Digitalis’s Managing Partner and communications specialist Charlie Bain has seen the company evolve from its roots as a small but ambitious start-up in 2009 to the established digital reputation management firm it is today. He takes a few minutes to reflect on Digitalis’s unique approach to helping clients manage online reputational risk, and considers some of the emerging digital threats that may face companies and individuals in future.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to work in the world of online communications.
I started out almost 30 years ago as a news and crime journalist before becoming a foreign reporter, with my career taking me to places such as Afghanistan where I covered the war in 2001, and New York where I covered the 11 September attacks.
I then joined, and ultimately ran, a risk management firm, advising clients on geopolitics and political risk in emerging markets. Towards the end of the 2000s, the growing focus on online risk led my clients to become increasingly concerned with managing digital and cyber-attacks that were affecting their businesses. With the digital world rapidly transforming at the time, it became critical to understand the then-emerging platforms including Google, Facebook and Twitter.
What skills do you and others in the Digitalis team use to help clients manage their reputations and protect against online risk, and how do these all come together?
Digitalis is all about helping our clients navigate the new information revolution: understanding the digital risks that affect their business, containing and protecting those risks, and then managing their reputations in the online world. My background in risk management equips me to foresee the dangers they may face, and my communications expertise comes to the fore in understanding and developing their online reputation strategy.
We have a tremendously talented team who all bring something unique to solving the issues our clients face. Our tech team develops in-house software to identify online reputational risk; our search and content experts use their comprehensive knowledge of every search engine to analyse online content and its potential threats; our digital investigators spot online attacks; and our client-facing team offers unparalleled analysis and advice.
Add to that a wonderful back-office team who look after us all, and you have a cohesive environment fizzing with creativity and ideas, focused on solving problems and making a difference to our clients.
What makes Digitalis so unique?
Digitalis is an incredibly collaborative company, and all the parts work in unison. We are not PRs, lawyers or cyber experts but we sit somewhere in between, uniquely equipped to solve problems within our lane of expertise.
With 65 employees, we are large enough to have a range of specialist skills to hand, but small enough to be agile and fix problems fast: recently one of our clients encountered a brand new search engine issue that we’d never seen it before, and within a week our Head of Search and his team had come up with a solution. When tracking disinformation and misinformation, our tech and digital risk team can work very quickly to devise strategies to investigate and track the source and amplification of the material, using sophisticated tools that are unique to Digitalis and constantly upgraded as we encounter new challenges.
A key part of online reputation and risk management is spotting emerging digital risks early. If you look into the future, what are the key issues clients might face in five or ten years’ time?
I think deepfakes and synthetic media will become a major headache as they enter mainstream use and the technology evolves. When people are duped into believing that a deepfake is a true representation of an individual, the potential threats are clear.
We are also seeing disinformation attacks move from state-on-state to corporates, and it’s vital for companies to prepare for this shift now, before it’s too late.
Finally, we are continually tracking security in the metaverse as this emerging platform begins to establish itself. It may sound far-fetched now, but we could see a day when having a digital risk and online reputation manager in the metaverse will be commonplace.
When Dave King and the early team at Digitalis launched the company in 2009, people asked if Google was around to stay. Believe me, it will be around for many years to come. The pace of digital development shows no signs of slowing down, and the Digitalis team will continue to uncover and monitor new threats as they emerge, whatever form they may take.