Part 2: Positioning Your Organization as the Voice of Credibility, Trust and Leadership, Now
In part one of this three-part series, I began by sharing a little about my experience keynoting at NATO’s recent Public Diplomacy Forum in Brussels. I talked about the war of ideas that our world leaders are currently fighting in and I discussed how to make the digital landscape (the primary battlefield for this war of ideas) more predictable in order to minimize risk. I also talked about human behavior and how, by understanding what makes something go viral, organizations and leaders can leave themselves less exposed and less vulnerable, and in doing so can then empower themselves and their teams to be more proactive.
Within the second part of this three-part series, I’m going to discuss what it means to be proactive and why it’s so important for successful crisis management. I’ll also provide you with key tactics that you can begin to implement into your crisis preparedness and crisis communications strategy right away. My goal within the second part of this series is to help you begin to proactively position your organization as a voice of credibility and leadership now, in order to fight and win on the social media front.
Note: If you haven’t read part one of this series, I recommend reading it first before continuing on with this second part.
Why is it so important to be proactive in your crisis management today?
As we know, things move fast these days. The news cycle is 24/7 making it increasingly difficult to get ahead of the story before the story gets ahead of you. With the help of social media, information (truths, untruths, disinformation, rumors, propaganda – you name it) is disseminated at an incredible speed, creating noise that can be deafening. All of this works against you in a crisis. However, by being proactive, you can turn the tables and make these challenges and realities work for you. Now isn’t that a nice thought?
In a crisis, your goal is to get ahead of the news cycle and position your organization as the voice of credibility, trust and leadership. Attempting to accomplish this for the first time while in a crisis is a task that can prove to be near-impossible. However, finding ways to proactively do this prior to a crisis gives you a crisis management edge that you’ll be glad to have. Being proactive gives you a valuable head start. When done right, it allows you to build your presence, credibility and loyal following prior to a crisis, so that you can leverage the power of these important things in a crisis.
The challenges of proactivity
Yes, being proactive is a challenge. It means putting yourself out there. It means getting creative. It takes manpower, along with approval and buy-in from within the organizational hierarchy. But the fact is, in this war of ideas, your opponents are being proactive and they’re succeeding. They’re using social media to persuade, to recruit, to target and to disseminate their disinformation and their propaganda. This means that if you wish to fight and win in this war of ideas, you need to enable your team to be proactive too.
The good news is that you don’t need to dive in head-first. Small smart steps, one after the other, will eventually take you a far distance. Being proactive simply means starting. It also means keeping your eyes and mind open to opportunities. That said, here are some initial strategies that can help you get started:
Step 1: Focus on communications that connect with your stakeholders on an emotional level
Note: Whether you’re fighting in this war of ideas or not, this absolutely applies to your organization.
In part one of this blog series we discussed how human behavior is what drives this digital landscape and how identifying the emotional connection and relatability of a message and asking yourself some specific questions, you can minimize your risk. So the next logical step is to now take what you learned about human behavior and use it to your advantage.
If human behavior is what drives this digital landscape, then how can you leverage the power of emotion and relatability to your advantage? A big part of the answer is to focus on shaping your messages (from your social media posts to your press releases and everything else) as emotionally relatable stories.
The power of emotionally relatable stories
As I’ve said, the goal in a crisis is to position your organization as the voice of credibility, trust and leadership. In order to do this quickly and effectively, you have to instil that credibility now; you have to gain the trust of your stakeholders now; you have to break through the incessant noise and find a way to be compelling, engaging and memorable. One of the best ways to do this is through storytelling.
Stories that are emotionally charged and relatable are remembered. They’re shared. They’re captivating and, if done correctly, can be powerfully persuading. Facts and stats alone won’t do it. They need to be wrapped in emotionally relatable stories that touch the hearts (and by doing so lets you into the minds) of your stakeholders. Use stories and the power of emotion and relatability to help you break through the noise, stand out and gain an army that is emotionally tied to your message and mission, on the social media front.
Remember: Logic will never trump emotion, and persuasion occurs when you reach the hearts and the minds of your audiences. Use this as a crisis preparedness and then a crisis communications strategy.
Storytelling is a skill that will prove useful in a crisis
By shaping your daily messages as emotionally compelling, relatable stories, you will not only break through the noise and reach the hearts and minds of your stakeholders, but you will develop an instinctive skill that will prove extremely useful in a crisis. Storytelling is a powerful crisis communications tool that can help you cut through the noise and feed the media with the precise story you want them to tell and share – positioning your organization as the narrative of the crisis.
Step 2: Identify and leverage the right platforms
Shaping your messages as emotionally charged stories is the first step and a skill that needs to be honed. The next step is to focus on making sure those stories and important communications directly reach your target stakeholders in a way that makes sense (and is effortlessly convenient) for them.
In order to gain a loyal army on the social media front, you need to be strategic in how you use the digital landscape. Not every social media and online platform is the right platform for you to be active on. This would simply be a waste of time and counterintuitive. So what are the platforms that you should be using and how can you determine this?
In order to answer this question, you have to fully understand your audiences and stakeholders. What social media platforms and apps do they use on a daily basis? How do they prefer to digest their content and news? Are they looking for dialogue or to be pushed notifications and important updates? Do you know the answers to these questions? If you don’t, it’s time to start finding them.
When you do this homework, you may be surprised. You may determine some strategic uses to less obvious platforms (social media, apps, etc.) that can help to position you on the forefront with leadership status. For example, think of how BBC managed to position their organization as a voice of credibility and leadership in the world crisis of Ebola. Not only did BBC help in the fight against Ebola, but they positioned themselves as true innovative leaders in communication, humanitarian efforts and, of course, media. They did this by proactively leveraging a platform (WhatsApp) that their target audience was already using and that no other organization had identified as a viable crisis communication tool. And they were wildly successful.
Learn more about BBC’s WhatsApp Ebola Strategy: BBC’s WhatsApp Ebola Service with Trushar Barot
The right platform is not always the typical platform that every other organization is on. It may be, but it isn’t necessarily. The important thing to remember is that you have an important message to share with your stakeholders and you want this message to reach them directly and in a way that makes sense in their daily lives. Technology provides us with unprecedented communications opportunities, it’s simply up to you to determine what those opportunities are and how they present themselves.
Leaders are proactive
In order to position your organization as a leader, you need to be proactive. The good news is that you have tools and technology available to you right now that provide you with unprecedented communications opportunities. You simply have to identify ways that these tools can help you meet your end mission, and then have the courage to try something new.
In the words of Sir Ken Robinson:
“if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.”
In this war of ideas, choosing to simply react will be your downfall. It will be all of our downfall.
The noise today is incessant and the struggle to gain eyes, persuade minds and fight and win in this war of ideas is a definite challenge in a new landscape that needs to be conquered. In these two posts I’ve provided you with the knowledge to minimize your risk and a communications strategy that can help you break through the noise and win the hearts and minds of those you’re targeting. But it requires thought, dedication and proaction.
This digital landscape provides you with such opportunity to reach your stakeholders directly in their pockets. With the right communications strategy, you can use this to build a relationship with them that will provide you with an intense advantage in a crisis.
This is true crisis leadership. This is already what your opponents are doing, and this is what you need to commit to working towards if you’re going to position your organization to fight and win in this war of ideas.
Up next in part three…
In part three of this three-part blog series, I’m going to discuss propaganda directly. I learned a lot while I was in Brussels and I’ve come away from that trip with so many thoughts and ideas that I look forward to sharing with you in my next post. But until then, you have some homework to dive into. I hope you’re brave enough to choose to be proactive.
Read part 3 of this blog series: Countering Terrorist Propaganda in this War of Ideas
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.