Rebuilding Trust in Turbulent Times: Best Practices for Crisis Recovery

March 1, 2024

If the last few years have felt exhausting, you’re not alone. From a global pandemic and geopolitical conflicts to supply chain disruptions and inflation, corporate communicators have been assessing when and how they should respond to issues, large and small. In reference to this year’s annual meeting theme of “Rebuilding Trust,” World Economic Forum Founder Klaus Schwab described the current global state of affairs as a “perpetual need for crisis management” and noted that the need to rebuild trust “in our future is paramount.”

With 2024 promising to be one of the most dynamic years to date—from political elections around the world and increasing tension on environmental and societal issues to ongoing wars with the potential for escalation—it is critical to figure out how to rebuild trust amidst a volatile environment and uncertain future. and uncertain future.

While the need to rebuild trust after a crisis is a truth universally acknowledged, in the midst or wake of a crisis, it can be difficult to identify where to begin. Tactics that were successful even five years ago can be outdated and companies must continue to evolve where and how they choose to respond to stakeholder expectations. However, the core tenants of a successful recovery from a crisis remain the same and it is now up to us, the communicators of today, to understand how to adapt these principles to an ever-changing landscape. These include:

  • Communicate authentically. It can be easy in a crisis to change style and tone in your messaging and revert to business as usual once the storm has passed. However, your stakeholders will be able to identify when your message changes from your brand voice to your legal voice, and pretending like nothing has happened is more likely to turn them away. Consistency in voice before, during and after a crisis is key to helping retain trust with your target audiences and demonstrates to them that you carry the same value proposition throughout the good times and the bad.
  • Transparency is crucial. No one likes being lied to; it begs the question, then, of why companies would think it is ok to mislead customers, partners and other stakeholders in their toughest times. Honest and open communications will win the day, any day. Even when you don’t have all the facts at hand, which isn’t rare during an evolving situation, acknowledge how you are gathering information and addressing the issue so that your stakeholders are reassured that you are providing a timely and thoughtful response.
  • Understand stakeholder expectations. Crises are never one-size-fits-all, nor should your response be. Depending on the scenario, some stakeholders may feel little to no impact while others may take the full brunt. Stakeholder mapping, benchmarking and ongoing data collection are invaluable to understanding where your target audiences were before a crisis began and where they may be now to identify appropriate solutions. Furthermore, predictive analytics can uncover where and which audiences may be likely to engage or not engage on similar issues, helping to understand how you can leverage ongoing discussions to start rewarming these relationships.
  • Get creative and look ahead. The tried-and-true tactics of yesteryear are unlikely to satisfy your audiences of today. Leveraging data about your target audiences can, in addition to understanding how exactly they feel about you, also reveal insights into how best to win them back. As you build your post-crisis reputational campaign, don’t be afraid to integrate some creative tactics to get audiences to sit up and take notice of your efforts. Creating memorable moments that will resonate positively with stakeholders will be more effective than rinsing and repeating prior efforts. It’s equally important to keep your eye on the horizon and identify other issues that could impact your recovery efforts. Engaging on proactive issues management can help ensure that your post-crisis reputational campaign can adapt to further changes and resonate how you want with your audiences.

Trust is often hard to win and easy to lose, but not impossible to rebuild. As some efforts may require more work than others, corporate communicators must integrate considerations on coming back stronger into their original crisis planning, even as these plans continue to evolve. Keeping these core principles in mind will help corporate communicators build a successful yet adaptable framework to match the ever-changing landscape we now live in.

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