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Tools of the Trade

Apps and software have re-defined the way political parties target their messages.

Mastering social media has become critical for politicians and aspiring politicians: powerful tools like Facebook and Twitter provide new ways to directly reach, understand and motivate voters, while enhancing traditional means of contact.
The same tools and tactics have revolutionized the way campaign-style communications strategies can be executed by organizations seeking to engage stakeholders and win their support.
One of the most powerful of these new tools is NationBuilder.
Used by the Obama 2012 campaign and Idle No More organizers, it manages campaign websites, merging and tracking individuals across multiple platforms. It allows for contact and communication via text message, email and other social media. A matching capability also connects with an individual’s public data, including photographs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Access to such detailed information allows campaign managers to filter and target voters as never before. For example, NationBuilder can filter and email those who have signed a petition on a particular date, live in a particular area or taken political action. Not only that, it does so using language that is already familiar for having been used in previous communications. Such specific targeting allows campaigns to continually refine their audience, language and tactics for optimum results as well as cost efficiency.
From that point, user contact can be made with customized social media posts, petitions, surveys, donation requests or direct emails. The 2014 American Congressional mid-term campaigns had particular success in leveraging this insight for candidate door-knocking. Even before the resident opened the door, the person standing on their porch had the most resonant messages in hand.
In political or corporate campaigns, these technological tools give campaigns enhanced power to gather relevant data, build popular support, muster financial resources and incite action. It also eliminates the ‘middleman,’ side-stepping mainstream media and directly influencing opinion and results.
When community-organizing tools like NationBuilder are combined with the insight gathered from the analytics available through Google, Facebook, Twitter and social media listening software, all campaigns can communicate more intelligently, measure performance, cultivate desired action and build awareness.

In political or corporate campaigns, these technological tools give campaigns enhanced power to gather relevant data, build popular support, muster financial resources and incite action.

Sleepless in the C-Suite

What keeps Canada’s CEOs up at night? Concern about data breaches and consumers’ intolerance for the consequences of cyberattacks

When CEOs around the world concede that cyber threats and data security are the key issues that keep them up at night, all businesses and organizations that hold data about clients and customers should take notice.
To better understand consumers’ perspectives on security and privacy of personal information, Navigator undertook the first in-depth opinion survey in Canada on the public’s awareness and assessments of data compromises, losses and breaches. The research study explored Canadians’ expectations about how the personal data they have entrusted to retailers, financial institutions, government agencies and technology providers is protected.
The findings reveal that Canadians have little tolerance for security measures that don’t thwart cyberattacks and they have only limited sympathy for organizations that have fallen victim to cybercriminals. Canadians want much stricter laws and regulations to protect consumers.
In a typically Canadian way, respondents balanced their tough assessments with a willingness to assume some personal responsibility for safeguarding their own information and cyber trail. Further, they were prepared to extend at least some latitude to organizations that are hacked, recognizing that in a world of rapidly evolving technologies and increasing online services and capabilities, it may be impossible to fully protect against sophisticated, die-hard cybercriminals.
But, none of these concessions fully mitigate a willingness to lay blame for data breaches squarely with the organizations that are hacked.
The survey found that 70% of Canadians were familiar with data breaches and could easily and accurately identify specific North American retailers and Canadian government agencies that have been subject to cyberattacks. Seventy-nine per cent said they were concerned about data breaches involving personal information, and 38% said they were ‘very concerned.’ The findings also reveal that the level of anxiety about data breaches is growing, with 74% of respondents reporting that they were more worried about potential breaches today, even as they become more familiar with cyberattacks.
Canadian consumers firmly rejected the notion that hacking is the ‘new normal.’ When probed specifically about cyberattacks at retail organizations, 69% believed that large chains were failing to do enough to prevent data breaches. Consumers strongly suspected that companies had been lax in adopting appropriate security measures (87% agreed) or had been unwilling to pay the maintenance and upgrading costs (79% agreed) for systems that effectively protect transaction data and information. They demanded rigorous efforts to improve the security of payment and online systems.
Survey participants were clear about whom they held responsible for retail security breaches: after conceding that the criminal hackers were mostly to blame, 65% of those surveyed pointed to the retailers themselves as being responsible for the breach. Relatively few survey respondents held banks, the payment system or credit card issuers as responsible for attacks that compromised the transaction process or resulted in criminals gaining access to personal credit or debit card information.
As concerned as the public is about retail security breaches, survey respondents were even more worried about the security provided by organizations that hold more detailed and sensitive personal information about citizens. They were most concerned about cyberattacks against such entities as the Canada Revenue Agency, Canadian banks and credit unions, credit card issuers and debit service providers. At the same time, survey respondents registered notable confidence in the ability of both banks (85%) and the government (73%) to protect the confidentiality and security of the data they hold, including during online transactions.
These large organizations can take comfort in knowing that the public has expressed such confidence, but at the same time that confidence would likely take a dramatic hit should a breach occur.
The high level of public anxiety about security, confidentiality and privacy of personal information combined with the pervasive concern about cyberattacks and data breaches demands a regulatory or legislative response.

The high level of public anxiety about security, confidentially and privacy of personal information combined with the pervasive concern about cyberattacks and data breaches demands a regulatory or legislative response.

Three quarters of survey respondents agreed that much tougher laws and regulations are required to better protect consumers. Almost two-thirds (64%) said that data breaches would not be effectively dealt with until government and regulators imposed much stricter rules around the security of personal and customer information that companies and organizations hold.
Clearly, Canadians expect that issues around data security and privacy of information will receive government attention. Given the strength of opinion and concern, the findings suggest that Canadians view issues of security as a priority.
In a federal election year, it will be interesting to see if cyber security receives the attention of the federal political parties and emerges as a key component of their policy platforms.
The survey also reveals that Canadians want organizations that experience data breaches to immediately come clean about the security threat and the potential implications for the privacy of personal information. This stems from having witnessed less than forthcoming responses from some organizations in recent years. Consumers are demanding immediate disclosure, they expect to be contacted quickly about potential compromises of their personal information, and they want the incident to be reported right away to the appropriate government regulator. Our findings indicate Canadians are likely in synch with the U.S. government’s push for legislation that would require that any breach that involves citizens’ information be revealed publicly.
The findings of Navigator’s research study reveal that CEOs at businesses and organizations that hold sensitive information have good reason for sleeping poorly; the public has an extremely limited tolerance for breaches of personal information or breaches that could affect personal transactions and finances. CEOs can add that to their list of cyber worries that includes the security of their systems, the implications of data compromises and the consequences of serious potential reputation damage or liability.
At a time when IT commentators foresee a breach of the ‘cloud’ as inevitable, and as consumers are increasingly worried about the security of their transactions and information, action from government, business and consumers is clearly — and urgently — required.

Political Traction: The Evolution of an Issue

Looking back at Political Traction and the crises that rocked Ottawa and captured Canadians’ attention.

Crises are by their very nature unpredictable. They are unanticipated events.
This is the fundamental challenge of crisis communications: you must make decisions with an incomplete data set. You will never know everything. Waiting in the hopes of knowing everything is not an option.

What can you do? You can plan.

Being prepared for all eventualities is the hallmark of effective crisis communications planning. Every crisis has its distinctive characteristics, but laying out a range of possibilities and appropriate responses preserves crucial decision-making capacity and bandwidth during challenging times.

What do we know about how stakeholders and the general public will react to a crisis? How does the issue evolve? Well, that depends on one’s perspective.

In the corridors of power, broadcasting headquarters and newsrooms across Canada, politicians and journalists coalesce around what they judge to be the nation’s priorities. Sitting around kitchen tables and queuing up at Tim Hortons, Canadians have their own take. Our country’s political and media elite and the average Canadian are two very different creatures.

Canadians approach issues in a manifestly different way than the political and media elite in Ottawa. Canadians are taxpayers. They’re consumers and law-abiding citizens. They’re fair and reasonable people, but there are lines they don’t like crossed.

Ottawa elites are power brokers. They’re pundits and prognosticators of the Canadian experience. Or so they like to think.

Canadians don’t always agree with Ottawa’s elites. While Ottawa may zig, Canadians often zag. We don’t need to look far for proof. The aftermath of the September 2012 XL Foods E. coli outbreak and the seemingly endless series of crises emanating from Canada’s Senate show that Ottawa’s priorities aren’t always aligned with what matters most to Canadians..

 
XL FOODS
Canadians expect safe food. When the quality and safety of food is questioned, Canadians expect action, and they expect it quickly.
When news broke that XL Foods’ beef had been found to be contaminated with E. coli, Canadians’ reaction was swift and clear: fix this now. Canadians responded to the crisis as consumers first; they were demanding the highest quality product.

Week after week, as the recall continued, Canadians weren’t satisfied that sufficient action to correct unsafe processing procedures had been taken. They were not willing to grant XL Foods the social licence to restart operations.

Throughout the crisis, the NDP and Liberals misunderstood Canadians’ priorities. During Question Period in the House of Commons, rather than stand up as champions for the Canadian consumer, the opposition parties pointed fingers at a history of deregulation. Opposition parties missed the mark: Canadians weren’t interested in past action, but rather present inaction.

Canadians looked south of the border and saw the U.S. Department of Agriculture take swift action to protect American consumers. Looking at Canadian regulators, the public questioned the vacuum of leadership at home.

With both the opposition and government having missed the target, XL Foods had an opportunity to step forward as a defender of Canadian consumers. Company officials could have admitted their mistakes, promised swift action and delivered quick results. Instead, they were silent. XL Foods did nothing to quell fears or demonstrate course correction. The company’s silence spoke volumes.

In the end, Canadians got their action: XL Foods was purchased by JBS USA and was under new management. Canadians could finally be satisfied that someone had fallen on the blade; XL Foods had been made to pay for risking the safety of Canadian consumers. A social licence to reopen and operate the plant was granted.

 
TRACKING THE SENATE-PMO SPENDING SCANDAL
At the height of interest, a snapshot of the intensity with which Ottawa and Canada responded to Senate scandal. Week after week, the government failed to provide a sufficient explanation as to why its senators were misspending Canadian taxpayers’ dollars. Absent that explanation, Ottawa pundits and Canadians continued to tune in.

 

 
SENATE SPENDING
Canadians usually forgive and forget one-off issues. But when they see a pattern, it’s harder for them to turn a blind eye. Week after week, Canadians have moved from one Senate issue to the next, each building on the reputational damage of the previous.
The issue shot onto the Traction radar when Canadians learned of a $90,000 cheque written to cover Mike Duffy’s ineligible expense claims. Absent a complete data set, the government was unable to cauterize the crisis on day one through full disclosure. Within a week, the Senate-PMO scandal was responsible for 36 percent of the Canadian conversation and 40 percent of Ottawa’s.

Week after week, Traction continued to grow as Canadians grappled with additional complexity. Moving into June 2013, Canadian Traction grew to a high point of 46 percent. As details continued to leak, the issue had tremendous staying power with Canadians.

More than ever, Canadians are demanding accountability and transparency. What began as a focus on a few personalities has evolved into a broader critique of Canada’s Senate and its members. The conversation has focused on poor attendance records, questionable travel expenses and housing allowances, and a secret cheque.

Canadians won’t begin to move on until they’re told a story that they understand. That story has to include concrete steps to improve accountability.

Here opposition parties have out manoeuvred the government.

The NDP is uniquely positioned to champion reform: with no senators sitting as part of their caucus, the party can cut straight through the noise and advocate abolition of the upper chamber. Their position is simple and clear. Canadians have responded positively.

The Liberals have committed to posting all of their MPs’ and senators’ expenses online. Again, simple and clear. Canadians have responded positively.

The government must act. It must offer clear and concrete action to make Canada’s Red Chamber more accountable. Anything less will leave a pattern uncorrected and Canadians unsatisfied.

Absent clarity, the government runs too high a risk of heading into the winter with Canadians distracted from its core messages about economic development and job creation.

Social Media And The Boardroom

The last 10 years have seen extraordinary evolutions in the responsibilities boards of directors must assume. From Sarbanes-Oxley to Dodd-Frank, directors have been subjected to new liabilities and new mandates for elevated levels of transparency and accountability. But during that time, another development has had perhaps an even greater impact on directors’ day-to-day duties than any strictures from Washington, D.C. It’s the social media revolution–and no public company, large or small, has eluded its impact.

Social media are no longer novel stakeholder and consumer outreach tools; they are the new normal in the modern business operations environment. The brand-building opportunities they present are nearly limitless. The risks they introduce are just as expansive. They affect everything from reputations to value propositions. And to many corporate leaders, they remain somewhat of a mystery.

Social networks are the venues where purchasing decisions are increasingly made, investment opportunities are increasingly weighed, and corporate adversaries — such as social activists and the plaintiffs’ bar — increasingly gain public support for their agendas. But despite that fact, the latest data indicate a significant divide between director engagement on social media issues and social media’s impact on their companies.

Last month, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance released the results of a survey that examined how 180 top CEOs, senior executives, and corporate directors approach the opportunities and risks associated with social media’s meteoric rise. The findings are startling: Ninety percent of respondents report a basic understanding that what is said on social media can have a major impact on their organization; but only 32 percent of their companies monitor social media to identify risks and only 14 percent utilize social media sentiment to measure corporate performance.

Only 24 percent of senior managers and 8 percent of directors request regular reports on the company’s social media engagement efforts and stakeholders’ social media sentiment. About half of the respondents do not collect this information at all.

Even here in 2012, only 59 percent of companies surveyed use social media to interact with customers. Only 49 percent use them to advertise. Only 35 percent use them for customer research purposes. And only 30 percent use social media to research competitors, new products and services, or communicate with employees and other stakeholders.

At the same time, 65 percent of respondents use social media for personal purposes and 63 percent utilize them for business purposes. Of that forward-thinking group, 80 percent maintain a LinkedIn account and 68 percent are active on Facebook. At first glance, these numbers may seem encouraging; but, in reality, they make the above cited statistics all the more alarming because familiarity with social media has not translated into C-Suite or boardroom action. The good news is that there are a number of questions directors can begin asking today that will immediately help them, and their organizations, get up to speed. To formulate a list of the 10 most critical, I enlisted the assistance of three thought leaders who understand the crossroads of corporate directorship and social media as well as any in the business world today. Catherine Bromilow, a partner in PwC’s Center for Board Governance in the United States; Chris Wood, a Senior Manager in PwC Canada’s Audit Committee Connect; and Neil Manji, a partner and leader in PwC Canada’s Audit Committee Connect, shared insights and experiences that illuminate the opportunities and risks inherent in social media engagement and provide the foundation by which directors can start asking the questions that set a strong strategic course.

 


 

1. How do we use social media to engage with customers, open new markets & recruit the top talent?

‘Social media engagement has evolved to the point it is absolutely essential in today’s marketplace,’ says Bromilow. ‘A few years ago, social media was something companies engaged in to provide themselves a competitive advantage. Now, it’s something that they have to do to keep from falling behind. Whether you’re looking to promote products, recruit talent, or introduce yourself to a new market, your audience is on social media – so your company needs to be as well.’

 

2. How are our competitors utilizing social media to achieve the goals outlined above? What can we learn from their efforts?

Wood argues that competitors’ social media activity provides a great deal of insight into what works and what doesn’t with respect to diverse industries that have varying audiences and different outreach goals. ‘It’s always smart to look at what others in your market are doing to leverage social media. With the analytical tools available today, companies can access a wealth of information about the tactics their audiences respond to, what drives them to take desired actions, and the strategies that establish the strongest connections both online and off. At the end of the day, both you and your competitors are attempting to reach the same people.

From that perspective, your competitors are providing you added insight with every Facebook post they publish, every tweet they transmit, and every piece of video they upload to YouTube or another video platform. Unfortunately, data from the PwC 2012 Annual Corporate Directors Survey show that this point is lost on a number of board members – 77 percent of respondents answered ‘not at all,’ ‘not sufficiently,’ or ‘don’t know’ when asked how their companies monitor competitors’ social media activity.’

 

3. How are our executives utilizing social media? Who are they communicating with? What are we allowing them to say?

‘Executives that engage with customers, employees, investors, and other stakeholders via social media provide themselves an air of accessibility that simply doesn’t come across with other, one-way forms of communication,’ says Manji. ‘Social media are conversational venues that empower the audience because it really feels it is being listened to. Some topics may be off-limits, and executives need to know where the boundaries of acceptable commentary may lie; but the risks are so far outweighed by the opportunities that most boards are well-advised to encourage senior leadership to build consumer and employee loyalty via social media outreach.’

 

4. What are our policies on employee use of social media? Are we appropriately training employees about this critical brand protection and promotion area? How often do we update the policies to ensure they are keeping up with technology?

Bromilow places a great deal of emphasis on the importance of a carefully crafted social media use policy. ‘A number of directors I’ve spoken to are concerned about employee social media use. There are productivity concerns, to be sure, but it goes even further than that. accidental leaks of confidential information? How can it prevent employees from sending inadvertent signals by ‘liking’ a certain article or ‘re-tweeting’ controversial commentary? With the advent of location-based social media platforms, how can a company ensure that potentially damaging conclusions aren’t drawn simply because an executive is in a certain city? ‘As important as this point is, the PwC 2012 Annual Corporate Directors Survey again shows that most board members are not fully engaged on the issue–69 percent of respondents answered ‘not at all,’ ‘not sufficiently,’ or ‘don’t know’ when asked how their companies employ social media use training and policies.’

 

5. Does our social media outreach comply with existing and potential regulations? What are the implications in terms of Regulation Fair Disclosure?

‘We haven’t seen much yet from regulators such as the SEC, FTC, or FDA in terms of concrete guidance as to what is constitutes appropriate social media usage in the investor relations realm or in industries where marketing and communications are tightly controlled, such as pharmaceuticals,’ says Bromilow. ‘With so many concerns related to Regulation FD and other questions of compliance, boards need to be reassured that 1) company social media engagement comports with all existing regulations, and 2) that they know how to respond should an external connection such as a Facebook fan or Twitter follower post commentary that could be
problematic.’

 

6. Are we actively monitoring popular social media platforms for negative publicity about the company?

‘It used to be that companies really only had to worry about a damaging headline in the daily paper or a negative report on the nightly news,’ says Wood. ‘Now, they have to be on the lookout for individual stakeholders who may comment about a negative experience on social media platforms, because the inter-connected nature of social networking means that the story could go ‘viral’ before the company even knows it’s out there.’ Bromilow adds that social media monitoring isn’t just about reputational risk management, but brand building as well. ‘When a consumer does put something out there that could be damaging to the brand, companies need to remember that it is only the start of a conversation. If they respond quickly and act fast to resolve the problem, they often win points for their care and attention to the matter–and they do so in a public venue where others can see just how seriously they take customer service.

Even with all the ways that social media can make or break corporate reputations, the PwC 2012 Annual Corporate Directors Survey once again shows a disconnect on the issue, with 69 percent of board members answering ‘not at all,’ ‘not sufficiently,’ or ‘don’t know’ when asked how their companies monitor social media for adverse publicity.’

 

7. Are we actively monitoring plaintiffs’, activists’, and regulators’ social media activity for clues as to where our next crisis might arise?

Manji sees social media monitoring not just as a tool that allows for rapid response should reputational problems arise, but as an early warning system that can alert the company to problematic issues before they evolve into something worse. ‘You’ve got activists using social media to build groundswells of support around issues of corporate social responsibility. That activity represents actionable intelligence that companies can use to nip potential problems in the bud before any of these adversarial parties can leverage them to damage the company in the courtroom, the Court of Public Opinion, or in terms of customer loyalty.’

It’s important to note as well that the plaintiffs’ bar and even regulators engage in the same type activity–and provide the level of insight into their plans. When plaintiffs’ attorneys write blog posts that help them lay the groundwork for their next class action or regulators take to social media to discuss enforcement agendas, those companies that are listening understand–and can plan for–what’s coming next.

 

8. What are we doing to build a burgeoning community of support in the social media space— one that is large enough to enable direct stakeholder communications that can circumvent the traditional media filter?

To Wood, amassing multitudes of Facebook fans, Twitter followers, or YouTube subscribers is about more than a mere demonstration of brand strength. ‘When a company draws stakeholders to its key social media properties, what it is really doing is creating a conduit by which the company can directly communicate with its customers, shareholders, employees, and others. In this context, social media are avenues that enable companies to bypass the traditional media filter and transmit messages precisely as they are intended. That’s an asset that is particularly valuable in crisis or in situations where misinformation is permeating the marketplace; but it is also one that can’t be put into action unless the company has used peacetime to build its audience.’

 

9. What is our strategy for reaching out to the most influential social media voices covering our industry? Are we treating them with the same respect we would show 60 Minutes or the New York Times?

‘Just like in the traditional media, social media are venues where some voices matter more than others,’ says Manji. ‘That means companies need to know who controls perceptions related to their industries and do what is necessary to build productive working relationships with those influential voices. It might be a blogger with 10,000 daily readers. It might be a pundit with 20,000 Twitter followers. But no matter the person or the venues he or she might populate, it is incumbent on companies to understand that the most powerful commentators on social media have the same reach, and speak with the same authority, as most traditional media outlets today.’

 

10. How are we integrating social media strategy with our Search Optimization (SEO) and Marketing (SEM) efforts? Are we taking steps to ensure that these critical initiatives support each other on an ongoing basis?

media engagement is now a key element in the online ‘race to be found.’ With so much clutter online, today’s companies are constantly looking for ways to ensure that their online properties rank high on the most popular search engines. As Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others evolve their algorithms to include social media content to greater and greater extents, the value of smart social media strategy rises exponentially–as it not only strengths corporate reputations, but increases the chances that those enhanced brands will be noticed amid a constant and highly competitive contest for online attention. As the latest data indicate, there are still a number of directors that are concerned about the risks associated with social media engagement today. In some cases, that’s a prudent perspective. But as Wood reminds us, ‘The greatest risk of all is failing to capitalize on all of the brand-building opportunities that social media present. These online venues are where consumers, investors, regulators, and the full gamut of corporate stakeholders make decisions. To be absent from the conversations that impact your industry is a hazard simply too dangerous to invite.’

Crisis Timeline

Are there more communications crises now than there were 30 years ago? It would appear so, or, at the very least, social media has enabled messages to disseminate more quickly than ever before. Rather than relying on journalists to tell the story, we have Twitter, which can get any piece of information out into the world instantaneously. The old system, when stories were carefully vetted and curated, is much less of a reality these days. Journalists, citizen journalists, employees, and customers alike, have a similar level of access to the digital world. All it takes is a mobile device with Wi-Fi and you can reach the world.


Navigator has compiled a number of memorable crises from the past, from product recalls to hoaxes perpetrated on companies. Has social media helped accelerate modern crises or even instigated them? Or, perhaps it’s our access and exposure to information about these crises that has increased, rather than the number or frequency. You be the judge.