In this high-profile reputation crisis involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica I pose a reflection: Is it possible for a multinational organization to be apolitical? This is one of the main ethical challenges of any multinational, but that is even more important when a company is not simply involved in the business of selling products and services, such as gasoline, shoes or perfumes. In the case of Facebook, which self-defined it ambitiously as a company that wants to ‘make the world more open and connected’, it is clear that it is quite complicated. The mission of the company enters in the collision route with the right to privacy and the power of those who use our data in advertising via Facebook as a weapon of influence.
In this sense, the #DeleteFacebook initiative, although it will seldom affect the company, is an interesting indicator of a possible change of social mood in relation to the nice blue company. That’s because the initiative expresses a rejection and the growing awareness that social networks, and in particular Facebook as its main actor, is not as innocent as their smiley faces or thumbs up icons. Or the posts of dogs and cats.
In this crisis of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica what we see clearly is the questioning of the ethics of a company by the way in which:
- Manages the data it has gotten from people: the myth of transparency
- Understands the private realm as something commercially profitable: the «monetization of our online footprint»
- Ultimately, manages stakeholders’ trust
It is an extremely complex case with implications for any company that moves in the digital economy. Such companies need some parameters about how to make their strategic decisions when these three aspects face their businesses. In the next three posts I will try to address these points. To be continued…
Online reputation is a topic that I have studied since 2008 when Barack Obama became the first US “social media president”. Since then, I have worked to understand how the Internet could be used to create a reputation based on the online footprint organisations and people leave on the Internet.
In 2013, I presented at the Université Toulouse 1 Capitole (France) a scientific article in co-authorship with Dr. José Piñuel Raigada, my thesis supervisor and professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The symposium was called E-réputation et traces numériques: Dimensions instrumental et Enjeux de Société. My article addressed an increasingly relevant aspect of social pressure in organisations, which is online activism. After many years since those pioneering times, I see that the construction of the reputation mediated by digital technology is a fact, despite the initial skepticism of some more orthodox authors. Possibly they lacked the necessary models and background to understand what is, in short, a different world with different rules. Fortunately, I have made the transition from offline to online since 1997 with the beginning of the commercial Internet.
The fact is that today is unthinkable a minimally sophisticated company operating without making use of the central elements of online reputation management. In my opinion these are, in basic terms: a monitoring system, a strategic plan to develop the presence and interactions in the digital ecosystem (website, social networks, apps, etc.), and the key plans of a tactical program to create and sustain online reputation. These plans are: a viral marketing plan, an online PR plan, the optimised presence in search engines via SEO or SEM, the online customer experience and, finally, risk and crisis management plans in place to handle empowered stakeholders, such as online activists.
The importance of traditional media in the construction of the reputation continues to exist, but, as we could see in the recent scandal of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the territory of the construction (or destruction) of the reputation of individuals or companies is getting more and more online. Trust is increasingly more digital and less analog.