Lifting the shroud of anonymity

Posted on 02 October 2014. Source: Brand Matters

Social media and mobile technology provide a myriad of opportunities for positive engagement with numerous audiences. But when they are used maliciously and anonymously, by competitors or spiteful forces, the effect can be extremely damaging. Online attacks, to a global audience, are often more harmful and difficult to rebut when perpetrated by those who try to hide their identities, whether behind hoax Twitter accounts, fake email addresses, or unregistered mobile phones. Malicious and intrusive publications online can cause significant and lasting reputational damage, as images and information dissemination across various platforms can prove almost impossible to completely remove.

Threatened or actual malicious publications affect businesses and brands across all industries. The private and financial affairs of brand ambassadors and company officers, and the internal dealings of well-known companies are ripe for public discussion and criticism, particularly if touching on the controversy of the day. The presumption that what is published is true, no matter what the source, means that negative publications can be devastating; wreaking havoc on personal and business relationships, profitability and investment opportunities.

The modern challenge is how to keep confidential matters confidential, how to react when dissidents attack your brand or when adverse publications are threatened or a confidentiality breach occurs, and how to ensure those who cause the damage to your brand are held properly accountable. Time is often limited in our social media world, and strategic reactions must be considered and planned for, preferably in advance of any crisis happening.

Keep confidential cards close to your chest

Whether your business is well-known or more low-key, it is essential to heighten efforts to keep truly sensitive and confidential information safe. This may include encrypting email and securing remote access systems, strengthening privacy settings on social media accounts, ensuring confidentiality terms in employee and other contracts, and regularly 'stress testing' areas vulnerable to abuse.

Monitor and control your public brand

Many corporates shy away from publicity, and have preferred to keep a low profile. Careless public connections or rash communications with the media or antagonists may undermine such attempts, however, and can leave you exposed if negative publicity occurs. Having a considered and carefully controlled public presence, for example by way of an informative and moderated website, is a proactive step that can help manage public perception and dilute the impact of a reputational attack.

Prepare for a crisis

Being unprepared in the face of attack can result in panic, delays and mistakes which will invariably escalate and exacerbate the damage caused. Time spent honestly appraising potential vulnerabilities, and planning a crisis strategy and crisis team ahead of time, pays dividends. Working through a reputation crisis simulation exercise, such as Mishcon Spotlight, will allow mistakes to be made in private, and highlight where improvements may be made before a reputational attack strikes.

Trace and bring perpetrators to account

Anonymous publishers may believe that their activities can go undetected, but they invariably leave evidence as to their identity online. Through strategic and forensic investigations, engagement with social media hosts and targeted disclosure applications against third parties, it is possible to piece together relevant evidence and track down aggressors so that they may be held accountable for their actions.

Any brand who values their public reputation must prepare carefully and thoroughly to pre-empt and avoid damaging reputational attacks, and ensure that they have the right team in place to deal with anonymous threats or public exposure at times of crisis.

For more information, please contact Emma Woollcott or Alexandra Whiston-Dew.

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