Reputations & Data Privacy…Prepare To Protect It

(I am lucky enough to be working with Sandra Hughes and Nick Vehr on a series of presentations in the area of data privacy. This is the third in a series of three articles about: “Risk. Repercussions. Reputations. Data Security & Privacy for Today’s Business Enterprise.” This article is presented by Nick Vehr, President of Vehr Communications, which specializes in issues management and crisis communications.)

When it comes to data privacy, the risks have never been greater and legal repercussions never more severe. Effectively managing and protecting your brand’s reputation has never been more important. Reputation matters, whatever business you’re in. It’s the foundation of your relationships with employees, vendors, suppliers, investors and more. It is linked to your company’s valuation and cash flow. Just ask Target. Remember their data breach last Fall? But, did you know that their market valuation dropped from about $42 billion (before news of the breach) to about $37 billion this month. Ouch! You probably didn’t know this either: when it comes to data breaches, midsized businesses are the ideal target for cyber-sleuths. Think car dealers, restaurant chains and marketing firms … any business that collects personally identifiable data (DOB, SSN, credit card #s, driver license #s, addresses, etc.). So, what’s a midsized business that collects customer data to do? Prepare. Most experts will tell you that it’s not whether a data breach happens, but when. When it does happen, here are seven steps to protect your hard-earned reputation: Move quickly: Nature abhors a vacuum. If you don’t communicate someone else will and, chances are, it won’t be in your best interest. Activate your crisis communications plan (assuming you have one). Be transparent and truthful: You can handle the truth, really, you can. Share what you know and what you don’t. Put yourself in their shoes and empathize with sincerity. Social media puts a premium on truth so don’t nudge, fudge or lie. You’ll just get caught. Open multiple channels with audiences that matter: Open two-way communications channels with internal and external audiences. Let everyone know you’re working the problem. Clarify and agree on what’s to be said; understand what’s being heard. Be flexible and responsive: Be available and on-call. News cycles today are 24/7/365 … there’s no break because all news is broken on social media. Over-communicate and be consistent: Say what you think, at the time, is appropriate and responsible and, then, say it again. Assess, measure and prepare to do better the next time: Assess media coverage for tone, story approaches and online comments. Monitor social media. Use what you learn to inform and improve your next communication. “Close” the crisis, if you can: Inform the audiences that matter of the causes and fixes to the problem from a perspective that matters to them. Reputations matter. Value them. Protect them. Have a system in place to protect the data you collect. And, remember, also have a plan in place for when your data is breached.

(“Risk. Repercussions. Reputations. Data Security & Privacy for Today’s Business Enterprise,” presented by Sandra HughesJack Greiner and Nick Vehr, can be presented to your industry or trade association. Please contact either person to find out how.)