Three Key Issues That Experts Predict You Will Face In 2021


Three Key Issues, Crisis Managers Need to Watch Out for in 2021

Twelve months ago, when issues and crisis management planning for 2020 was being completed, I suspect not one of us identified the threat that was to change everything—the global pandemic.

In a year that is already off to a troubled start, with new highs in COVID infections and the disturbing events in Washington DC, the questions about what we might face in 2021 take on even greater importance. 

As this is the time of year when everyone makes predictions and examines their crystal balls for new trends, we looked at a selection of forecasts from authoritative sources to see if there is a consensus around the issues that we need to plan for in 2021.

Here are the top three that appear on many of those lists – with suggestions how you embrace the risks in your contingency planning:

Trend 1: Tackling the threat of disinformation

Author and entrepreneur John Battelle, among other achievements he is a founder of Wired magazine, has been publishing his predictions for the past 18 years. 

Top of Battelle’s 2021 list is the topic of disinformation, about which he observes: “Businesses are waking up to the threat this poses to their bottom lines (and to society at large), most scholars and policymakers are already there.” 

Following the events at the US Capitol, others, including advertisers and donors, are looking at this as one of the big challenges. 

Battelle says he will be devoting serious time to exploring how to “navigate the collision of technology platforms, broken media models, and feckless regulatory oversight” and encourages others to look at fixing what has caused the failures in the communication system.

As shown in the annual Edelman Trust Barometer survey, out this morning, trust in government and the media is at an all time low. As many as 57% of those surveyed “believe that government leaders, business leaders and journalists are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false.”

While trust in CEOs and business leaders are low, there is an opportunity for organizations to help, with businesses emerging as the most trusted institution in a crisis, a credit to how they have handled they have put the safety concerns about employees first. Organizations can use this new-found trust to ensure their teams have access to the information they need to make informed decisions. 

IMPACT ON YOUR CONTINGENCY PLANNING: As Edelman cites, the "raging infodemic feeds mistrust," fake news is damaging and often tough to spot. The golden rules are check, then double check and do not publish or share anything about which you have doubts—and encourage your employees to take the same approach. The University of South Carolina has useful tips based on studies undertaken in its School of Information Science.

Trend 2: The Internet goes private

The staff of Fortune magazine named this trend in their crystal ball predictions for 2021. Other commentators, including John Battelle, also predicted a year of significant internet change. In Battelle’s case, he believes that Facebook’s troubles will finally catch up with the social media behemoth and reduce its size and influence. 

The Fortune team identified what will take Facebook’s place, notably a massive growth in platforms such as Discord, Telegram, and WhatsApp in which users create invite-only chats and channels tailored to particular interests or real-world social groups. 

As Fortune observed: “This will only accelerate, thanks to worries about social media’s effects on our privacy, mental health…and political divides.”

IMPACT ON YOUR CONTINGENCY PLANNING: The first thing is that if you are not familiar with these emerging platforms, take a crash course and understand how they are used. Second, examine your organization’s issue and crisis management plans to see how the creation of private groups on platforms such as WhatsApp will enable effective communications among a highly targeted group of stakeholders in the moment of threat. Many people believe that Facebook is a blunt and declining tool as an effective message tool when managing an issue.

Of course, this trend also means you must adapt and expand tracking of how your organization is being talked about online.

Trend 3: Permanent changes to the world of work

When the pandemic does eventually begin to recede and vaccinations reach a critical threshold, while some people will return to the office—many will not. The experience of mass remote working has opened new ideas and possibilities of reshaping the workplace and employee culture. 

The bestselling author and workplace expert Dan Schawbel has published a top ten list of workplace trends since 2013. This year Schawbel’s top ten includes flexible working arrangements in what he describes as the ‘hybrid workplace’. 

The impact of the pandemic in the workplace is not limited to greater safety precautions and whether you sit in your kitchen and in an office cubicle, Schawbel and other forecasters also predict that companies will do more to address employee mental health needs after a traumatic year left America facing a mental health crisis. 

We addressed the many workplace issues facing employers in a presentation we delivered at the PRSA International conference in the Fall. 

IMPACT ON YOUR CONTINGENCY PLANNING: This is the year to commit to higher levels of employee communication. Now also would be a good time to think about the new resources, such as materials and coaching on mental wellbeing, that will support team members through a year of great change.

Overview for 2021 Planning

You may find other threat scenarios in the experts’ 2021 predictions that you feel should be included in your organization’s planning. As the past year demonstrated, we live in uncertain times with a unique confluence of economic, social, cultural and political issues. The one thing that is for certain—it has never been more important to put an issue and crisis plan in place, with a team trained and resources to meet an array of potential threats in the year ahead.

Over the coming months, we'll be looking at each of these topics in more detail. 

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