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Cybercrime: The ultimate brand killer

Although it's best to disclose that your business was a victim of cybercrime, poor communication with clients and vendors can destroy trust in your brand.

Credit: Darwin Laganzon from Pixabay

Given all the headlines about big corporations falling prey to cybercriminals, you might think they’re the only victims. That misconception could ruin your business

In his monthly column for BCBusiness, branding expert Ben Baker shares his insights into how to communicate value effectively, so people want to listen and engage. In the end, it’s about creating influence through trust.

As someone who focuses on the brands and brand reputations of my clients, I’m not surprised that so many people who fall victim to cybercrime pay the ransom and quietly try to recover from it. I should also point out that I’m not a cybercrime expert or a lawyer, and I must begin by stressing that it’s in your best interest to consult both on dealing with any breach from a data or legal point of view.

Let’s not kid ourselves: cybercrime, whether it’s extortion or a malicious attack, is a brand problem.

Not only is the reputation of the attacked company at stake, but there’s added potential harm if it affects vendors and clients.

Once disclosed, cybercrime can lead to huge trust issues for the attacked brand, which might be perceived as incompetent and accused of mishandling sensitive data. Also, when most hacked companies do disclose, their method of communication is poor. Because they probably aren’t used to communicating in a crisis, they could make a bad situation worse.

The gut reactions by vendors or clients affected are probably not “How horrible it is that you were attacked” but rather “How could you as a brand be so careless with my information?”

People are fearful.

Feeling violated, they realize that those they have trusted with sensitive information may not have been worthy of that trust, which causes anger. The biggest problem is that people don’t know what will happen next. How will this breach affect them or their business? Does giving the hacked company their information open them up to further attack?

You may be thinking: why divulge that the breach occurred?

Depending on where you live, you may have a legal obligation to inform anyone who has been affected by your breach. Again, please check with counsel. Ignoring that obligation may seem the lesser of two evils. However, there’s always a good chance that someone will find out, and as President Nixon learned, the perceived cover-up is always worse than the crime.

So how do you protect your brand reputation in a cybercrime crisis? Communication is the key.

Take ownership! Tell everyone affected what caused the breach, what’s being done to fix it and how you’re going to make sure that breaches don’t occur again. Letting people know what has happened, that you’re sorry, that you have inconvenienced them and challenged their level of trust is always the best course of action from a communications standpoint. 

Remember, it’s your systems, your data and your processes that led to a hole the cybercriminals were able to breach, so take ownership! However, it’s also important to realize and communicate that you’re the victim as well. Most people understand that no system is perfect or fail-safe, and if you can explain what happened and the extent of the issue, they’ll be more apt to work with you to fix things. 

The more you can admit what went wrong, apologize and demonstrate your willingness to make things better, the sooner you can start to regain trust in your brand. 

It isn’t perfectly on point, but this case study of how Maple Leaf Foods handled its listeriosis crisis in 2008 is a textbook example of how a company weathered a crisis by communicating frequently and accurately.

Open and honest communication will enable you to protect your brand.

Cybercrime will continue to happen. It’s up to each business, its employees and those they engage with to do what’s possible to mitigate the risks. The more companies can communicate challenges and teach staff how to spot holes in the system and work together to get them fixed promptly, the better odds we all have of not being victims.

Your brand and your reputation depend on your success at building trust and doing what it takes to regain lost trust.

Here are some resources that can help you:

Ben Baker wants to help you retain and grow your most valuable asset…your employees. He provides workshops and consulting to enable staff to understand, codify and communicate their value effectively internally and externally and Lead at Any LevelThe author of Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and host of the IHEART Radio syndicated show, he writes extensively on brand and communication strategy.