Why brands face a greater risk from clicks than hacks

Aadil Mohamed -

Why brands face a greater risk from clicks than hacks

Internet risks to your enterprise are no longer restricted to cybersecurity threats such as data breaches, phishing attacks, or ransomware. The future financial and reputational health of your organization is at risk simply by virtue of being online.

The same social media platforms that your brand uses to engage with millions of customers and prospects give every single one of those people the ability to speak out against your company and damage your brand value.

It’s estimated that a million or so people have the specialized expertise to thwart your cybersecurity measures and hack into your business. On the other hand, more than four billion people can put a serious dent in your brand with a social media account and a smartphone.

The digital town square is limitless, and your company is open 24/7/365 to complaints, risks, hatejacking, leaked confidential data, and the amplification of misguided comments or actions by executives and employees.

Taking on the volume, speed, and diversity of content

Knowing the fundamental measures that contribute to the complexity of social media content make it easier to understand and manage. This can push enterprise teams to the limit of what can be identified, analyzed, and acted upon to protect the brand.

The sheer volume. In a span of fewer than 25 years, social media has become part of the lives of more than half of the 7.7 billion people in the world. As of October 2020, the number of people using social media is more than 4.14 billion worldwide.

Social media platforms have almost tripled their total user bases since 2010, with the average user having 8.6 accounts across different channels. The most popular social media network reports that more than 66% of their users log in every day.

Social media volume is constantly being generated by people’s posts, comments, reactions, and shares. According to Domo’s Data Never Sleeps 8.0 report, this happens every minute of the day in 2020: Facebook users share 150,000 messages; Instagram users post 347,222 stories; Twitter gains 319 new users; YouTube users upload 500 hours of video; Reddit sees 479,452 people engage with content.

With this astounding increase in volume comes the additional challenge of finding the potentially damaging digital chatter perpetuated by instigators, that is often fanned by influencers, with the sole intent of hurting brand reputation, causing market share decline, and eventually harming your market cap. It becomes a digital needle-in-the-haystack situation.

Spans the globe in seconds. With all of this content sent around the world every second, social media has transformed the speed of communication and, more significantly, the pace of information exchange, like nothing that has come before it.

Unconstrained by geography and liberated by technology, people can share experiences and opinions in real-time, circumventing brands’ orderly processes for managing touch-points with customers. Because sharing is just a click away, the tendency to do so has increased.

Each post, comment, video, or photo has its own social velocity, measured in shares, likes, comments, pins, and retweets. By observing the changes in engagement, and understanding the behaviors of the instigators behind them, you can predict the chance of it escalating, particularly if it's fake, rumor-filled, or considered juicy. The job of the worst instigator is to kill brands, anyway they can.

This makes monitoring social media and engaging with audiences an extremely time-sensitive pursuit for a brand.

The bad is hidden with the good. The diversity of content—whether it’s a simple comment, a comment with a photo or video, a shared article, influencer post, a GIF, or a meme—makes up the third challenge to brands managing social media content.

That content can vary from platform-to-platform, and so can the instigators who are intent on providing content that harms a brand. With each social network having its own peculiarities across the type of content, engagement on posts, audiences, demographics, and more. Efforts to detect and act on potentially harmful content might require sifting through millions of pieces of content, none of them exactly like the other.

How harmful content affects brand value

The knee-jerk tendencies of an internet audience can produce an instantaneous threat to your reputation and disrupt business operations overnight.

Perdue Farms, the fourth-largest chicken producer in the country, suffered social media outrage and calls for a boycott after U.S. Sen. David Perdue made light of Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris. “KAH'-mah-lah? Kah-MAH'-lah? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever,” the senator said to laughter from supporters at a Trump rally in mid-October.

The digital media and communications teams for the poultry company had to devote a significant amount of time online clarifying to angry social media users that Perdue Farms and Sen. Perdue are not affiliated. Roy Graber, a senior reporter at WATT Global Media, wrote in a column, “I hope that [Sen. Perdue] wakes up and realizes that his inappropriate conduct can have harmful effects on innocent entities like Perdue Farms.”

Sometimes the comment—or attributed comment—that triggers social media backlash and financial harm comes from a person who is definitely affiliated with the brand. 

PepsiCo saw its share price drop 5.21% in November 2016 after former CEO Indra Nooyi was falsely quoted as saying Trump supporters should “take their business elsewhere” in post-election remarks.

The misinformation originated and spread online on conservative sites and led to calls for a boycott of all Pepsi brands, using the hashtags #boycottPepsi and #Pepsiboycott. Actor James Woods, with a following of 2.6 million on Twitter, went further, encouraging supporters to boycott restaurants that serve Pepsi.

The velocity of social media can spread bad news and complaints about a business faster than a stomach virus can devastate brand value. Millennial favorite Chipotle was mercilessly trolled online after an E. coli outbreak closed dozens of its restaurants in the fall of 2015. Its share price dropped 34.7 percent and equity market capitalization declined $8.12 billion through year-end.

Keep the value, avoid the vulnerability of social media

As these cases and many others demonstrate, atypical attacks that emanate from social media or inside your enterprise can prove very costly. Failing to act has never been a bigger risk for brands.

Social media is a valuable asset to engage with customers and build relationships, but it’s also an incredible vulnerability. Reputational and financial risks to your brand can come seemingly out of nowhere because anyone online can trigger a wave of customer indignation that can overwhelm a communications team’s ability to react.

Harmful content can spread instantly to millions of people and spiral into a crisis in hours, not days or weeks. This requires organizations to sift through a massive volume of material to anticipate, flag, and address these issues and regain control of the conversation.

Proactive early-warning risk intelligence keeps you one step ahead of potential risks to your reputation, brand value, or business operations, and the instigators behind them. You can protect your brand in the digital town square from unwanted associations and harmful content with 24/7/365 monitoring, including your owned social media pages and the wider web, which includes dissociated channels that could pose a threat.

Every brand’s defenses are hardened against cyberattacks, cybercrime, and cyberespionage. Every brand investigates and analyzes the flow of internet data for anomalies and patterns of behavior that may indicate a sinister payload attempting to pass through a back door.

Fewer brands adequately secure the front door to guard against an angry mob of social media users carrying virtual pitchforks and torches—millions of negative comments intended to burn down your brand. It’s time to act. 

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