Comms lessons from the Microsoft Outlook.com data breach

News this week of Microsoft's Outlook.com data breach could not have come at a worse time for the software giant.

Adele Breen: 'A lack of alignment around values between a business and its customers is dangerous'
Adele Breen: 'A lack of alignment around values between a business and its customers is dangerous'

The anniversary of the launch of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) will be with us on 25 May, and the issue of data security is therefore high on the international news agenda.

Microsoft has now admitted that the security breach was worse than initially thought.

The company started notifying some Outlook.com users late on Friday night that a hacker was able to access accounts for months earlier this year. Microsoft’s notification revealed that hackers could have viewed account email addresses, folder names, and subject lines of emails. In a separate notification to other affected users, the company also admitted email contents could have been viewed.

Similar to Microsoft’s latest hack, in June last year Reddit discovered its systems had been compromised via staff accounts, providing hackers with access to data from 2007 and also 2018.

How did Reddit respond? Well a detailed summary of the breach, and its various implications, was posted on the Reddit website. The summary was very transparent and honest and detailed the immediate changes the company would make to avoid it happening again. Reddit also made commitments to directly contact users who were impacted by the 2007 breach.

Looking at these two cases, it’s clear that transparency and responding quickly to crises are two essential attributes companies must have when adversity hits. And clearly, businesses that lack transparency are not considered trustworthy in today’s world.

Indeed, a lack of alignment around values between a business and its customers is dangerous. Honesty is a great example. Businesses and consumers alike expect organisations they transact with to be honest.

It is now accepted that consumers will consider dropping a brand associated with a partner or supplier that handled a crisis issue in a way that violated their values.

Businesses too are willing to end relationships with other firms if they mishandle a crisis and do take into account companies’ values when making B2B purchasing decisions. So the backlash businesses can expect from poor handling of crisis scenarios is fast and furious.

Therefore, the onus is very much on business leaders and their marketing staff to respond quickly to potential crisis issues which could violate the personal values of their customers. Core values must be at the centre of the conversations they are having with stakeholders too.

It is a high-stakes world, involving stakeholders from both consumer and B2B audiences.

And these days everybody is listening and watching.

Adele Breen is interim managing director at Hotwire

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