Digital disruptions and the potential for quick tailspins for markets, reputations, brands and communities

Vice President for Research & Emerging Issues, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Principal, Catalyst Partners LLC

Vice President for Research & Emerging Issues, US Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Principal, Catalyst Partners LLC

Forum Host Bill Raisch:  Rich, in terms of “disruptors,” you have broad and diverse experience ranging from your current work on emerging issues at the US Chamber of Commerce to your prior responsibilities at US Homeland Security and NASA as well as work in the high tech field and a variety of other arenas.

From this broad perspective, what do you see as one of the most important disruptors facing global corporations, markets and/or wider society?

Rich Cooper:  On top of the traditional disruptors (e.g. Mother Nature; acts of violence/terror, infrastructure failures, etc.) we now have the advent of the digital disruptor.  All it takes is a simple post to a social media outlet (be it from a hacker; or disaffected customer or rival) that can quickly go viral that can send a market, a reputation or a community into a tailspin.

The very dynamic tools that keep people informed and engaged are extremely susceptible to hacking, hijack and hyperbole.  All you have to do is take a look at the recent hacking of the Associated Press’ Twitter account about “an attack upon President Obama” that sent the trading markets into a brief tailspin. Even some of the real time reporting that was factual and other reports that were later determined to be fictional regarding the recent bombings at the Boston Marathon created anxiety and other challenges for people, law enforcement and others in the greater Boston area.

Companies, communities and organizations of all sizes and shapes are going to have to engage in a 24/7 vigilance of their on-line reputations like never before or risk the long and short term consequences to their reputations if they ignore these tools and how they are used and misused.

Bill Raisch:  What are the potential impacts of this digital disruptor?

Rich Cooper: Real dollars and cents are always at play in any disruption but so are the potential negative impacts to reputation and brand recognition.  The phrase “you only have one chance to make a first impression,” comes to mind but it is inherently unfair when digital disruptors come into play and they can turn a solid reputation into absolute ruin by a few clicks and keystrokes.

Because of the actions of a hacker, the Associated Press is now in a position where they not only have to respond to false information that was put out under their name, they have to address the vulnerability of their networks by outside forces. They must try to not make themselves part of a news story (which is not where a news organization wants to be – they want to report stories – not be their subject line). Further they must try to restore the confidence in their brand and reputation that their customers and consumers have in the information that the AP puts out on a regular basis.

This is just not an AP issue.  Other government departments and agencies; educational institutions, private sector members and individuals have found themselves victims of similar types of digital disruptors.  We hear about the big names and big incidents when things like the AP story, the Boston bombings and other events occur but this is a 24/7 circumstance that is growing exponentially as more and more people and organizations become connected and interact digitally to the world around them.

Bill Raisch:  So what strategies would you suggest to address this digital disruptor – to either mitigate negative impacts and/or to capitalize on potential opportunities?

Rich Cooper:  The same strategies that you deploy for any other type of disruptor should be applied in these circumstances and it all starts with vigilance and awareness.  Accepting and understanding that these types of events can happen to you and in all likelihood will happen to you in some shape or form is part of the game.  Thinking that your name and brand are unsinkable and untouchable are the famous last words of the captain of the Titanic and we all know how that ends.   You end up becoming a test case for what not to do in these circumstances and a perpetual example of what not to do forevermore.

It is possible to capitalize on these opportunities though if you demonstrate the veracity of your vigilance; show your attention to detail and address the circumstances head on and apply the lessons learned immediately.  I think the example of the recent hacking of the Associated Press account demonstrates how quickly they addressed the situation to correct the mis-information that was put forward; share what happened and discuss corrective actions and therefore reinforce the integrity of their name and daily works.

Some may argue that this all comes down to active messaging and that would be entirely true because if you are not vigilant and active to recognize the situation and address it accordingly, you risk greater harm long-term by showing your ignorance and non-acceptance of the situation.  In those situations, I don’t care what form your disruptor takes, you are hamstringing your response from being effective, strategic and addressing the circumstance head on.

Posted by Bill Raisch, Host – Global Disruptors Forum

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