With restrictions lifting, and lots more people around the world heading back to work, it seems that many people are now looking ahead and trying to evaluate the most effective way to start (or continue) rebuilding their businesses.
Typically a lot of crisis communications work focusses on dealing with the issue at hand – responding to, and managing, the threat to a brand’s reputation and business levels. Crisis communications training normally focuses on the best ways to communicate effectively during this period, as well as the planning and preparations that can be carried out in advance of issues breaking, to ensure that a brand is in the best position to deal with just such a situation.
Often, there is much less attention placed on the communications strategy post-crisis. Yet this essential transition period will help to determine whether all of the work managing and responding during a crisis has been successful. One wrong step at this stage and you easily undo all of the hard work during the most pressured times.
So how and when do we go from crisis responses – which depending on the severity of the situation, often involve muted tones, minimal non-emotive images, greyed out logos, and a more sombre tone of voice – back to business-as-usual community management with a conversational tone of voice, evocative images of people having fun, humour and colour?
Obviously it’s a gradual process that cannot be implemented overnight. There are five key steps to consider as you consider rebuilding your communications strategy, whilst maintaining your audience trust, loyalty and attachment.
I talked about the importance of tracking and measuring in last week’s post, in fact I think I mention it in most of the posts I write! It’s such an essential part of any strategy, and yet very naively, it’s often overlooked in the interests of saving a few dirhams. In the months, and even years, following any issue you need to continue tracking the conversation, measuring sentiment, engagement, influence, audience profile. You may need to update your search keywords as the issue develops and evolves. You should continue to respond to genuine questions and concerns and be demonstrating your actions and the ways in which you are contributing and helping to alleviate or rectify the situation.
Think about all the people who have supported you in one way or another during this difficult time for your brand. Your colleagues and teams, your clients/customers, your partners, suppliers, investors, governing bodies, owners, the journalists that have shared your stories, the influencers, bloggers, and community groups who have demonstrated support for you. Don’t limit your thanks to a single post on social media, she you genuinely mean it and make sure you cover every angle by writing a ‘thanks’ blog post on your website, sending personal messages through email, creating graphics and videos to be shared across all social media platforms, creating a Stories Highlight of recognition, even maybe sending a physical gift or card.
As the situation improves and you notice (from your monitoring) that sentiment is improving, think about updating your online assets. Don’t just delete or edit anything related to the crisis – it existed and you shouldn’t be rewriting it, otherwise you lose the trust you have been building. Think about the concluding message you want to leave. Write a public thank you as the final post on the crisis blog page of your website and then ensure your home page is back as the landing page, not the crisis page. Update Wikipedia if you need to with the conclusion of the issue. Update your social media profile pictures, logos and banner images, slowly re-introducing colour and emotion – do this gradually and sensitively, continuing to monitor perception and sentiment as you go.
Review your monitoring, and measurement metrics to really understand if and how the reputation and perception of your brand has been affected, and if the trust in the brand has changed. You’ll need to examine this in detail in order to ascertain what you need to do to repair any damage. After a crisis, it’s the actions that count more than the words – so make sure your marketing team is fully aligned and communicating well with operations to enable you to identify actions to be taken, and the best ways to communicate these actions and changes to the general public. Don’t go in with a hard sell, if your brand has been damaged and you need to rebuild trust, you need to first rebuild an emotional connection in order to get people back onside for the long haul, not push them to buy for a quick win.
Just because things seem to be back on track, and sentiment and opinion have improved, do not think that the crisis work is over. You need to thoroughly review your plan in order to see what areas worked well, what your learnings were, and how your crisis plan needs to be adapted and improved in order to be in a better position for the next issue. Run an organised debrief with all concerned parties – outline the areas to cover in advance so that everyone can be prepared and the conversation can be productive. Document the findings and opinions of all, and share the final written evaluation with recommendations.
Once your issue has concluded and the threat has hopefully diminished, if you have dealt with the crisis effectively, you should actually be in a stronger position to move forward. If your communications have been consistent and honest, and your actions have been supportive and swift, then hopefully you will have an even-more engaged and emotionally invested audience. Just make sure you implement the promised changes and maintain your activity and conversation – and that the evaluation document doesn’t lay unopened in an email folder somewhere! If you’d like some ideas or advice on rebuilding your brand or developing your communications strategy, please do drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org