Trends, Predictions and Dot Connecting


Being well informed and able to anticipate issues and incidents are two vital skills for any budding Reputation Manager. So is the ability to see linkages between seemingly unrelated incidents and issues.

This process I call dot connecting. It has its origins in systems thinking.

Since December 2016 I have received countless of emails with consultant and expert predictions and trends analysis. Here is my analysis of the “common threads”. Hopefully I have connected some dots for you.

Lack of Trust

Lack of Trust will increase. In a world where fewer and fewer organisations and individuals, TRUST politicians, corporations and the processes that create our lives, some companies and individuals will realize that they have to act responsible and become model corporate examples.

The divided landscape in SA and the US clearly illustrates the need for stakeholder identification, earlier engagement and more robust trust building.

Other studies show that cconsumers listed trust and good service as the biggest factor influencing the reputation of companies. The rise of social media has also helped to amplify customers’ feedback, giving rise to a new kind of public accountability. Think VW and medicine such as the Ancel Keys revelations.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer has revealed that the South African population’s trust in its government, media and business, is in steady decline. The barometer, which measures peoples’ trust in four institutions – government, media, business and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) – has revealed that above-average levels of fear about corruption, immigration and the erosion of social values are having an impact on the way South Africans perceive their country.

Ways and means to build and restore trust in organisations will become a top priority.

Attempts to Improve Trust will escalate

Attempts to engender trust through corporate social investment, transparent reporting and stakeholder engagement will increase. Unfortunately this will be of little help unless there is change in listening practices and concrete actions. In the South African context lack of listening is epitomised by contant burning of tires by communities, changes in political management at municipal levels and heightened security practices at Parliament level.

In many industries stakeholders will take management teams to task and these companies will face an uphill battle to respond timeously to stakeholder demands, activist actions and public opinion. Some companies will realise that they need to go beyond the obvious and demonstrate real commitment to sustainable transformation, especially in the Southern African context. In general, companies will need to heighten their stakeholder communication and engagement practices.

The Rise of 3rd Party Social Auditing

The demands for social and environmental audits of corporate reports, codes and practices will increase and stakeholders will no longer be happy with just being told. They will want proof  and will demand independent auditing (Example – annual ISO audits) and verification of responsible citizen behaviour, accountability, transparency, governance and reputation building practices.

Companies will need to work closer with stakeholder experts and auditors. Studies like The Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, measures public opinion of the US most recognizable companies and respondents are asked to rate companies based on six components: emotional appeal, products and services, vision and leadership, workplace environment, social responsibility, and financial performance. These areas reveals the companies with the best (and worst) reputations.

In the South African environment there are a number of organisations providing research services in this important fact finding exercise.

Crises will Increase due to Heightened Scrutiny

More and more companies will incur crises simply because their risk, stakeholder and auditing departments are not doing a proper job to uncover both tangible and intangible risks.

As it stands, the fallout from the Gupta state capture issue is still reverberating. How come the misuse of “power” and “influence” was only detected so late? Who is next in South Africa? Whose job responsibility is it anyway to guage thought leadership, and the undue influence of power? Surely the In-house Stakeholder Relations experts should have reported on this?

Media outlets will report new allegations about improper behaviour by CEO’s and CEO’s will be even more scrutinized than in the past. Some of this reporting may be fake news. CEO’s will realize that their decision-making approaches and ethical behaviour need re-evaluation, and that stakeholder reactions and expectations will have to be taken into account. The use of strategic communication interventions and platforms using the CEO will become vital.

Crisis Communication Preplanning will become more important

Crisis Communication Preplanning will become more important. Budgeting for enhanced security will become an ongoing additional cost moving forward and needs to be taken seriously as anyone who doesn’t believe that events that took place in Paris and other European locales couldn’t take place in other countries is sadly mistaken. Already the SA Government has intercepted suspicious individuals with terrorist ties at our borders.

The increased security may cause delays in events for instance and communication with customers will be necessary to educate them to be vigilant and understand threats without scaring them. Not everyone will automatically understand your messaging and constant reeasearch on the efefctivesness of security communication will be necessary.Untitled attachment 00034

The poor handling of the Ford Kuga recall illustrates the need for more time to be spent by management teams on brainstorming and preplanning for crises. Thought processes, actions and protocols should be examined and tested BEFORE events happen. BUT, what about restoration of trust and reputation AFTER a crisis?

What happens after a recall or crisis? How does the business recover? How does a company manage the impact on its employees, its customers, and its reputation? The truth is, after the event, the work – the hard work – really begins. Designing an approach that focuses on the impact of an event and subsequent of trust is quite different and requires a different approach than designing a plan that focuses on the initial occurrence of the event. Both processes are different and will deserves much thought.

Cybersecurity risk will increase

Cybersecurity risk is a growing concern, Crisis practitioners will need to prepare for potential data breaches and other cyber-threats and the reputation risk it may bring. An article “Businesses Fear Brand Damage More Than Security Breaches – Organizations struggling with risk management are more concerned about brand damage than cyberattacks, a new Ponemon study shows. Can you afford to ignore cyber security? An article in the Financial Director asks.

The Velocity of Social Media will continue

The velocity with which information flows will continue to catch executives by surprise. Deloitte reports in an article “Explore 10 trends shaping the future of risk” – Analysis: Reputation risks accelerate and amplify” that in today’s hyper-connected world dominated by mobile devices, social media, and evolving expectations from society, information can spread like wildfire. This convergence of mobile and social media is intensifying the impact of reputation risks for organizations and is driving them to fundamentally rethink their approaches to risk management and proactively address these accelerated, amplified risks.

Already the IoT (Internet of Things) predictions are heating up. In an article by HP  Futurists Explain Why Technology Will ‘Disappear’ in 2030 there is a quote that illustrates the increased use of big data in our lives- “Humans aren’t the best at understanding or mitigating risks.”

The Rise of Fake News

A recent study by Dr. Jonathan Albright of Elon University, show that there is significant concern about the destruction of reputations through fake news sources. Add in the recent explosion of online rating websites and the need for public relations professionals to actively work to protect brands is even more apparent. There is little doubt this phenomenon will continue to be a growing challenge. It cannot be solved with one-click algorithms from “IT firms” who send out generic responses to complaints. Rather, this new reality requires thoughtful consideration from communications professionals.

Your organisation will have to reevaluate its website and ways in which it shares information, to ensure that you are a trusted news source. Read this article “5 Key PR Trends to Watch in 2017” for additional thoughts on this.

No company will be immune from its Industry’s reputation

That’s why Stakeholder engagement and collaboration is key even between competitors. Industries have their own reputations and an industry can certainly affect a specific company’s reputation, either positively or negatively. The BP Gulf of Mexico was an oil industry disaster not just a BP disaster. However, while industry reputation is a factor, a company’s reputation can still be traced to its practices. Companies with terrible reputations are hated in large part for behaviors many consider reprehensible. Whether its gross environmental violations, perceived corruption, or consistently abysmal customer service, these companies have earned their poor reputations. However companies can transcend their industry’s reputation by positioning themselves differently and paying attention to those things abhorred by stakeholders. What is a common driver is that of quality customer service. Direct contact with a company plays a far bigger and direct impact role than the media yet most companies still favor the PR/Media Relations approach.