Ten Things to Do Now to Protect Your Reputation
With so many things to worry about today during the global pandemic, the last thing may be how to protect your organization’s reputation. But, there are examples right now of news media and social media outrage against organizations not doing the right things to protect workers and those under their care. Some bad news stories are serious enough that it will take years to rebuild reputations that once were golden.
I’ve spent the better part of my 40 year career in crisis communications, working with numerous government agencies at all levels as well as Fortune 100 companies. Mistakes being made today are sadly too typical of organizations that are unprepared or haven’t thought through what may happen and how to respond.
Every organization that faces reputation risk in how they are handling their responsibilities under this pandemic should consider these top ten:
- Control your official social media
Don’t allow those operating your organization’s social channels to make announcements or comment on issues related to this apart from approved information releases. Communicating factual, approved, consistent and appropriate information is essential in maintaining trust and best done through a single channel.
2. Make clear to employees your expectations about their own use of social media.
Your organization is not a military organization, but the US Army’s social media policy has long been considered a great model. Communicate with your employees what your expectations are about their own channels, including using them to help communicate the organization’s messages. Be aware that this communication too will likely become public so make certain that it cannot be misinterpreted to suggest stifling harmful information or punishing whistleblowers. Better to emphasize how important factual information is in times of uncertainty and your commitment to providing them the most complete and factual information available to you.
3. Set up one channel for approved information and communications.
I was amazed that an organization at the center of a national story about stifling concerns about preparations and care for its employees had nothing on their website. Reporters, government officials, influence leaders, employees and concerned citizens will quite naturally go to the organization’s website for official information. A Facebook page may also be used but there should be only one official channel and all other channels used should point to that one. If your website is used all social channels should direct those interested to go to your website for updated information. It should include how to get additional information and it should absolutely be updated frequently as the situation changes.
4. Be responsive to media requests.
Things happen fast in today’s media and social media environment. Make sure those answering the phone know who to direct questions to. You may want to identify a team with some answering employee and employee family questions, others customer questions, other media questions. Emphasize the importance to all of fast response and maintaining strictly to the confirmed and official information. In most cases it is far better to engage with the media even if the story is negative. Not responding, like the “no comment” answer always confirms guilt.
5. Prepare draft statements in advance.
When it hits the fan, time is of the essence. Prepare draft statements in advance for your worst case scenarios. There is much to consider in preparing these statements but here are a few suggestions:
- Be empathetic — make sure you communicate your understanding and concern for the human impacts
- State the facts — understand the key questions people are asking and provide as many complete details as you can. Best to anticipate reporter questions and answer them in your statement as this will greatly reduce time spent answering questions and also help ensure what is reported is what you want said.
- Commit to update — include information on who to contact for additional information and commit to provide updates as the situation changes. Identify where those updates will be found, ideally on the same channel you used for your statement.
6. Prepare to communicate directly.
There are many people whose opinion of you and your organization will determine your future. They may be employees, customers, bankers, vendors, government regulators, reporters, etc. Have in place the means of communicating with them as directly as possible. Do not allow the media or social media channels run by others to be their go-to sources for information.
7. Consider all communication public.
Don’t send one message by email to customers or employees and a different one to media. Assume that any communication will become public. That is why that single channel and complete statement are so important. Everything should be consistent with that and point back to that.
8. Be fast.
If a rumor spreads faster than Sir Winston could get his pants on, as he supposedly said, consider that was in the 1940s. Think about how fast news, particularly bad and outrageous news, travels today. Preparation is key, because as I wrote in my book on crisis preparation many years ago: now is too late.
9. Consult attorneys but understand the limitations.
It is quite typical in reputation challenges to turn communication over to attorneys or give them veto power. Remember, there is the court of law and the court of public opinion. It is up to the CEO or organization to determine the potential harm by a negative decision in either court. But, it should be remembered, that it is likely that more organizations are harmed more severely in the court of public opinion than in the court of law. Boeing may be one telling example.
10. Build trust.
It’s an axiom of crisis management that a crisis provides the opportunity to build or lose trust. The dividing line is quite simple: do those most important to your future believe you are doing the right thing, not just for you and your survival, but for all those whose lives you impact? There are two requirements to build trust: 1) do the right things, and 2) communicate them well. The first nine items listed here are about communicating well. This last item is most important: make sure you do the right things for all you have responsibility for.
Gerald Baron’s career in crisis communication included creating the global standard in crisis communication technology and working with numerous company and government agency leaders on crisis communication planning and response. Semi-retired, he is consulting with some clients during the pandemic and continues to advocate for family farmers.