Digital Coalition: An insurance policy for corporate reputation (part one)

In the digital age, you need more than one guardian of reputation.

As organisations increasingly take to social media to protect and enhance their reputation and stakeholder relationships in real-time, a trend is emerging that might initially surprise you — brands can’t form relationships and trust the way people can.

Our research shows that communities want to hear from the people leading change, not only the institution they work for.

Cue leaders. And please note the importance of that final ‘s’.

When leaders show up online, humanity emerges, good leadership is amplified and reputation is nurtured. But ‘leaders’ is plural, not just the CEO — organisations that rely on one person to direct their digital narrative miss a wonderful opportunity and, inadvertently, increase their risk exposure.

The buck can’t stop with one ‘digital hero’.

Key person risk is something boards often grapple with as they work to ensure the organisation outlasts the leader. There’s two clear scenarios they should be considering:

  1. In good times, what happens when your star digital leader leaves as part of a natural transition process? How effective will their successor be as they scramble to establish themselves as a credible leader and fill the digital void?
  2. And when times are tough, what happens when your sole digital figure comes under intense public, political or media scrutiny? One voice in the face of the digital masses is easily drowned out, leaving precious brand equity at the mercy of those outside the organisation.

Either way, you can’t avoid the risk alone. But you can start now to build an alliance of empowered and purposeful digital leaders: a digital coalition.

A ‘digital coalition’ is a group of leaders working together as individuals online to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. This may be a leadership team using LinkedIn to engage diverse stakeholder groups to achieve strategic diversity and inclusion targets, but it can also be leaders from different organisations combining their voices on key social issues.

It’s an insurance policy for corporate reputation. It harnesses the unique stories and assets each individual possesses in a considered, coordinated fashion to achieve outcomes no one person possibly could on their own. When done well, a digital coalition not only mitigates risk but exponentially amplifies performance.

It also makes sense. After all, it’s social media.

A digital coalition elevates ‘we’ over ‘me’ leadership. It’s not about the ‘lead singer’. Yes, they have a key role to play, but as does every other band member to ensure all elements — the different voices, values, experiences, cultural backgrounds and passions — work together to make a diverse and powerful sound.

A digital coalition: What does this look like?

A wonderful and enduring digital coalition example is the work of Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government Victor Dominello MP and his departmental leadership team.

His Service NSW and NSW Department of Customer Service colleagues consistently rally together online to listen and respond to real-time stakeholder feedback. Here’s just one example of how their online interactions demonstrate genuine care and commitment, and bolster reputation.

In the corporate sector — and beyond organisational boundaries — look at how NAB CEO Ross McEwan and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce cohesively used their leadership voices to amplify the importance of reaching COVID vaccination targets.

So, where to start?

This article shows you what’s possible, why a digital coalition reduces risk and drives performance, and what your key stakeholders stand to gain when you get things right. Use it to spark the conversation internally and gauge leaders’ and reputation owners’ attitudes towards a coalition strategy.

We’ll follow up in the coming week or two with more practical steps on what you can do to harness the power of your own digital coalition — watch this space.

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