“Trust inequality at an all-time high,” read the PR Daily headline earlier this year as it reported on the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer—and that was before. Before the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the racial injustice and inequity protests. Before U.S. election-mania.
Whether a crisis is of your own doing or happenstance, a crisis is a crisis, and it’s messy. There is no “one-size fits all” plan.
The Trust Barometer study revealed “none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted. The cause of this paradox can be found in people’s fears about the future and their role in it, which are a wake-up call for our institutions to embrace a new way of effectively building trust: balancing competence with ethical behavior.”
Trust in and of itself seems to be its own crisis! Now tack on, well, all of 2020 so far, and the outlook may seem bleak—but there are steps you can take to mitigate fears and rebuild trust both during and after difficult situations.
While no two crises are the same, there are some key components to re-establishing trust with your stakeholders— customers, employees, boards of directors, investors/shareholders, and even suppliers.
- Truth and Transparency: The news cycle is now 24/7 and never-ending. If you are less than truthful or attempt to ‘spin’ by sugar-coating it, you’ll end up with a bigger mess because eventually the truth will be found out. Being honest and transparent—even if it hurts in the short-term, will earn longer-term gains toward rebuilding and repairing trust in your organization.
- Timely: You must respond quickly, so having a plan already in place is crucial. If you don’t act expediently, you may find yourself and your organization on the defensive—which is never as good as being proactive.
- Messaging: There are numerous channels, including your own, where you can get the message out there, but don’t underestimate the power of the Media. Media relations should be a priority.
- Consistency: Have all our ducks in a row. Ensure you maintain consistency and continuity in your messaging, regardless of whether you have a single spokesperson or a team of brand ambassadors.
- Empathy and Compassion: Let’s face it; stakeholders want you to acknowledge how this situation makes them feel. And they want to know you care.
Helio Fred Garcia, a professor of crisis management at New York University and Columbia University was recently quoted as saying when he “looks at the best statements whether it’s from CEOs or from university presidents or others, one of the things that I find that is most helpful is a statement that begins with an acknowledgment of people’s anxieties, fears, or uncertainty and feelings of vulnerability. When they do that first, the communication tends to work reasonably well.”
When you respond quickly, express empathy and compassion, maintain consistency in messaging, and can point to what you’re doing now while also addressing future actions you intend to take, the communication is going to much more effective in maintaining and rebuilding trust.
Rebuilding, or re-establishing, trust after a crisis is challenging. For best practices and case studies, download our free white paper, Re-establishing Trust After a Crisis