Allyson Hugley headshot blog header

What does it take to identify risks to your business stemming from false or potentially damaging narratives? How do you build equity into your credibility curve, and why does it matter? What exactly is “information hygiene”? 

On January 27, in the first Zignal Labs Virtual Town Hall of 2021, we hosted a panel of expert guests to talk about how businesses can protect themselves from disinformation and other narrative-borne threats, and what the implications are – not just for individual companies, but for society itself. 

One of our guests was Allyson Hugley, VP, Analytics and Market Research, Global Comms at Prudential Financial. Allyson has over 20 years of experience developing audience intelligence, media research, and digital analytics to inform business strategy. At Prudential, she’s evolving how her team thinks about narrative-borne threats  stemming from conversations online. In our Town Hall, she shared her insights and unique perspective on this pivotal issue.

Keep reading for 5 things our audience learned from Allyson about narrative-borne threats and what businesses can do to protect against them. 

Watch the recorded Town Hall here.

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1. Take Signs of Narrative-Borne Threats – Even the Smaller Ones – Seriously

Narrative-borne threats are among the biggest issues businesses – and society at large – face today. Historically, teams charged with monitoring for business risks (like those that can stem from unchecked disinformation narratives) often reserved their response resources for big, glaring signs of major threats.

But Allyson argues that, at least for her team at Prudential, this strategy of only addressing the loudest signals of potentially harmful narratives doesn’t cut it anymore. “There’s a need to pivot in how we pick up the signals that we’re looking for,” she says. “We are beginning to home in a bit more on what previously we would have thought were outlier signals, or smaller signals we would have been more likely to dismiss…What might be lower volume now takes on greater importance, because it potentially is a signal of something that is happening at a significant level in our environment.”

“We are beginning to home in a bit more on what previously we would have thought were outlier signals, or smaller signals we would have been more likely to dismiss.”
Allyson Hugley, Prudential Financial

So what will it take for teams to make this pivot? Allyson has thoughts on that, too. And her first tip is…

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2. Break Down Organizational Silos in Your Narrative Monitoring

As the frequency and potency of threats stemming from mis- and disinformation narratives rises, so does the level of resources necessary to combat them. Getting ahead of narrative-borne threats will involve multiple departments within an organization – and they’ll have to work together.

“Some of the mechanisms that we’re putting in place at Prudential are more collaborative teams, and dynamic teaming, around our monitoring approach,” says Allyson. “Teams that are focused on issues manifesting from a cybersecurity perspective are also part of our broader monitoring team for potential risk events. We’re working with our global security organization, as well as our comms organization. We’re not just looking at things that previously would have been discrete silos… there’s a lot more collaboration [needed] to hone in on any of these subtle or smaller previously-dismissed signals.”

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3. Narratives Are Expanding and Overlapping, and Businesses Need to Be Ready

Monitoring for risk signals in today’s complex and rapidly-evolving narrative environment doesn’t just require broadening your personnel, but your horizons as well. “We’ve seen this progression past the point where we’re monitoring for mentions of brand, monitoring for mentions of our industry – things that are so category- and customer-adjacent,” Allyson says.

“We’ve expanded against a whole range of issues and what we’re increasingly looking for is: What is the intersection between these issues?” she continues, citing the ways in which the topics of 5G technology and the coronavirus, two seemingly disparate issues, became intertwined in the disinformation landscape, with narratives claiming that 5G causes COVID-19.

“We’ve expanded against a whole range of issues and what we’re increasingly looking for is: What is the intersection between these issues?”
Allyson Hugley, Prudential Financial

“It’s not just about monitoring for things as discrete events, but looking at things that are beginning to converge and manifest into unique newly formed Frankenstein-ish issues that need to be tackled.”

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4. Technology Alone Won’t Solve the Mis- and Disinformation Crisis

Our Town Hall occurred on the heels of major technology platforms taking aggressive steps to address the issue of mis- and disinformation. Donald Trump’s social media accounts were suspended. Parler was dropped from major app marketplaces. In the aftermath of these moves, signs emerged that they may have indeed had a large impact, with Zignal data showing a 73% drop in election fraud-related mis- and disinformation narratives.

But while Allyson recognizes the accountability these platforms have in addressing the spread of false narratives, she sees it as only one part of the solution. The other is more cultural.

[Technology] platform dynamics will only provide so much protection if we continue to have a society where more people aren’t actively invested in responsible information consumption.”
Allyson Hugley, Prudential Financial

“There’s also the human responsibility to break out of echo chambers, and to have some hygiene in your information consumption,” Allyson argues. “As a society, [technology] platform dynamics will only provide so much protection if we continue to have a society where more people aren’t actively invested in responsible information consumption – in choosing a variety of sources and validating them.”

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5. Building Trust in the Disinformation Era Requires Equity

As the Town Hall progressed, the discussion turned to the ways in which businesses  can help establish “consensus reality” to counter the threatening narratives and restore the kind of societal stability upon which the business community greatly depends.

In order to contribute to the establishment of this consensus reality, Allyson argues that businesses need to build internal and external trust – and that this requires building “equity into your credibility curve.”

“It was a very interesting year at Prudential, watching a lot of [the] pillars that have been in place to reinforce trust manifest,” Allyson says. “As a company, we’re fortunate we have a Chief Medical Officer who is on site. But if you think about the years of building credibility around having that role, the attention to signals around mental health issues, or a broad range of issues that demonstrate true care about employees, then when it comes time to have a conversation about vaccination, testing, or other resources, you’ve built enough equity into your credibility curve that it is believable as a source. And I think that’s as powerful from an internal comms perspective as it is externally.”

For more insights from Allyson and our other panelists, watch the webinar recording, and check out our recap of insight from our other panelist, Hanson Hosein.