Social risk is the next frontier of crisis

The Next Frontier of Crisis Readiness

September 24, 2020

What we’ve observed during the season of COVID is that major corporations are getting the basic blocking and tackling of traditional crisis communications right. What businesses are struggling with social risk – issues that affect specific communities at a personal and collective level.

Think about the Black Lives Matter movement and issues of systemic racism and social injustice. The LGBTQ+ community faces its own set of historical societal challenges. Issues around climate change expose divisions and differences across ethnic, social, and economic communities. We’re seeing that corporations are struggling to respond to this social risk.

Last week, I spoke about purpose. For some time now, there have been conversations about corporations’ purpose – where they fit within a societal set of expectations and challenges. COVID and other events this summer brought a crystal clear focus to his conversation. 

Expectations for Taking a Stand

“In this era, approaches to corporate citizenship can no longer be palliative,” wrote Tembo Group’s Jen Butte-Dahl and Denielle Sachs in a recent Fortune commentary. “They must be integral to a company’s purpose for it to survive. The companies that succeed will be those that balance the need to look both inward and toward the horizon, and act with the empathy, courage, and vision this moment demands.”

Up until now, most businesses and organizations’ reputations have not been judged by how they respond to social issues. Most have been able to in essence stay in their lanes, commenting only on business issues or risks directly impacting their customers or employees. Now we’re seeing, especially among the younger generations, a desire for the brands they choose to take stands that align with their views on these issues. That’s one very common manifestation of social risk.

We have a client that has never in its history been called upon to weigh in on any issue outside of its immediate industry and the specific services it offers, until this summer. Pressure began to build, particularly among its younger ranks, to come out in support of Black Lives Matter. After much heartfelt discussion, the organization’s leadership expressed its support. Importantly, it didn’t stop with just a strong statement and a hashtag. It has taken, and continues to take, positive steps toward increasing opportunities for people of color within its sphere of influence. As a result, it has opened up new lines of communication to reach its broader community. Their journey is just beginning. 

Reputations can be severely tarnished if social risk is not addressed. 

The first step is understanding your purpose, how you translate your core values into the role you want to play in the broader community. Where your heart and mind are, what you truly believe, and what are you willing to do about it, over the long haul, is critically important to managing your social risk.

We’ve got a lot more that we’re going to talk about in the context of social risk. We’ve been doing some research, trying to understand the challenges, the issues, and the expectations around social risk. These insights will guide us in making some recommendations that companies should be thinking about as they look beyond their employees and customers.

Social risk is the next frontier of crisis readiness. There is no turning back. 

Bill will be providing more critical, in-depth insights on October 15th during the People Processes Digital Summit. We would love to see you there. You can register for free here!


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.