By
Stagwell’s Risk and Reputation Unit

Welcome to the RiskRep Radar, an every-other-week newsletter from Stagwell’s Risk and Reputation Unit leaders on what brands need to know about the intersection of business and politics. Every edition features key data and news roundups with early access to Risk and Rep Unit-led polling.

Americans Trust Local Institutions More than National Ones

American institutions, especially at the national level, are facing a huge deficit of trust. Harris Poll data show people get increasingly suspicious of those outside their own community:

  • My friends/family: 84% trust information from this source
  • Local TV news: 65%
  • Local newspapers and news websites: 62%
  • National newspapers and news websites: 55%
  • National TV news: 55%
  • Local political leaders: 50%
  • National political leaders: 41%
  • Social media: 35%

Americans of All Ages Use Social Media for News But Don’t Trust It

While 65% of Americans do not think social media is a trusted source of news, 66% have used social media to seek out news, according to the Harris Poll.

And it’s not just young people: 82% of Gen Z, 78% of Millennials, 72% of Gen X and 44% of Boomers and older have used social media for news.

Nor is it partisan: 67% of Democrats, 66% of Republicans and 66% of Independents have used social media for news.

Yet everyone isn’t seeing the same social media. What makes the situation even more challenging is that people live in their own news bubbles – and their own brand bubbles, too.

In the News: Social Media Platforms’ Trust and Safety Struggles

Social media CEOs from Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord were in the hot seat last week for a contentious Senate Judiciary hearing about online child safety. The CEOs tried to highlight the resources their companies are directing towards monitoring and prevention, but public trust remains low.

While backlash against tech companies for their struggles on child safety comes from both sides of the aisle, the criticism around tech companies’ content moderation policies is increasingly partisan. Meta is now the poster child for what we call the “Crisis L,” a new risk pattern in which a politically driven crisis causes major reputation damage to a company with no evidence of recovery.

In 2019, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Meta’s reputation score dropped from the mid-70s to 58.3, into the Poor tier, and it still sits at 59.7 as of 2023. Meta is now the seventh most polarized company on the Axios Harris 100 with a 12.7-point gap between Democrat and Republican scores.

Brands cannot expect reputation recovery when half the country feels alienated from them politically.

Mark Your Calendar: February Risk & Rep Webinar

In addition to our biweekly newsletters, stay tuned for our monthly webinar series: 30-minute deep dives for communication leaders into key topics from employee activists to misinformation to geopolitics.

To RSVP to our first webinar on Thursday, February 22, 12:00-12:30 pm EST, email Alexis Williams

ICYMI: Risk and Reputation Unit in the News

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By
Stagwell’s Risk and Reputation Unit

Welcome to the RiskRep Radar, a biweekly newsletter from Stagwell’s Risk and Reputation Unit leaders on what brands need to know at the intersection of business and politics. Every edition will feature key data and news roundups with early access to Risk and Rep Unit-led polling when available.

Live from CES: When Should Brands Speak Out?

The pendulum has swung back around. Five years ago, brands were encouraged to speak out a lot, but now C-suites are asking whether they should retrench and stay out of politics.

Ray Day and John Gerzema from the Risk and Reputation Unit were at CES 2024 talking to CCOs about how companies should navigate the political cycle, stick to their values and avoid dividing their audience. Watch their Content Studio interview for their advice.

Toxic Words and Acronyms

Words matter and today acronyms are the main troublemakers. That’s according to the Harris Poll’s first-of-its-kind assessment of the most commonly used words in business and not what they mean, but how they’re interpreted. Highlights from the results, which were featured in Axios Communicators:

  • 49% of Americans find “ESG” a divisive term
  • 38% find “DEI” divisive
  • ESG is nearly twice as polarizing a term as “sustainability”
  • The top three most divisive terms were “cancel culture” (78%), “woke” (66%) and “underrepresented” (62%)

The key takeaway: Businesses should remain committed to diversity efforts, which other Harris Poll data shows commands overwhelming support – but avoid the acronyms, which have become overly politicized.

Reputation Case Study: Boeing’s Latest Mishap

Stagwell CEO Mark Penn’s Harvard Business Review piece last month dove into the increasing severity of corporate crises that are centered on politics rather than competence or governance issues. That article featured Boeing as a company that successfully navigated the Crisis U: its reputation took a hit after multiple 737 Max crashes, but it recovered within 2-3 years by proving its core competency. Now after the terrifying 737 Max 9 incident earlier this month, Boeing will have to win back people’s trust all over again. 

Mark Your Calendar: February Risk & Rep Webinar

The Risk and Reputation Unit will be releasing a steady stream of content throughout 2024 to prepare brands for the contentious election cycle. In addition to our biweekly newsletters, stay tuned for our monthly webinar series: 30-minute deep dives for communication leaders into key topics from employee activists to misinformation to geopolitics.

 To RSVP to our first webinar on Thursday, February 22, 12:00-12:30 pm EST, email Alexis Williams. 

ICYMI: Risk and Reputation Unit in the News

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