Gestion de crise en entreprise un sujet hautement inflammable, que peut éteindre la « Task Force » créée par 3 experts…

"The combination of our three businesses can enable companies that are victims of defamation or denigration campaigns to restore their image and the public's perception of their products and services as quickly as possible.

Today, what is staggering in our society is the speed with which information is disseminated. Information being an almost too elegant word to describe the cacophony of "information" in general and in particular on the web, a medium that could easily be defined as "much noise for nothing"! Except that it is not for nothing, because the impact of this noise is rapid and sometimes deadly... At least for the reputation of certain people or organisations, rightly targeted or by pure slander. Encouraged by the anonymity offered by the various online expression media, Internet users able to express themselves on everything and everyone have multiplied exponentially in recent years. This environment is therefore more than conducive to attacks on the image, reputation and, ultimately, the lives of individuals.

It is in this context that online Reputation cleaning activities were born, because the image that one gives on the net has become a major issue that must be controlled. Stéphane Alaux, Emmanuelle Hervé and Virginie Bensoussan-Brulé are experts in the field, each in their own speciality, and the three of them decided to form a task force to serve their clients. In order to preserve their clients' image, these three experts are now joining forces for the best result, by pooling their skills. Who are the people likely to be supported - or even "saved" - by this intervention group? They are public figures, SME managers or CAC40 companies.... The three speakers can respond to all the problems linked to reputation and, above all, they know how to mobilise instantly, to deal with a proven and urgent crisis.

This is why agencies like Net Wash, Vip Only (and now Vip Only Monaco) and AlgoSecure exist. To protect people and companies and to "repair" the damage caused by attacks. Stéphane Alaux has thus mobilised expertise around the activity and recently created a Task Force including professionals with essential skills: Emmanuelle Hervé, from EH&A Consulting, specialised in crisis management, ensures the communication to be put in place before, during and after the crisis. Once the statements have been made and the crisis declared, the expertise of Virginie Bensoussan-Brûlé, head of the digital litigation department at Lexing Alain Bensoussan Avocats, comes into play in order to identify legal action.

AlgoSecure has therefore added an invaluable string to the bow of digital defence, by offering auditing services (web and internal network intrusion testing, 'Red Team' audit (attempted intrusion in real conditions), configuration, RGPD compliance, etc.) and consulting. The agency's experts carry out a risk analysis, assist clients in the ISO 27001 certification process, train and raise awareness of security among employees, and carry out a forensic analysis - a kind of cyber forensics - which allows for investigation after an attack. When the need - for a large account, for example - is long-term, AlgoSecure is able to delegate personnel on a long-term basis.

An engineer by training, she began her career in India and then joined the American chemical group DuPont de Nemours to develop the MENA market. On her return to France in 2005, she started working as a crisis management consultant, a profession she has been practicing since 2008. She founded and manages EH&A Consulting, a firm specialised in crisis management. The firm assists public and private organisations in managing and communicating before, during and after a crisis, in order to preserve the continuity of its clients' economic activity and the reputation of their brands and leaders.

Why did you choose this career and what does it bring you on a personal level?

EH: I am an engineer and I spent 15 years practising this profession in an American chemical company, travelling the world, but I spent my life in planes... Around 2008 I wanted to settle down and naturally turned to my family history, as I was born into "crisis management" because my mother had created one of the first independent French crisis management agencies, specialising in the environment and health, for the petrochemical and pharmaceutical sectors. So I joined the agency and learned the job on the job!

Personally, it is a very rewarding job, because you meet people without pretence, the time of the crisis is no longer the time of masks and real friendships are born from the moments spent together. It is true that my clients are stressed and sometimes difficult to deal with, but we are dealing with real issues, the survival of the company, the reputation of the brand, the job of the manager and it is a highly motivating challenge.

How do you define crisis management and E-reputation?

EH: This is a profession that comes from the military domain; it was then developed for the civilian sector and in particular for the petrochemical industry by Charles Edelman in the United States. In fact, oil is an activity in which industrial accidents are both likely and have a great impact from a human and environmental point of view. Moreover, the financial stakes linked to the stock market listing of the major players very early on obliged this industry to integrate crisis management and crisis communication management as an essential skill for their survival. Today, crisis management covers absolutely all sectors of activity, whether public or private, and this is due to two main factors: immediate judicialization and the resonance of social networks.

Two phenomena have led companies to become aware of the risks to their reputation. The first is the arrival of the Internet, especially from 2013, when it became conversational. Suddenly, everything that could be kept under the carpet could be updated and disseminated widely until it reached the mainstream media. With Wikileaks and the Snowden revelations, another stage was passed: that of cultural change, where everyone felt legitimate to become a whistleblower. Another major change that led us to adapt our profession to a very legal world: the subprime crisis in 2008, which led to the closure of many companies. We then had to manage in particular the closure of industrial sites, with all the risks that this entailed: sequestration, destruction of equipment, blackmail. Job protection plans have also become a subject of crisis management.

The Online reputation in particular, there has also been a change since 2013-2014. Before, crises were a reflection of something that had happened in the real world. Afterwards, we had to deal with crises that had no real basis. Nothing had happened, no product defect, no pollution, no redundancies... all this was due to the existence of the web.

Slander on Instagram

EH: This phenomenon has been increased by the massive use of social networks. Whereas the first crises arose after a significant event attributable to the brand, the company or its managing director, crises have arisen following a simple comment published on a popular social network. In this case, a real bad buzz was created, with real human, business and reputational consequences. The case was complicated and the brand took weeks to recover. These major changes have led companies to take the necessary measures and our professions to reinvent themselves.

Finally, bad buzz can be the cause of a crisis or its consequence. Obviously, the crisis leaves traces on the Internet and it is these traces that feed the E-reputation crisis. In our jargon, we speak of a "media record" and the consequences are particularly serious for a company. The right to be forgotten does not work well! A buzz can be created in August 2020 and the company will be in receivership in August 2021 because the majority of its sales are made via the Internet. It is therefore necessary to prepare and arm oneself for this.

At what stages of the crisis do you intervene and to what extent are the three of you complementary?

EH: First of all, we intervene in "peacetime", at this stage it is more likely to be large companies, or even listed multinationals, which need to arm themselves and organise themselves for the possibility of a crisis. A crisis plan will be written, the members of the crisis unit will be trained and the company will be trained through simulation exercises. The other type of intervention is "hot". There are slow and rapid crises. Fast kinetics is an explosion. But most often the kinetics are slower: we know that something can come out but we don't know where and when. For example, if you have Elise Lucet or L214 circling your business. We intervene with the general management and its board of directors to deal with the consequences of a product withdrawal, corruption, blackmail, bad buzz, violence within the company, an attack etc. If the company does not have a crisis unit, we will take charge of the first actions and develop the crisis management method in order to deduce the best strategy for responding to the crisis, which we will implement through crisis communication tactics towards the company's stakeholders.

Finally, we also assist in collective procedures, PSE, RJ and industrial site closures. Our three approaches are complementary because, even if crisis management provides the method that allows us to combat the impacts of the crisis as closely as possible and to coordinate the various trades, it will be necessary to involve a lawyer to defend against possible legal attacks (customer complaints, RGPD compliance, respect for commercial contracts, defamation). Finally, the crisis will leave behind a "media record", which can be extremely harmful to individuals and the brand, so it will be necessary to "clean up".

The increase in digital tools and the massification of exchanges is a fact. What influence does this have on your business?

EH: Nothing really disappears, each occurrence can be traced... It is therefore the aftermath of a crisis (justified or not) that is difficult to grasp and therefore requires additional tools to support our clients. Indeed, how can one cope when one has been convicted, has served his sentence and is looking for a job... Too easy to find the background! Before, the employer relied more on the reality of the moment and the person he was dealing with. If he really had any doubts, he had to go to the newspaper archives to check the information. Nowadays, he has everything at hand before he has even seen the person...
The phenomenon and the danger is increased by the fact that many business leaders or political figures have a poor understanding of the conversational web, neglect it or are afraid of it, or both.

Can you give us an example of a well-managed crisis and 5 tips for preventing or containing a crisis?

EH: Well-managed crises have one thing in common: they were identified in time and the company showed transparency and empathy at all stages. Let's start by not aggravating the crisis and not falling into what I call the 7 deadly sins: scapegoat tactics, no comment, arrogance, backfire strategy, globalisation, victimisation and legal response.

The legal strategy is indispensable but it is not a communication strategy. The company's response should never be drawn up in legal language by lawyers because it always appears to be defensive, and therefore aggressive, and should never start by attacking. The legal strategy and the communication strategy must be aligned so as not to contradict each other... This is where our action is important because very often the communicator and the lawyer do not agree, as they do not have the same stakes, nor the same time... On the other hand, integrating a legal strategy is essential because we must look at the crisis through this prism: we must ask ourselves what our obligations are, what the legal risks are, what can happen afterwards, is there any case law....

A true autodidact with a varied background ranging from cooking to communication, via law and economics, Stéphane Alaux became interested in the web as soon as it came into being, when he was in England. He became a specialist in this new universe and quickly became a precursor on solutions aiming to protect and defend entrepreneurs on the web. He has strong opinions on the subject of a web on the fringe since the advent of web 2.0 (or conversational web) and admits that he puts the interests of companies before the respect of this pseudo ethics which, for him, does not exist... He has been specialised for 20 years in digital identity, search marketing and digital business. A proven specialist in Internet referencing, he has been running the company Net'Wash since 2012, which he founded and which has positioned itself over time as the leader in the field of E-reputation in France.

When do you intervene in case of an online reputation crisis?

SA: As prevention actions, which are very important, are only very rarely implemented, we usually intervene at the end of the race, to manage the digital traces. We put out the fires...

An online reputation crisis is a loss of control over one's image, with an imbalance between what I say about myself and what people say about me. We already know this in real life, but here we are talking about the Internet, this famous continent of "everything is possible" and especially "everything will stay at home" .... I consider that we can talk about a crisis from the moment when, on the first page of Google, the proportion of what others say about me is greater than what I say about myself. When the crisis is international in scope, the information is disseminated in considerable volume. It is possible that one can try to control this preventively, but this is very rare and it is therefore more often than not after the fact that actions are taken...

There are only 2 options. Either the problem really exists and therefore the digital traces are inevitable, or the problem does not exist but has been invented to be posted on the Internet and there it is even worse, since the intention itself is bad.... The massification of digital media only increases the scale of such a crisis and the first repercussions are immediate. The Net'Wash company intervenes at this stage and I must say that nearly 95% of our company's turnover is made when the crisis is over. To my great displeasure, because I know that by doing prevention and actions upstream, we could greatly limit the damage... But carelessness still reigns in the beautiful land of the Internet and the fall is very hard. Our job is to control the consequences quickly and, as far as possible, to try to counteract the current of events...

When do you have to act in case of an online reputation crisis?

SA: The Americans are extremely litigious, they have a very different way of dealing with things than we do. If you say something bad about someone, they will ask you for millions of dollars in damages... In France, it will be 500 or 1000 €, because defamation is not taken seriously. French and European law is not really adapted to this new behaviour. There are no real tools to give weight to and enforce the E-reputation of your company. We are also victims of what I would call the Latin spirit: we are able to walk with a stone in our shoe. Companies continue to function despite a bad image, they are not panicked.

The American spirit can be extended to all Anglo-Saxons, who take E-reputation very seriously, as well as "reputation" in general... In France, unfortunately, companies are not aware that it is now essential, even a matter of survival, to master and control their image on the Internet. When it comes to investing in E-reputation, the digital manager is suspicious. They are allocated a budget for a specific mission (which they have often planned and submitted to their management) and this mission does not include an E-reputation item. In fact, adding an extra charge to the initial budget is not possible. If he really wants to add this component to the other items in his mission, he will have to cut his initial budget. He is therefore reluctant and tends to put E-reputation aside. Moreover, the stakes are not the same as those of the manager. With the development of digital technology, he can very easily change companies if there is a problem. The manager, on the other hand, will suffer the full force of the consequences of his inconsistency! Those who tend to delegate E-reputation must really take hold of it, as they are directly concerned by this issue. Like non product press relations, E-reputation should be validated by the manager as a priority and not stop at the communication, marketing or digital departments... Because when the crisis is there, it is the manager who pays the high price of the drop in turnover, which can even lead to bankruptcy.

Moreover, some companies continue to invest massively in TV advertising campaigns even though their reputation is catastrophic. There is a real imbalance between investment and return on investment. For me, E-reputation is the answer to this gap. Today, people rush to the internet and digital identity is essential for a company. It is important to understand that a crisis, even if well managed, will continue on the web; if no action is taken, the company can be lost.

What tools do you have to prevent, monitor and control an online reputation of a company?

SA: We have created our own tool "Viginet". Developed in-house based on well-known needs from our experience, we built it to monitor search* in real time. We also have a huge database allowing us to find information that is not yet appended to Google; we will search for information in forums before Google has appended it; this action may take a few days but it allows us to find searched items much faster, as this database is constantly evolving. The aim is mainly to have an effective monitoring tool to monitor the positive and negative on the keywords that we will enter on this software. Of course, we also use "SEMrush", but this market tool, which is extremely efficient but global, offers us 80% of elements that we do not use. We target our actions and this is why we preferred to build our own tool, which corresponds exactly to our expectations.
*What is found on according to the keywords. The result is called Search Engine Results Page.

How do consumer interests and the need to preserve a client's image fit together?

SA: Our mission is to help the customer preserve his workspace. We don't hide the truth and there is no form of obligation: the consumer's interest depends on what he is looking for. We simply want the company that presents itself commercially on the web to be able to control this space that is its "front page". We work to support the company, in its interest.

At what stages of the crisis do you intervene and to what extent are the three of you complementary?

SA: We are contacted once the E-reputation crisis is triggered. It takes a long time to clean up the search, as our business has a certain inertia. On the other hand, our intervention on Google news is different. The treatment, burying and recovery of the image is not the same. To achieve this, we have to use accredited Google news surfaces. We can therefore intervene at the same time as Emmanuelle and Virginie, but it is they who set the tempo and trigger the action.
For the search, it will take longer, it can last for months. It is extremely easy to say bad things when publishing. When there has been no construction of digital dikes, negative or defamatory content must be blocked by imposing other positive content. In this way, you can achieve authority on the first 10 results and even the first 2 pages. In this case the work is more complicated...

Do the increase in digital tools and the massification of exchanges complicate your job?

SA: We cannot intervene in social networks, that will be the job of the lawyer. Social networks do not necessarily have an impact on our core business. What is new is that everyone is a strong communicator (and really believes they are), so it is a real concern, especially as anonymity is almost imposed. We talk about social networks, but any communication surface giving opinions ( can be a real disaster for the brand.

Is it possible to completely restore a damaged reputation?

SA: On the first two pages of Google, yes. An Internet user who searches for the name of the head of the incriminated brand and the mention of the case that concerns him will find the information elsewhere. But naturally and at the beginning of the search, he will only find basic and neutral or positive information on the subject. Our job is not to remove or control all the information in Google. We act so that the first page of a company on Google, which is a working space, is free of negative elements. Our action is important to preserve the future of a company and ensure that it can continue to operate, for its financial health, the safeguarding of its teams and the continuity of its activities.

Virginie has been a lawyer since 2006 and heads the Digital Litigation Department at Lexing Alain Bensoussan-Avocats. Her main areas of practice are press and digital communication law, digital and IT criminal law, Internet litigation and IT litigation. She was named Best Lawyer in the Information Technology Law category of the 2019 edition of the American magazine Best Lawyers.

Why is mastering online reputation so important?

VB: Companies and their managers need to know what is being said about them and their products or services. Because of the speed with which information spreads on the Internet and also because of its durability, false rumours can have very damaging consequences for the company by creating a climate of mistrust on the part of employees, but also customers, supervisory authorities, etc. They must therefore be vigilant and take the necessary measures, whether legal or not, to restore the situation as quickly as possible.

They must therefore be vigilant and take the necessary measures, whether legal or not, to restore their image in the eyes of the public as quickly as possible. In the case of damage to reputation on the Internet, there is only three months to take legal action from the time the insulting or defamatory remarks are first posted online. For denigration of products or services, there is a 5-year time limit to take legal action.

This requires that companies carry out monitoring actions and that, in the event of an incident, they quickly choose the actions to be implemented: this may be to do nothing, but they may also try to neutralise the content by the action of an E reputation agency such as Net Wash or try to obtain dereferencing... It is also necessary to identify the person at the origin of the defamatory or insulting remarks and it should be noted that, in the vast majority of cases, the author will be either an employee or former employee, or a competitor.

Within the Task Force, how will you intervene?

VB: The advantage of this alliance of three areas of expertise is that companies that encounter a problem of this nature will enter the subject through one of our three structures. Each of us has a precise knowledge of the other's activity and knows who to contact first. For my part, if our firm is contacted directly, I will intervene once the remarks have been broadcast and their negative impact is amplified. I will first identify legal action and see if it is appropriate and feasible. If it is not, I will advise the client and direct them to the E-reputation agency to try to bury the content in question.

I will also advise them to contact a crisis management firm such as EH&A Consulting to establish media plans: internal company communication and external communication to the media, social networks, etc. Scripts will be formatted for the client services. In cooperation with this firm, I validate the content of the prepared messages. Crisis communication must not be allowed to backfire on the client.

Beforehand, I help our clients to train their employees to respect the law when they speak on behalf of their company, or in a personal capacity, but when talking about their professional life on a social network or during any type of communication involving the company's identity.

How is this tripartite cooperation more effective for customers?

VB: In the most complex and serious reputational situations, the combination of our three areas of expertise can enable companies that have been the victims of defamation or denigration campaigns to quickly and durably restore public opinion about their managers and their products and services.

We find ourselves powerless when faced with this type of behaviour, but it is fairly easy to identify the authors of defamatory statements when they are employees or competitors, because they are not very good at hiding... It is therefore fairly easy to intervene and obtain compensation through civil or criminal justice.

I would like to add a point that I think is very important, because it is not well understood by the public, and that is the legal relationship with American platforms (FB, Twitter, etc.). This is important because everyone uses them! They cooperate with French justice. They execute, in fact, court decisions, even foreign ones.



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