Online risks worry CEOs, says poll

By Miguel R. Camus, Business Mirror

Posted at Feb 17 2009 02:48 AM | Updated as of Feb 17 2009 10:50 AM

The Internet has certainly changed the way businesses grow and, ironically—as top managers are quickly finding out—has likewise changed the way these same businesses can crash and burn.

In a survey conducted by public relations firm Weber Shandwick along with the Economist Intelligence Unit, it was discovered that more than seven out of 10 Asian executives fear for their companies’ reputations online.

The survey titled “Risky Business: Reputations Online” discovered that 74 percent of top Asian managers considered employee sabotage and misdirected e-mails as threats to their businesses’ reputations.

“Risks that did not exist a decade ago are now on full display,” said Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at Weber Shandwick. “Internal e-mails going astray, negative online campaigns by dissatisfied customers, and online grumblings from disenchanted employees, bloggers and anyone else who has an opinion or voice.”

Local victim: GMA 7

Even the Philippines is not exempt from instances where the Internet is used to defraud another’s
reputation.

Recently, a web site screenshot masquerading as a GMANews.TV news item circulated the web carrying the title: “Karate Kid Fast Food with AIDS,” which detailed a story of a 14-year-old boy who contracted the deadly autoimmune disease after eating in the Japanese chain.

“The screen shot of the bogus web site carrying the Karate Kid story has been circulating in Internet forums apparently to discredit GMANews.TV and the restaurant,” according to a statement by the media agency released on Friday.

“Legitimate web sites can easily be faked through digital photo-editing software applications. This Web site does not belong to GMANews.TV or any of its affiliates,” the company added.

Rogue employees beneath radar

In terms of employee sabotage, the Weber Shandwick report, meanwhile, noted that many leaders are out of touch with rogue employees online. It discovered that 66 percent of global executives are either unaware or do not want to admit that employees are badmouthing their companies online.

Citing Asian managers in particular, it said over half of them consider employee criticism as a clear risk to reputation—12 points over the global average.

Despite this, only a third of Asian executives know or admit to knowing of an employee badmouthing the company online.

Also, the report noted the large discrepancy between global CEOs (21 percent) versus nonworking CEOs (43 percent) on their concern with employees’ discussions in chat, social-networking sites and employee grievance sites.

Another big concern are cases of erroneously sent e-mails which, the study found, occurred frequently. Citing a separate survey, it said of the 60 billion e-mails being sent daily, 67 percent were sent while people were in bed, 50 percent while driving, 39 percent in a bar or club and 38 percent during business meetings.

As a result, the survey revealed that an “extraordinary” 87 percent of global executives admit to having mistakenly sent or received at least one electronic message.

Among these executives, 63 percent have sent an e-mail or Twitter message to the wrong person. Meanwhile, 27 percent have intentionally forwarded a confidential e-mail, text or Twitter to a recipient not meant to see the message.

Relatedly, 64 percent of executives admitted to receiving an e-mail, text or Twitter message not intended for them to see.

CEOs too are not exempt: 80 percent of them have also admitted to sending or receiving erroneous electronic messages.

“Leaders’ short-sightedness about employees going online to complain about their bosses, discuss salaries and leak confidential information highlights one of the most dangerous threats to corporate and professional reputations now and in the years ahead,” said Gaines Ross.

Still a useful tool

Still, despite the real risks involved with online reputation damage, executives admit that the Internet can also be a tool to help build their reputations while keeping tabs on the competition as well.

At least 64 percent of global and Asian executives noted that the best uses of the Internet are for investigating rivals, while 60 percent use the information highway to research partners like suppliers among
others.

Meanwhile, 60 percent agreed that the Internet was useful in capturing customer feedback. Also, 60 percent of executives said they used the internet to find new job opportunities.

A smaller number use the Internet to investigate charitable organizations, activist groups or NGOs (nongovernment organizations) and even job candidates.

“The Internet has now turned many executives into online reputation sleuths,” said Gaines-Ross, who concluded: “Our in-depth research shows how leaders recognize the internet’s wealth of opportunities but also see its fair share of risks.”