It is the great dream of meteorologists and gamblers to be able to predict the future. Business leaders are likely a close third behind them. If history has taught us anything, however, it is that the world—and, by extension, business—is unpredictable. The old maxim tells us to expect the unexpected, and yet we often still manage to be caught off guard.
New tools that harness the power of data analytics, coupled with good old-fashioned human experience, are allowing us to get a clearer picture about what lies ahead in terms of reputational risks. Algorithms can crunch numbers and can see patterns that allow us to glimpse into the future with at least an informed sense of potential. There has been much discussion in the last several years around “predicative analytics” in public relations and its ability to better plan effective marketing campaigns. This new frontier of data crunching also contains vast potential to help companies identify and evaluate risks to their reputations.
Almost every day, there are news reports about a company and its controversial marketing campaign, new product, or business decision, etc. Twitter goes into hysterics criticizing the company, commentators on cable news and influencers on social media decry the tone-deafness of the brand and attack its character. In these situations, it’s easy to ask, “Why didn’t they see that coming?”
While it’s true that many of these moments could have easily been identified and prevented, it’s not always so simple. Most companies lack the processes or perspective to anticipate which issues or comments are more likely to go viral than others, or which will have a higher escalation velocity. To do so, it must ask tough questions of itself. Where are the company’s blind spots to potential situations that could cause serious problems? Who holds a grudge against the company and why? In Beltway parlance, is it prepared for not only the known-knowns and known-unknowns, but also the unknown-unknowns?
In today’s complicated, hyper-connect world, companies are beset with expectations and always surrounded by a minefield of reputational hazards. For every misstep that lands them in trending topics, there are a hundred situations or social media comments that appear and then vanish, washed away in the wake of the next news cycle, short consumer attention span, or content in the channel that takes its place. By analyzing the tone, volume and velocity of similar conversations, and examining the audience characteristics and reach of commenters, we have a better idea about which is which.
Of course, companies have always tried to weigh their short and long-term business risks, whether they be operations challenges, potential disruptions or ongoing political or policy issues that impact them. Increasingly, smart companies are also constantly monitoring potential reputational risks and planning strategies accordingly. These considerations pertain not only to communications planning, but as brand reputation becomes an increasingly valuable asset, such thinking drives business decisions as well.
To help companies use these news tools and synthesize the findings in a way that is easy to consume, Ketchum has developed an approach that maps key risks based on their current threat and the potential threat as predicted by the firm’s experts and its data analysis. This “Heat Index” uses cutting-edge analytics methods to paint a picture of what a company needs to be worried about so it can better prepare for the anticipated response.
Of course, analytics cannot determine when a factory will suffer an explosion, or a leader will say something offensive, but it can provide insights into how and where people are likely to react when those things happen – positively or negatively. We can anticipate how people will react to an edgy marketing campaign, or about which political issues people will become most agitated. The hope is that with new predicative analytics and knowledge from those with experience, no one will ever ask a company why they didn’t see that coming.