COVID-19 has meant severe financial impacts for many sectors due to travel restrictions, border shutdowns, and other halted global operations. For many companies, setbacks and failures will also be due in part to their response strategy’s effectiveness as the pandemic unfolds.
These factors have been in the spotlight for cruise ship operators, who have been openly criticized for their response efforts since on-board cases were first disclosed in early February 2020.
Valuable information and alerts often reach online social networks faster than any other source during a public crisis. In the context of COVID-19, this could include:
- Indicators of new public health and safety conditions in a specific area
- Feedback on how an organization’s pandemic response is affecting individuals’ health, safety, and customer satisfaction
- How other organizations are responding to the pandemic
Access to this information is critical for keeping the public safe and informed. From a brand protection standpoint, it also has long-term effects on a brand’s reputation, success, and ability to respond to future crises effectively.
This case study assesses what current, public information can be gathered for a cruise ship operator during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how this data can influence corporate decision-making and brand protection.
Accessing Current Brand Protection Data Efficiently
The Echosec Systems Platform was used to aggregate and filter public content related to Cruise Ship Company X (redacted for confidentiality) and their COVID-19 response. This enabled Platform users to efficiently gather relevant public posts from a variety of online sources from a single interface. It also allowed them to map any geotagged posts when necessary, and stay alerted to new content in real-time.
Platform users focused primarily on social providers for this brand protection use case, seeking current customer and personnel experiences, as well as public sentiment or threats targeted at Company X. These included mainstream social media sites like Twitter, as well as less-regulated networks like Mastodon.
Searches were monitored over the period of a week. Significant results are detailed below.
Sentiment Towards Reopening
The cruise ship industry as a whole has received an onslaught of negative press about its response to the pandemic. The Platform allowed users to narrow in specifically on new content implicating Company X.
Many social media users voiced their opinions publicly after Company X re-enabled bookings for cruises later in the summer, despite the CDC renewing its no-sail order on April 11th for 100 days:
Negative public sentiment on Twitter about Company X’s reopening—discovered using Echosec
TRIGGER WARNING: This section contains content about suicide.
There were also hundreds of posts related to employee treatment—including feedback about employee layoffs:
Negative feedback about Company X layoffs by Twitter users aggregated from Twitter, Reddit, and news sources—discovered using Echosec
There were also a number of posts alerting Company X to mental health concerns among crew still stranded on vessels. Some crew members have become suicidal and feel forgotten by their employers. This has also led to an onslaught of negative public chatter and press surrounding Company X’s brand:
Twitter user receives confirmation from a Company X employee regarding an on-board suicide—discovered using Echosec
Negative press circulating about Company X and their handling of stranded crew members’ mental health—discovered using Echosec
By searching for negative sentiment targeted at Company X, Platform users also discovered customers expressing dissatisfaction around Company X’s response to their cancelled bookings:
Customer feedback discovered on Twitter using Echosec
Customer feedback discovered on Reddit using Beacon
Breaches and Asset Protection
Company X can also use online data to search for more covert brand threats on the deep and dark web. Cyber risks, including phishing attempts and malicious domains, have soared over the course of the pandemic, putting Company X at further risk for compromise and even greater fiscal and reputational damage.
By searching for their brand across deep and dark web sources using the Platform, analysts discovered a physical safety threat to their CEO (name redacted):
This post was published to Mastodon, a federated social network where explicit threats are more common than on mainstream networks like Twitter.
Analysts also discovered over 3,700 leaked records associated with Company X’s email domain using the Platform’s Breaches feature. Monitoring for breached data will alert Company X to new compromises and expose older breached records that could be re-exploited at this time.
Breached records related to Company X’s email domain as shown in Beacon
What to Do with This Information?
Speed-to-information is crucial for effective crisis response. Using a specialized tool to aggregate and filter online data will enable Company X to quickly gather critical information implicating its customers, crew, and brand during the pandemic from a variety of relevant sources. This information can be used to better inform a response strategy, allowing Company X to:
- Identify mental and physical health concerns amongst staff and customers and address these concerns as quickly and effectively as possible
- Analyze how the public is reacting to reopening decisions and other response efforts, and use this information to inform a PR response or amend their decisionmaking
- Determine areas of customer dissatisfaction in their pandemic response and work to address those issues
- Locate and de-escalate new security risks quickly, such as executive threats
- Identify breach indicators as early as possible to mitigate further damage to their infrastructure, data security, finances, and brand reputation
- Create a comprehensive response plan for future crises in the industry
Information travels fast online, especially during a global crisis. Whether it’s protecting customers, staff, or data, the key to an effective brand protection strategy is to stay ahead of this information and respond to risks before they escalate. In the case of Company X, faster access to relevant online data could greatly impact their customer and crew’s physical safety, as well as their overall brand image and future success.
During a pandemic, many factors, such as a slowed economy and border shutdowns, are out of a company’s control. Companies do, however, have control over how they access current information and how they use it to make informed decisions. This process will become key as similar crises unfold in the future, and made more accessible with specialized data discovery platforms.
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