If you happen to be in the consumer product business, especially children’s products, your world was rocked a few years ago when Mommy Bloggers—at first with almost no following—mounted a massive social media campaign accusing Procter & Gamble Pampers of causing serious chemical burns to children. It was a trenchant example of how the Internet has redefined risk—both current and future—for this industry.
If you happen to be in the energy business, an even louder thunderclap sounded when Colorado activists used their digital wherewithal to pass moratoria or outright bans on fracking. They used Twitter to promote anti-fracking documentaries, Facebook to target their messages, and YouTube to disseminate compelling visuals, not to mention search engine optimization (SEO) to control the story. Again, risk was redefined such that effective “enterprise risk management” (ERM) can no longer rely on traditional public affairs strategies to win the day in the Court of Public Opinion.
As the decisive agent of this change, the Internet both creates a universe of impending risks and the means by which to address them before they become real-time exigencies. If ERM is now all about precognition, the Internet is the crystal ball with which the soothsayers do their job.
The GC must be one of those soothsayers, key participants in the ERM agenda, simply because nearly all future risk will likely fall within the office of the general counsel’s purview. If GCs are to continue emerging as indispensable C-suite and boardroom advisors, the ability to read the Internet now defines their job description. Similarly, if they are to continue to evolve as business leaders rather than just legal scriveners, they must transform themselves from lawyers who, like most lawyers, are preoccupied with precedent and the past, to risk experts asking and answering the key question: What’s next?