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Preventing digital wildfires in a hyper-connected world

At a glance

  • Power of social media on the rise
  • Brokers and their customers need to be aware of damage it can cause
  • Zurich has top tips to prevent brand and reputation disasters

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Mark Twain famously said that “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on”, and in a world of increasing connectivity thanks to social media, this has never been more relevant.

Top tips to protecting your brand and reputation

  • Ensure that brand and reputation management is an agenda item at board level
  • Use your existing risk management process to identify and manage risks to your brand and reputation in a systematic way
  • Have a clear understanding of the root causes and consequences of key threats – this will help you manage them more effectively
  • Monitor your image through regular stakeholder analysis
  • Listen to your customers and address their concerns quickly
  • Maximise opportunities and use social media actively to promote your reputation
  • Prepare yourself for a brand and reputation crisis with a comprehensive communications plan for staff, stakeholders and the general public/media

With the internet still an uncharted, fast-evolving territory, ‘digital wildfires’ – the rapid spread of misinformation – have been cited in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2012 report as one of the ever-increasing threats to geopolitical and corporate entities. The report stated that “hyper-connectivity could enable digital wildfires to wreak havoc in the real world”.

Power of social media

Thanks to social media, small public relations disasters can now be global news in a matter of seconds.

For example, when a notable musician posted a YouTube video accusing United Airlines of breaking his guitar, it quickly went viral and was attributed by some as causing the airline’s stock to temporarily drop by 10%.

For corporate customers, it highlights the power of social media. So, how can they prevent huge brand and reputational disasters whether the story is true or not?

“Corporate companies are large, widespread entities which makes managing their online reputation challenging, as you have to keep an eye on everything,” said John Paul, Head of Commercial Broker Marketing at Zurich.

“You need to proactively manage and build your reputation before a PR disaster occurs.”

Ally or enemy?


For many large corporate customers, social media is a double-edged sword, it allows them to easily reach out to millions of potential customers for free, but at the same time can potentially cause a PR nightmare.

“It is an emerging landscape and can be a fine line to walk,” said John. “For many organisations, social media and online business communities allow them to reach customers in more cost-efficient and, importantly, engaging ways that build relationship and long-term brand affinity.

“On the downside, it can have that same scale of impact. Whether you’re a small firm or a big firm, it’s hard to judge what you may have to manage next due to the shifting sands of customer demands and opinion, regulatory frameworks and wide-scale social expectations – especially in this time of broad demographic change and globalisation, for instance if your customers are international.”

Containing negative press

You need to pro-actively get the good customer experiences out there – basically turn the paradigm on its head and ensure your stability is built up and strong before a PR disaster occurs

John Paul, Head of Commercial Broker Marketing at Zurich

Trying to contain negative press is always going to be an uphill battle – even more so in a more transparent and hyper-connected world – especially if corporations don’t address the issues head-on.

“We’re moving in to a world of transparency and this has potentially significant implications for how corporate companies manage all aspects of their business – even more so for firms focusing heavily on promoting corporate responsibility,” said John.

“Depending on what kind of business you are in, you may have to manage reputational risk holistically across the entire risk management cycle starting with monitoring and mitigation efforts.”

John added: “When it comes to preventing digital wildfires, corporations are better off taking the line that ‘we’re in a transparent world now, so what does that mean for our business operationally across the entire value chain?’”

Image © Getty

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