corporate leader thinking necessitates a step change.
Agenda-driven groups thrive in secrecy, skilled at masking and reinvention. “Risk management as usual” tactics can fall short of recognizing the early warning signs to act as risks emerge-not after the fact (or fiction, for that matter). The good news is that Crisp has made the step change with our Risk Intelligence Graph. The Risk Intelligence Graph analyzes millions of digital conversations in real-time, revealing the hidden relationships between individuals and groups in order to predict customer impacts as early as possible. This is an essential best practice for contemporary executives and the organizations they lead.
From financial services to fashion, we protect more than $6.5 trillion in market capital for our clients, empowering them to always be the first to know, and always be the first to act. Contact us to develop a customized risk profile and ROI analysis to inform your business planning and risk intelligence strategy today. And, to learn more about why CEOs wrestle with the risk actors and groups pose via social media download the entire Corporate Leaders Risk Survey here.
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