Icon Agency’s new Director of Reputation, Mark Forbes, unpacks the 7 reasons why reputational risk is at an all-time high.

Our world is witnessing a convergence of communications and technology, an explosion of digital tools, platforms and networks popularising the production and distribution of content.

News cycles are accelerating, activism heightened, regulatory and community scrutiny intensified.

The spotlight is bright and always on. What once may have been minor is magnified – an off the cuff tweet from a manager can provoke a viral online torrent of criticism within hours.

Companies with more than 5,000 employees have averaged a crisis a year for the past five years, according to a global survey of 2,000 senior global executives by PWC. Nearly seven in 10 business leaders have experienced at least one corporate crisis in the past five years, with three the average. And this survey defined crisis as a major disruption to multiple functions of the enterprise – with the potential to significantly harm reputation.

A global survey by Deloitte of more than 500 crisis management executives found 8 out of 10 organisations have mobilised their crisis management teams at least once in the past two years, with cyber and safety incidents the most common causes.

For individuals and organisations reputational risk is at an all-time high, it’s not a question of if crisis will come, but when. Crisis is the new normal.

Here are our 7 Key Learnings about crisis in the modern communications age – and why you should care.

#1 Crises can come from anywhere. Issues are increasingly complex and harder to contain. Intense scrutiny may uncover additional problems, complicating organisational response and placing more pressure on embattled leaders.

#2 Everyone is a publisher. Anyone with a phone can produce and publish, worldwide, 24/7. Stories spread across platforms; activists pile in and critics gain traction, feeding the social media beast.

#3 Digital platforms have transformed the media cycle. Social networks and a plethora of digital platforms have turned a linear, 24-hour media cycle into a conflagration of intertwined, accelerated loops, feeding and perpetuating controversy by the minute.

#4 Fake news is a thing. Trust in our key institutions is eroding, we are seeing organised malicious attacks on organisation’s reputation and a lack of quality control across social media, which can be exploited by fake news proponents.

#5 Stakeholder expectations are higher. Customers are willing to boycott a company they believe is unethical, governments are more willing to seek redress and shareholder activism is on the rise. Increasingly external stakeholders will demand transparency and swift reactions, and will punish ineffective responses.

#6 Crisis response can be more critical than the initial incident. How an organisation responds, and communicates its response, to crisis will often have more reputational impact than the trigger – just look at Dreamworld and AMP, or ask any of the major banks.

#7 Crisis, prepare for it. Understanding your risks and determining your response to crisis must be a key priority of every business. You need a crisis plan.