As the spread of information becomes ever faster and easier, with even rumor spreading like wildfire, the opportunities for companies to gain recognition for their feats is right up there with Susan Boyle's chance to become a star—all it takes is being in the right place at the right time, or a well-targeted media campaign. The flip side of that, however, is that news of unethical or irresponsible behavior is likely to achieve pandemic status just as fast—ask any recently-deposed Wall Street CEO. The chances of companies being able to control their image, then, is coming to depend less and less on what they say (or manage to hide) as it is on what they do—be it debuting a hot new product, or awarding enormous bonuses to execs as the economy crumbles.
In light of all of that, perhaps the common theme linking the two cases is what they can teach us about how information travels in this day and age. Or, to put it another way, it's the difference between mastering viral networks and contracting a virus. The former, in terms of gaining exposure, can be a company's best friend; the latter, in the form of bad news or loss of reputation, can kill a business or career stone dead. A useful question, then, as firms survey the ever-expanding world of information flow, open borders and shifting media formats: what's the next big thing to emerge about your firm most likely to resemble—Susan Boyle or swine flu?
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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.
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