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Survey: In-House Can't Handle a Social Media Crisis

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on November 20, 2015 2:59 PM

Some sobering yet expected data came out of global communications research and consulting firm Weber Shandwick. According to the data, lawyers in both the U.K. and the U.S. agreed that firm reputation was a company's most valuable asset with a 91 percent agreement; and that social media greatly increased the chances of an all out-crisis (85 percent increase).

And yet, for some reason, the very same pool of lawyers seem to think that the purported social media crises they all seem to agree is a problem is not their problem, but someone else's. This illusory superiority example goes to show that even lawyers aren't immune to self-delusion.

The Social media Crisis Report

KRC Research and Weber Shandwick worked together to gather and analyze data for a report which laid out the responses of 100 senior and mid-level lawyers who work as in-house counsel for Fortune Global 1000 -- in a word, BigLaw. The KRC and Weber also worked with 50 attorneys on each side of the pond who personally advised their companies on risk, brand evaluation and protection.

The News Looks Grim

Of those surveyed, about a fifth reported that their own company experienced a social media crisis during their tenure. Fallout usually resulted in layoffs and a hit to morale.

In-house counsel was particularly inept at social media crisis planning with only about half having devoted even minimal time at all to social media training and preparation.

What this basically means is that while BigLaw firms are increasingly at risk for cybersecurity attacks and social media blowups, only about half of in-house counsel devoted any time to handling an all-out attack on their company's reputation. About half of the attorneys surveyed said that their company devoted zero time to the issue of social media crisis preparation.

False Sense of Security

Inexplicably, the same group of lawyers (9 out of 10) said that it was not likely that their company would experience a social media crisis that would cause a legal risk in the next year.

Thus, the grand majority of attorneys agree that reputation is the most important company asset and that social media reputation attacks are an increasing problem. Simultaneously, they have virtually no training in social media crisis management and have no intention of changing their plans because they all think that they will never be faced with an online reputation problem. That sort of thing only happens to other companies, you see.

The problem with that logic is that one of the remaining 100 will almost definitely be thinking the exact same thing. It almost makes us wonder why there was so much panic in the air at last month's ACC meeting on cybersecurity. Surely a social media snafu would be a mere trifle? Illusory superiority is good for ego, but it's not a good business practice.

As BigLaw in-house lawyers spend time convincing themselves that their reputations are iron-clad, some disgruntled client could be writing the viral piece that could tarnish a company's reputation. It's high time that in-house lawyers get with the program, take online reputation management seriously, and look into creating a game plan to put into action if some unfortunate tweet about the company hit them all in the face with a reality check. Your first step, however, shouldn't be to hire some fly-by-night "reputation management" dude.

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