If you are looking to improve your brand’s reputation in 2020, you might be focused on emerging branding trends. That’s all well and good, but you might be overlooking one of the most important and basic elements of branding: trust. How much your customers trust your brand has a direct impact on how likely they are to buy from you, whether they click your links, and whether they recommend you to friends.
Building this trust is a slow, sometimes painful process, and not least because it’s very possible to instantly lose it via a hack or breach. Consumers today are increasingly conscious about how much data is collected on them. They will quickly and permanently reject your brand if they get an inkling you have exposed their personal information to hackers and thieves.
In this article, we’ll look at the intimate relationship between cybersecurity and brand reputation, take a look at some emerging threats, and then offer preventative tips on how to stop hackers from damaging your brand reputation.
Your organization is likely to be smaller than Equifax (a major breach we’ll discuss in more detail later), of course. But that doesn’t mean that the consequences of a hack – and the subsequent loss of reputation – will be any easier for you to bear. In fact, and as CenturyLink points out in their 2018 Threat Report, smaller companies may be sunk by hacks that their larger peers are able to absorb the cost of.
Unfortunately, the same report (and plenty of others) have found that the scale of this problem is only getting worse. Even before the recent pandemic, cyber researcher Cybersecurity Ventures estimated the world’s annual cost of cybercrime to be $6 trillion.
With Covid forcing more employees to work from home, expect these risks to continue to rise. There has been a dramatic increase in the level of cybercrime in 2020 already, partially due to the fact that employee home networks are generally easier to hack than corporate IT systems. While public awareness and use of basic security software in the form of smarter firewalls and low-cost VPNs has improved, it hasn’t been enough to offset the truly sobering number of cyberattacks flying around the internet at any given time. Chances are, sooner or later, without proper prevention, one is going to get you.
But how exactly does this affect your brand?
Hacks and Your Reputation
If you are coming to this subject for the first time, it might not be obvious that hacking and brand reputation are that closely related. After all, every company gets hacked eventually, right? Don’t customers just regard this as the cost of doing business in 2020?
Well, yes and no. Brands can theoretically protect their reputation (and perhaps even improve it) after falling victim to a hack, and we’ll come to how to do that shortly. However, recent history is full of companies who, through carelessness or incompetence, lost a great deal of customer trust during this kind of incident.
The canonical example of this is Equifax. The credit monitoring firm was hacked back in September 2017, and a few weeks later admitted that this hack had exposed the personal details of more than 140 million customers. As details emerged about this breach – and specifically the fact it could have been prevented by basic cybersecurity tools – Equifax’s reputation took a hammering.
For instance, the company’s Buzz Score, an indication of how negative or positive people feel about a brand, fell 33 points in the first 10 days after the hack was publicized, at the time a record-breaking loss of confidence. This loss of face, coupled with more imminent costs, led to the company losing four billion dollars in stock market value within a week. Costs directly associated with the breach totaled an additional $439 million by the end of 2017.
Enough, though, about the risks. What can you do to protect your reputation from hackers?
Well, you won’t be surprised to hear that, when it comes to hacking, prevention is better than cure. By taking some basic steps to ensure the security and integrity of your data, you can dramatically reduce your exposure to cybercrime, and the reputational damage that stems from it.
Here’s a quick rundown:
- First and foremost, secure the data you hold. There are essentially four ways data can be stored, and all can be made secure by taking precautions. In other words, cloud storage is not necessarily more secure than your own hard drive – just make sure that both are encrypted and protected.
- Strong passwords. Believe it or not, the leading cause of hacks in 2020 was (still) people using short, predictable passwords. Make sure yours are long enough and use a variety of different types of characters.
- You should also ensure that you share your cybersecurity knowledge – no matter how basic – with your less techy colleagues. Information training of this type can go a long way to harden your organization against cyberattacks.
- Lastly, and if we can learn anything from the Equifax breach we’ve mentioned above, it’s this – don’t store payment data you don’t need. Ensure that you are only collecting the data you need to offer customers a killer service, and delete the rest. Hackers can’t steal what you don’t have, after all.
- Using Antivirus – Malware and viruses are one of the most common security issues every user experiences. Keeping track of whether you have one on your machine or whether your machine is performing well is a job in itself. Installing and using antivirus protection for Mac and PC is a necessary step to protect your device from potential hacker attacks.
All this said it’s true that no company is hack-proof. Even with the best cybersecurity in the world, there are at least even odds you will become a victim one day. When it comes to protecting your reputation, the first few days after a hack are critical. Be prepared!
First, you should work with local law enforcement to identify (if possible) the source of the hack and to assess the scale of damage. This allows you, in consultation with experts, to lock down your systems against further intrusion.
This first step, sometimes called forensics, is important but don’t wait too long before publicly admitting that you’ve been hacked. This goes against every instinct to keep it quiet and suppressed in order to prevent brand damage but, in reality, being caught down the road suppressing this kind of information is infinitely worse. The bottom line is easy. Don’t do it.
In other words, trust works both ways. If you have made a mistake and accidentally lost control of sensitive data, your customers will (eventually) forgive you if you are honest about the problem and can show you’ve taken steps to prevent a recurrence. Just like personal branding relies on customers understanding the flaws and limitations of a brand, being upfront and honest about an attack is the best way to salvage at least some of your reputation after a successful hack.
You Are Not Alone
If you own or work for a small brand, the world of cybersecurity can seem daunting. You likely don’t have cybersec experts in your team and probably feel like you can’t afford to hire them.
Fear not, though. You should also recognize that plenty of companies in lots of different fields now take cybersecurity more seriously than they did just a few years ago. If they improved their security, so can you. Preventative software is more powerful and easier to install. Cloud services often come with security in place. Last but not least, you can roll up your sleeves and read up on current cybersecurity best practices.
Brian Skewes is a technologist in deconstruction. Over two decades of self-employment, he has accumulated a wealth of inadvertent real-world lessons related to building, running, and preserving a small company
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- Stop Hackers from Damaging Your Brand
- How to Stop Hackers from Damaging Your Brand Reputation
- Brand Reputation
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