In this opinion piece, Ngaire Crawford (pictured), Insights Director ANZ at Isentia, discusses how brands can prepare for crisis communications in the post COVID 19 environment, by connecting to ‘outrage’ and proactively responding to social issues and social change…
As we’re slowly coming out of the pandemic, the impact of good communication is clearer than ever, but the challenges faced by brands and the corporate industry are far from over, especially with social media’s newfound power to drive and amplify a specific narrative. If your ability to “read the room” isn’t an integral part of your crisis communications plans, you run the risk of completely missing the mark and alienating your audience to a point of no return.
On-point, heedful and timely communication is crucial to survive, stabilise and surge towards post-crisis opportunities. COVID-19 is the biggest crisis we’ve ever had to face at the same time, and one thing we’ve learned over the past few months is that brands are increasingly being held accountable for their actions and views, or lack thereof. Expanding crisis communication to proactively include response to social issues and social change will set your organisation apart and help you build a deeper connection with your audience.
Connecting to outrage
Social media listening is a quick way to pulse check what is driving people to emotionally respond to something. It’s common to listen out for things that might impact your organisation, but you also need to be listening for things that impact your audience. People using social media as a platform to express their outrage provides brands with valuable insights into the extremes of different opinions and what might be driving them. For example, when we were still in the thick of the pandemic in Australia, the top two things that sparked outrage on social media were anyone (including organisations) that were not playing by the rules, and who were not actively contributing to the common goal (to stop the spread of the coronavirus and keep everyone safe). Organisations that were able to identify those two topics sparking outrage within their community had an advantage when connecting with their audiences.
While your objective might be to help your audience understand and navigate what is happening and why, leadership through crisis is also about reassurance and inspiration when there is fear and uncertainty. Showcase yourself as a leader of empathy, competence, composure and clarity to exemplify how you can help others get through this. Now is the time for leaders to better connect with their audiences, both internal and external, and build loyalty and trust.
Take a stance and make it public
Social issues and social change are high on the media and social agenda at the moment. Brands are being scrutinised on the way they are responding to large social movements online and discussions around racial inequality.
One of the biggest shifts we’re seeing is that there is a very clear and direct call out for brands and organisations to take a stance and not shy away from making their opinions heard, seen or known. While some may think it’s safer to mute themselves rather than to say the wrong thing, especially when it involves such sensitive topics adopting such a risk averse stance is often the default setting, silence is now being actively called out as complicity. Consumers expect organisations to reflect their beliefs and participate in driving change.
Adjust your tone
Coming out of the pandemic will not mean communication goes back to normal, it will just shift to a different crisis mode. Audiences have been permanently changed: many people, employees, and customers will continue to be impacted during the recovery, and it’s incredibly important that this context is understood when communicating.
The way audiences look at brands is also changing. They crave authenticity and purpose-led communication that goes beyond profit. They want to be associated with brands that are cognizant and in tune with their struggles and challenges, and they are looking to brands to make their lives better in some way. As such, the kind of stories you tell as a brand now and post-pandemic, is a reflection of your corporate values and where your brand’s heart is right now. If you want to adapt your crisis comms strategies to better suit the current environment, focus on your audience and not your brand. The brands that will be remembered once the dust settles are the ones that are crafting their messaging in a people-first way, and acknowledging the challenges people are currently facing while they’re in survival and survivor mode.
The pandemic has forever changed the way we all react to crisis. Now is the time for brands to get ahead of the curve and implement some of the learnings from the past couple of months to think more broadly about how they communicate and create connection, to set themselves up for success, and to better resonate with their audiences.
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