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With the prevalence of social media, Issues Management takes precedence

By the TCL Staff



In this start of the third decade of the 21st Century, social media and the digital transformation have revolutionized society in ways that we could only fathom in science fiction books and movies.  Especially social media has overblown what Canadian thinker Marshal McLuhan predicted in that mass media and communications technology would make the world increasingly interconnected, transforming it into a "global village". 


Although he predicted greater global connectedness, he did not anticipate that it would also facilitate fragmentation into isolated groups with different subjective realities. The overload of contradictory information, deepfakes, visual manipulations, bots, trolls and disinformation makes it difficult to distinguish the false from the true, misleading the opinion of the "village".

 

Within that “global village” constituents, stakeholders, stakeseekers and diverse publics are exposed primarily through social media and the internet to questionable information and sources which become virilized within minutes or hours.  Therefore, organizations that wish to sustain their reputation and relationships, must prioritize its capacity to manage issues.

 

Issues management is defined as the proactive process of identifying, analyzing, and responding to policy issues that could impact an organization.  The goal of issues management is to proactively shape the policy environment versus reacting defensively. It enables organizations to mitigate risks and drive preferred outcomes on important issues. And no entity is more impacted for the need to manage impending issues than public entities.  

 

According to Dougall (2008) “issues management demands research expertise (data gathering, analysis and interpretation), mindfulness, a rich and current understanding of the socio-political environment of the organization, the industry and perhaps most importantly, the ability to advocate with senior management and across organizational boundaries.”

Many organizations neglect systematic issues management because they mistakenly believe crises are extraordinarily rare "Black Swan" events. They operate with the mindset of "it won't happen to us" and fail to proactively identify and mitigate simmering problems. This crisis myopia stems from overconfidence, lack of preparation experience, and the press of short-term priorities. Issues that could portend a future corporate crisis get deprioritized and overlooked amid the whirlwind of daily operations.


Additionally, some organizations avoid dedicated issues management because they see it as overly pessimistic or resource-intensive. They don't recognize that small issues fester when unaddressed and can precipitate business disasterswith wide-ranging impacts. Establishing an issues management process with monitoring, risk assessment, and communications protocols gets dismissed as excessive until a crisis erupts. Rather than steadily resolving potential risks, the organization is caught flat-footed and forced to employ extensive crisis management tactics reactively. Neglecting issues management provides a mistaken sense of security until the penultimate game of "crisis whack-a-mole."

Therefore, proactive issues management requires effort and time.  Here is what to do:

 

·      Monitoring the external environment to detect emerging issues early before they become threats. This involves scanning the political, economic, social, and technological landscape.

 

·      Evaluating identified issues to determine their relevance, severity, and potential effect on the organization if left unaddressed. This involves research and risk analysis.

 

·      Prioritizing issues by assessing urgency, available resources, and alignment with organizational goals. This determines where to focus action.

 

·      Developing action plans to address priority issues by outlining measurable objectives, tactics, resources, timeframes, and responsible parties. Strategies may involve lobbying, advocacy campaigns, policy proposals, etc.

 

·      Implementing action plans through engagement with stakeholders like policymakers, regulators, community leaders, coalition partners, and the media. Tactics are deployed to shape outcomes.

 

·      Tracking results and progress continuously via metrics like media coverage, public polling, policymaker sentiment, legislative monitoring, etc. Plans may need adjustment.

 

·      Reporting regularly on the status of issues initiatives throughout the organization to sustain engagement.

 

·      Building organizational issue management capabilities over time through protocols, training, and evaluation.


Determining the value of adequate issues management starts by understanding the potential costs of mishandled issues escalating into crises. Organizations should conduct risk modeling analyses to quantify potential financial impacts across different crisis scenarios - lawsuits, regulatory fines, operational disruptions, reputational damage, incident response costs, and more. Even a single workforce safety incident, data breach, or social media backlash can prove enormously expensive in terms of litigation, recovery expenses, lost productivity and revenue opportunities.


With potential crisis costs estimated, organizations can then weigh that against the required investments for an effective issues management program. This includes personnel to monitor issues and assess risks, technologies for issues tracking and analytics, crisis preparedness activities like planning and training, and potentially an issues management consultancy. While not eliminating crises entirely, the right issues management capabilities minimize the likelihood of escalations and reduce recovery timeframes and costs. For most companies, the value of avoiding even one significant crisis likely justifies an issues management program.


With the proliferation of deepfakes, misinformation, disinformation, and fake news makes issue management even more crucial for decision-makers to prioritize. Here's why:

 

·      Identify manipulation - Systematic issue monitoring helps detect false narratives, misleading frames, and inauthentic grassroots campaigns engineered by adversaries. This protects against manipulation.

 

·      Shape counternarratives - Getting ahead of fake content with proactive issue management enables decision-makers to develop and spread alternative narratives.

 

·      Rapid response readiness - Monitoring puts issues teams on alert to move quickly against viral fake content with fact-checks and counter-messaging.

 

·      Verify information - Vetting information through rigorous issue tracking helps overcome disinformation from tainted sources and highlight truthful perspectives.

 

·      Guide policymaking - A focus on substantial issues versus manufactured controversies prevents distraction and guides policy in the public's true interests.

 

·      Build resilience - Public awareness and media literacy on ongoing issues makes them less vulnerable to sudden disinformation campaigns.

 

·      Strengthen institutions - Issues management helps leaders uphold norms, processes, and expertise to withstand turbulent informational environments.

 

·      Maintain trust - Countering falsehoods through proactive issue engagement preserves decision-maker credibility, reputations, and public trust.

 

Ultimately, by dedicating appropriate resources to systematically monitoring, analyzing, and responding to potential issues in real-time, organizational decision-makers can stay ahead of disinformation storms that often inflame crises. With keen situational awareness from an effective issues management program, leaders can separate fact from fiction and react quickly with truthful, ethical messaging and actions. Rather than being derailed by viral falsehoods, they demonstrate principled leadership grounded in realities.


Crises will still emerge, but companies that invest in issues management better maintain their reputations, stakeholder trust, and ability to steer a principled course through rough waters. In our age of social media firestorms, this capability is invaluable for upholding an organization's values and integrity on the global stage.


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