The 3 issues today’s crisis comms professional needs to tackle

prepared

Make sure that you’re prepared for these three big issues which are shifting the crisis comms goalposts (image source: http://www.bairdscmc.com)

It doesn’t take a genius to tell you that the world is changing, and with it the way that crises develop. I was listening to a very engaging podcast by the Gulf News business team, with communications professional Omar Qirem (check out the post here).

While the conversation touched on a host of crisis issues and triggers, there were three big issues that are relatively new, and which are shifting the crisis communications landscape.

Hacking and Emails

Long gone are the days when whistleblowers would walk out of offices with a suitcase full of papers. Today, information is conveyed electronically, and all it took for Chelsea Manning to leak hundreds of thousands of US military documents to Wikileaks was a single USB drive. Hacking is becoming a real problem for both governments the world over, as well as corporates (just ask Sony).

Hacking is developing from the well-understood concept of the ethically-troubled whistleblower to groups-for-hire who are ready and willing to hack email servers, or public domain accounts in the search of damaging information. Hackers can also attack websites and social media accounts to fake news, or even create fake sites which are mirrored on the real thing.

We’re going to have to become more aware of these threats, and develop mitigation strategies, including better security (at the very least, please use two-factor authentication as much as you can and don’t use the same password for every single account), and also educate executives on the need to communicate differently. What you write can be leaked; are you willing to see that email on the front page of a newspaper, or a website?

The Rise of Values-Based Communication

Consumers aren’t just interested in what brands make and sell. They want to know what we stand for. This public interest has partly been driven by the political climate in the US and Western Europe and by the behavior of millennials and their increasing skepticism of established institutions. For brands, value-based communications is a key point of differentiation, particularly for industries which have been impacted by technology-driven commoditization. Think of Paul Unilever’s Polman and his passionate belief in sustainability.

Conversely, executive behavior which is looked down upon by the public can have serious business implications. Whilst the official reasons for Uber being stripped of its London license were due to questions around passenger safety and drivers’ rights, the behavior and words of former CEO Travis Kalanick haven’t done Uber any good. The apology proffered by the new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, seems to have gone a long way to defusing some of the tension between Uber and Transport for London which oversees the company’s license to operate.

Data and Online Regulation

We’ve been living in the internet age for over two decades now, and business has benefited from a relative lack of legislation and regulation about what can and can’t be done online, particularly with data. That has slowly changed as governments have sought to understand how the internet has changed our lives. Upcoming legislation in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is going to change how corporations monitor and store data (it’s been covered in some detail by Rachel Miller for the CIPR). There’s no doubt in my mind that the online and social media networks will also have to deal with more governmental oversight. There’s been a string of scandals around issues such as extremist content on YouTube,  Facebook and the Trump election, and Twitter’s lack of action on far-right hate speech.

Whilst I’m certain that more regulation is coming, and soon, it’s far too early to say how this will change how we as communicators operate online. There will be more data-related crises, either due to how data is collected and used, or due to an inability to adhere to these new rules.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts. What issues do we need to better understand when it comes to modern-day crises? Please do share with me your thoughts.

Social Media trends for 2015 – Instagram hacking

We’re only a few days into 2015 and yet we’ve already seen one trend that is likely to become a major issue in the Middle East. Over the past two weeks a number of Instagram accounts of celebrities and well-known figures have been hacked. The first to be targeted, at the end of 2014, was the Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

Nancy Ajram’s account was hacked at the end of December

Ajram was only the first of a spate of hackings. Only this week the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s Instagram account was broken into by a hacker called @MRJL6H, who posted a number of images with text which can be translated as ‘we do not claim to be intelligent, but seek to destroy those who themselves claim to be intelligent.

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed's instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohamed’s instagram account was hacked for only a short period but the hacker posted a number of images

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan's Instagram account

The hacker @MRJL6H posted several images highlighting his/her views on Sheikh Hamdan’s Instagram account

Yesterday, a Bahrain-based actress and model Shaila Sabt was hacked in a similar manner to that above by @2h2, using presumably the same techniques used to hack into Sheikh Hamdan’s and Nancy Ajram’s accounts.

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan's account

Bahrain-based actress Shaila Sabt had her Instagram account hacked by @2h2 in what seems to be a copycat of the hack on Sheikh Hamdan’s account

There seems to be no reason to attack these Instagram celebrities, besides from the number of their followers. However, the compromising of these accounts is a reminder to everyone online to be aware of their security and initiate two step authentication where possible. If you’d like to know more about two step authentication read Google’s advice here.

My own feeling is that this trend will only grow during 2015. We’ve been fortunate to avoid hacking incidents, despite the popularity of social media in the Gulf. That may change over the coming 12 months, and we may see many more social media celebrities being hacked, either for fun or to spread a particular political or social message.