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Economic news – Embassy 64

Should envoys be more anti-social?

Business executives and diplomats who are negligent with their digital presence or ‘over-share’ on social media can compromise their reputation and leave their organisations vulnerable to a crippling cyber attack, online reputation management experts warned a gathering of economic attachés of the AERL.

Dave King of Digitalis Reputation told diplomats that online content was now the primary tool for research into an individual or company – by investors, the media, prospective clients – and that negative content could damage the reputation of a brand or a country and even knock value off the share prices of a company.

It was critical, therefore, for high-profile individuals, companies and government organisations to give themselves a regular “online healthcheck” to monitor the publicly available information about them.

Although there is vast amounts of content on the internet, technology is available that can sift and monitor how social media content is shared, said King. A decision should then be made as to what to do to mitigate any negative content by promoting positive content to offset it.

“People say Google is unfair, that it’s judge and jury, but it is possible to take some control of the content,” said King, whose company has developed technology that can give clients a degree of control over their online presence.

However, he did warn that it is an inevitable feature of human nature that salacious “colourful” stories move up the ranks of Google faster because they attract more attention.

The growth of social media has also dramatically increased the risk of a cyber attack as sensitive data is inadvertently shared and can be pieced together by hacktivists to mount an attack, said Charlie Bain, who is an expert on human cyber vulnerability.

“You can spend millions on the best technical defences but if you ignore what your staff or family members are putting online, then you are losing the cyber battle,” said Bain.

The most damaging cyber attacks on corporations, such as Sony and TalkTalk, started as social engineering where hackers identified via social media a vulnerability with an employee, then used sophisticated ‘phishing’ to trick them into giving them access to  the system.

“If you have social media, use it safely and securely and upgrade your privacy settings to the maximum,” said Bain.

If you are a high-profile individual or you do a sensitive job, Digitalis recommends diplomats consider being a little more anti-social.

Other non-economic factors likely to influence voting intentions included EU culture and values, ease of travel in Europe and the impact of an exit on the UK’s peace and security.

Importantly, the survey revealed that a third of respondents felt they had inadequate understanding of the issues and the workings of the EU to make an informed decision.

“From all sides of the spectrum our members felt the information they were getting from media and government was not neutral and that they are looking to us to provide sensible and factual information,” said Caro.

During the discussion, economic attachés proposed that further research would be helpful, specifically into the nature of small businesses’ “second or third degree links with the EU” or Europe’s “integrated supply chains” so they had a better understanding of the real impact of an exit on their businesses.

Attachés added that small firms may want “more transparency” on the reform package being negotiated. In the survey, more than a third of those seeking to stay in the EU wanted more powers transferred back to the UK, while a quarter of respondents said they would want the UK relationship with the EU to stay the same.

Having clear, unbiased information on the UK Government’s “exit strategy” may have an important impact on voting intentions, AERL members suggested.

Of those firms in favour of leaving the EU, 42.7% wanted the UK to strengthen its trade relations with the rest of the world, while 29% said the UK should strike trade deals with the EU and individual EU countries and 22% wanted the UK to remain part of the EEA.

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Dave King (left) and Charlie Bain of Digitalis with AERL Chairman Nicholas Niggli
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