Social media outpaces cyber threats as top risk among communications executives

Social media/adverse commentary ranks fourth, exceeding cyber security/cyber threats in terms of likelihood to occur and severity of impact to companies

Crisp, the most trusted provider of early-warning risk intelligence, today released a new survey in collaboration with Kroll, the world’s premier provider of services and digital products related to governance, risk and transparency, which revealed that social media is now considered a top corporate risk among communications leaders, exceeding cyber threats, extreme weather and supply chain disruptions. The survey shows an increase in new and unknown risks accelerated by digital chatter, which makes it even more challenging to identify or mitigate issues before they become a crisis.

The Communications Leaders Risk Survey asked communications leaders in North America and Europe, most from companies with annual revenue in excess of USD 1 billion, about their expanded role as risk mitigators and resilience builders in a world of accelerating change.

In the wake of a global pandemic, social unrest, economic recession and political division, 75% of respondents say they are seen by their companies as a strategic advisor on risk. Communications leaders are first line defenders, with 88% saying they are taking on greater responsibility for identifying and mitigating risks. As such, communications leaders are quickly becoming one of businesses’ first ports of call when it comes to risk mitigation.

This is largely due to the network effect of harmful digital chatter, which often originates in online groups, out of sight of communications teams that don’t have the technology or the resources to monitor them. In today’s climate where more than two-thirds (68%) of respondents expect to encounter new and unknown risks, it’s challenging to keep pace.

“Companies operate in a very polarized environment today,” said Vikram Sharma, President of Crisp. “This means even those who live their corporate values consistently aren’t able to avoid public scrutiny from consumers, employees and shareholders, let alone the deliberate actions of agenda-driven groups who exploit digital chatter to coordinate and execute new ways of undermining corporate reputation, operations or market value. With the stakes higher than ever, today’s communications leaders need an early-warning risk advantage to make sure they are always first to know and always first to act.”

In fact, the survey confirmed that even those organizations that do some level of monitoring find it hard to cover all the social spaces where risks might originate. Respondents say their organizations monitor an average of only 6.4 social media channels, but few review closed social media channels, forums, messenger apps or alternative platforms where significant online group planning and coordination takes place.

It’s a topic getting wider attention from leadership teams, with respondents citing the volume (55%), variety (57%) and velocity (60%) at which digital chatter spreads as a top board concern. Communications leaders surveyed said the ramifications of not identifying and responding quickly to a risk include damage to corporate or brand reputation (93%), followed by negative publicity (92%), employee morale/wellbeing/recruitment (73%), customer experience (59%) and financial performance (46%).

“Companies spend years creating brands built on trust and loyalty, but misinformation can erode that almost overnight,” said Benedict Hamilton, Managing Director at Kroll. “The speed at which news spreads on the web means that firms are working under an increasingly tight timeframe to identify and mitigate risks that arise through digital chatter. Clients are asking us to help proactively manage alarming digital chatter by assessing the legitimacy and accuracy of the issue—from disinformation campaigns by rivals or short sellers to correcting misguided commentary. To help address the issues, it’s important to find who is behind the digital chatter and identify the first publishers and their full identities through the smart use of digital tools.”

This is further reinforced by Forrester, in a commissioned study on behalf of Crisp, in which they analyzed 75 annual 10K reports filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which says, “all 75 brands emphasized the importance of environmental, social and governance (ESG) priorities, 99% discussed the importance of protecting reputation, and 67% recognized that threats to reputation can originate in and are both accelerated and worsened by social media.”

While almost all respondents (94%) agree that digital chatter shortens the window of time to react and respond to risks, 88% agree that this same digital chatter is an essential source of risk intelligence for identifying and mitigating issues before they become a full-blown crisis.

The early signals from groups and individuals found in digital chatter not only identify risks before they develop into crises, they also provide companies with valuable time and insight to prevent or mitigate those risks and better prepare to minimize potential brand or corporate reputation damage and revenue losses.

While 75% of respondents were unsure if their company is equipped to get ahead of risks surfacing online, more than two-thirds (69%) say it is getting more difficult to anticipate or identify risks surfacing through digital chatter. Further, 73% of respondents say not enough funding is invested in new risk intelligence solutions to counter this business-critical challenge.

With more than three-quarters (77%) of communications leaders predicting greater uncertainty this year, the Communications Leaders Risk Survey reinforces the high stakes for companies moving forward in our world of accelerating change, and the need for communications leaders to secure the earliest warning risk advantage for their companies.

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