Behind an organisation’s digital presence are people. When cyber bullies act online and attack businesses, people are involved. In businesses that have suffered cyber bullying attacks, employees report that they feel the impact personally, because they are in the front line.
Mark Cushway, leadership coach and entrepreneur, looks at cyber bullying in the business world, and why its impact can be so acute.
Bullying is Not Only for Kids
Most of the statistics surrounding cyber bullying are to do with young people and their experience of it. In a survey, BullyingUK reports that 56% of its respondents had witnessed online bullying, and 43.5% had experienced bullying through social media.
“Clearly, the impact of cyber bullying is widespread, but its reach goes beyond young people and can affect every size of business that has an online presence.”
Social media and digital marketing require that businesses and brands be open and engaging with their target audiences. There is a risk attached to this approach, however.
“You cannot always guarantee your dialogue will be positive, and while it’s legitimate to receive complaints and some degree of criticism, this can also have a malignant element.”
“When cyber bullying does occur, it can feel very different from normal customer feedback,” explains Mark. “Often it involves comments that are designed to inflame and start arguments. The language might be offensive, and the objective, beyond stirring up bad feeling, obscure.”
What is the Impact?
Generally, there are two broad types of cyber bullying when it comes to businesses:
- Individual, isolated acts
- Co-ordinated campaigns
“Both can be harmful, with the power of social media to make comments go viral and spread malicious rumours and falsehoods. However, a co-ordinated campaign of cyber bullying is likely to ratchet up the intensity more quickly, becoming more of a threat sooner.”
For individuals involved in the workplace, the effects can be as if they personally are the targets of bullying.
“The same workplace culture that fosters a sense of belonging can leave individuals feeling emotionally exposed when cyber bullies make a concerted attack on what is essentially a workplace community”
Then there is the risk of reputational damage.
“Regardless of how outrageous a cyber bully’s lies might be, what they say tends to hang around online long after the initial incident has passed. This poses a big challenge for businesses that are victims of cyber bullying.”
“The key thing is to be prepared,” suggests Mark. “Cyber bullying is a reality for many organisations so it makes sense to have a pre-prepared strategy. At the same time, you must be adaptable to specific circumstances.”
“In some cases, the best response is to ignore the cyber bullies and strike out in a different direction for reputation-building. Other occasions will demand a more direct response”
It is vital to stay on-brand, and to be calm and consistent in any approach.
“You cannot fight cyber bullies at their own level, so maintaining composure is key,” Mark concludes. “Be persistent, and resilient. The right tactics can restore your reputation, or protect it, just as malignant attacks have threatened it.”
HR Aspects Magazine thanks Mark Cushway for his contribution to helping businesses and their people deal with cyber bullying.