Prism was revealed yesterday as a program created by the National Security Agency whereby they requested user’s data from companies including Verizon Wireless in a phone surveillance program and Apple, Google, Facebook and others in an internet surveillance program which collected data from online providers including e-mail, photos, videos, log-ins, file transfers and stored data. These programs have been deemed by the government as legal and vital to the security of the United States in a post-9/11 world and one in which social media is increasingly being used as a tool of communication for terrorists.
However legal these programs may be, there is still a breach of trust and the feeling of an invasion of one’s civil liberties when we hear that our data has been accessed. What effect however intentional or subconscious in the consumer’s mind, will these brands that complied with Prism incur remains to be seen; how each one handles the news and their response can have a huge effect on consumer trust and their relationship with that brand, either positive or negative.
Clearly this debacle has many implications, especially as Verizon Wireless (VZW) isn’t likely to be the only Telco involved. The facts strike at the very core of increasing concern among Americans that our privacy is open territory for the Government, one that President Obama promised to operate as the most transparent administration, but what is the impact on these major brands?
To minimize the damage CMOs need to be in the driving seat of crisis as they’re more in tune with consumers; they are using social-media tools to interact with them, and they can harness those tools along with marketing in a time of crisis, maintaining their most loyal consumers as brand ambassadors. If a company handles a crisis well, reinserting strong values of trust and a can-do culture, they will likely recover their reputation. To do so CMOs like VZWs CMO, Tami Erwin, need to marshal a crisis team with a response plan to lead the charge of a company that’s likely in shock, initiate decentralized decision-making across the business (and store management) and create a multi-platform response strategy that aims to hold the ‘fears’ of customers at this sensitive time.
To plan a response program there are key factors CMOs need to include in the preparation to avert leadership struggles and the in-ability of managers to advise staff:
· Identify audiences (including unions, work councils, etc.)
· Develop key messages internal and external
· Integrate communication terms
· Plan a multi-channel communications strategy (with a priority online and in-store)
· Devise a timetable of actions
· Create activities, materials and online response
· Agree responsibilities of team
· Establish an approvals process
· Structure information sharing (those you Report, Advise, Communicate or Inform)
· Hire external consultants – who, why and what
· Build immediate communication branding
· Launch a contact program between management
· Coordinate reporting news internally and externally
· Provide a process for feedback
The order for this massive sweeping data collection might be legal and could be the most widespread surveillance order ever given, but it’s the breach of transparency that is most stressing for Americans. Of course the Obama administration will be dragged though the coals on this, but the impact trauma on VZW (and Verizon because of its name association) could be substantial and erode reputation. Then there’s the reputation of Apple, Google and Facebook that’s also on the block. How much of a hit do they take and how will they ease the public if they’re not to blame? What will be the damage if other Telco businesses are involved; some of these brands are amongst the biggest brands in the world? How Verizon Wireless responds will decide whether the Telco category wins or loses in the court of public opinion.
One thing is for sure this surveillance approach is unlikely to change in the war against terror. The scandal is also a matter of international importance and clearly it will have repercussions for even Vodafone who own 49% of Verizon Wireless. At the end of the day even though we may end up losing more faith in our Telco provider I guarantee customers will still be using their phones, Facebook, Google and Apple products as normal, but what are they searching and talking about?