One third CCOs unprepared to deal with social media threats: Survey

New Delhi: Corporate and brand reputations face greater risk from online threats today. According to The Rising CCO III, an annual survey conducted by global executive search firm Spencer Stuart and global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, 34 percent of global chief corporate communications officers (CCOs) report that their companies experienced a social-media based reputation threat during the past 12 months. Yet, just as many — 33 percent — say they are not prepared for managing these types of online reputational threats.

Social media threats are top of mind for CCOs of the world’s largest companies this year. They forecast that the most critical challenge as well as the greatest opportunity in the year ahead is social or online media, with 54 percent citing new/social media experience among the most important qualifications for tomorrow’s communicators. CCOs worldwide are ramping up to meet the challenge: Social media/blogging is expected to be the fastest-growing function in communications departments in the next 12 months, having risen dramatically from 28 percent (2008) to 41 percent (2010) in two years.

“Online threats to corporate reputation are escalating the social media imperative when it comes to the new skill sets and experiences required of today’s CCOs,” said George Jamison, who leads Spencer Stuart’s Corporate Communications Officer Practice. “Credible experience in this area has shifted from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ for the most desirable corporate leadership roles.”

As social media challenges rise in importance among communications executives, so too has general crisis preparedness and response planning. In fact, crisis/issue management has soared during the past three years of the survey as a critical skill set for tomorrow’s successful CCO. It is considered nearly twice as important in 2010 (61 percent) as it was in 2007 (33 percent).

“It is no surprise that both social media threats and crisis preparedness have risen simultaneously in importance on CCO agendas,” said Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross. “The general public and other stakeholders are much more sensitive to corporate wrongdoing today and expect companies and CEOs to respond immediately, to communicate transparently and to listen carefully to their complaints and recommendations online. The reputation stakes online today are higher than ever before.”

The survey also revealed that some essential communications and reputation-building tools may be in danger of being overlooked as a result of the changing business climate and budgetary restraints. According to the study, competitive intelligence/risk assessment has fallen in priority in communication departments for the next 12 months. In 2008, this function was the second most important communications resource planned for 2009, reported by 22 percent of CCOs. In the 2010 survey, it fell to sixth place, with only nine percent of respondents expecting it to be the area that will increase. Similarly, environmental responsibility has declined as a critical developmental area despite its value in building and protecting reputations – it fell from a low 11 percent in 2008 to four percent in 2010 planning.

CCOs increasingly report that employee engagement metrics are among the top effectiveness yardsticks by which they are judged, growing by 33% from 2007 to 2010. This emphasis on internal communications is not surprising given increased attention paid to how employers are facing challenges to retain their best talent as the economy recovers.

The Rising CCO, now in its third year, examined the roles, responsibilities and opinions of CCOs in the world’s largest companies. The 127 survey participants came from companies based in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. Seventy-eight percent of respondents work in global Fortune 500 companies. The survey was conducted online throughout May and June 2010.

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