In today’s “trust economy”, your company’s reputation is your most valuable asset. Yet the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that consumer trust in executives (and government) is at an all-time low. As my mind continually wraps around risk and crisis communications (I can’t help it, it just works that way), this study leaves me with a question of concern: If trust in executives is at an all-time low, how can this work against your organization in a crisis?
Think about it. In a crisis, you need your stakeholders to trust your spokesperson and, thus, your organization. And who are your spokespersons? Though your frontline definitely plays a role, your stakeholders are going to look to your key executives to lead the crisis and communicate effectively. So how does this global lack of trust in executives threaten to work against you at a time when your organization is most vulnerable? Are you seeing the dilemma?
Trust isn’t built overnight
It takes time and energy to build a community of trust. It’s not something you can buy or demand, but something that needs to be earned over time – and focusing on building trust as a crisis preparedness strategy is important. For example, listen to how Mountain View Police Department is doing it, and how it’s serving them well in times of crisis.
So we have three important fact(ors):
- Your executives will be expected to lead your organization through a crisis and communicate with key audiences in real-time.
- These communications will focus on building / rebuilding / strengthening the trust that your community (and the world) has in your organization.
- Trust in executives is at a global all-time low.
Where’s the disconnect and how can you reconnect it? In other words, if building trust is a strong crisis preparedness strategy, where do you think you should be focusing some of your trust-building energy? Amongst your executives and your key audiences? That would be wise.
The Social CEO
Getting your executives to build their social presence is a good strategy for overcoming this trust issue. However, this social presence needs to be human and needs to be real. The whole point is to develop trusting relationships, and people trust humans that are honest and sincere. The following are some pointers to help you evaluate this strategy, and begin to develop it correctly.
Could a “social CEO” (or executive) be advantageous to your organization?
Contemplate the following questions to see if this is a good strategy for your organization:
- Who are your key spokespersons in a crisis?
- Do they have direct relationships with your key audiences?
- Are they a trusted source of information and representation of your organization? (Don’t assume this, do actual research to figure this out.)
- What is the perception of your executives within your industry / market place? (Again, don’t just assume this, do actual research to figure this out.)
- Could a “social CEO” (or executive) help connect your organization closer to your stakeholders on a human level? Would this be beneficial to your organization in and out of a crisis?
- Take a look at some of the leading organizations that are doing this right, and evaluate how it’s serving their organization.
Getting started: Developing the strategy for your social CEO
1) Show your human side
The whole point is to develop relationships and, in order to do this, people want to learn about the man or woman behind the executive title. Every person is multi-dimensional. You are more than your title. What can you share that others will relate to and want to follow about you?
2) Determine your comfort level
You don’t have to lay it all out in the open. It’s important that you find a way to share and relate to others in a way that you’re comfortable with. Put some thought into what you are willing to share, and how you will go about doing this regularly.
3) Determine your platform(s)
Develop your presence on the social platform(s) that make sense. Who are your audiences that you want to build trust with and where are they online? Determine this and you will have determined your targeted platforms. (Note: This will probably correlate with your pre-determined crisis communications platforms.)
4) Identify and plan for the risks now, before they materialize
Identify the risks and develop policies for preventing and managing these risks. What happens when someone disagrees with you? What happens when 100 people disagree with you? What are the risks that this social presence presents to both you and your organization? How can you prevent the preventable risks and plan for the unpreventable ones? Put some thought into these important questions and launch your personal brand intelligently.
More than a crisis preparedness strategy
Social media is a powerful crisis preparedness strategy, but not one that your frontline should be expected to handle on its own. In order to fully tap into the opportunities and advantages that social media presents to your crisis communications, your company executives need to play an active role alongside your frontline.
And it’s not just good for crisis communications either. The social CEO can also do wonders for your business development and brand awareness. Check out this post by David Meerman Scott on how The #Social CEO Drives Business for their Company.
Stay tuned this Sunday for the next episode of The Crisis Intelligence Podcast, when I discuss the leader’s role within crisis management with the talented Jane Jordan-Meier. Subscribe to the podcast here, or via iTunes or Stitcher.
Author of Crisis Ready: Building an Invincible Brand in an Uncertain World, Melissa Agnes is a leading authority on crisis preparedness, reputation management, and brand protection. Agnes is a coveted keynote speaker, commentator, and advisor to some of today’s leading organizations faced with the greatest risks. Learn more about Melissa and her work here.