COVID-19 is a crisis like no other. Many UK companies routinely prepare and update resilience plans or participate in emergency exercises, but too few were sufficiently prepared for a pandemic with a global socioeconomic impact. As the coronavirus continues to spread, it’s posing a threat beyond health, disrupting businesses and damaging corporate reputations. Although it’s crucial for organisations in times of uncertainty, to not only protect the health of their employees and customers but also the health of their brand’s reputation, businesses that have overlooked their public image have already suffered from a reputational crisis.
However, there are many lessons to learn from this crisis. In the rush to be heard, unforced errors could be avoided in the future by firmly maintaining a people-oriented and customer-centric focus at the centre of everything employers do.
The real consequences of damaged corporate reputations
The first consequence of damaged corporate reputations is a loss of customers. In fact, negative online content can cause a business to lose 80% of its sales and pay an extra 20% in salaries. Customers may also choose to share their anger on social media platforms which further damages the reputation on a larger scale and most of the times would require a proactive damage limitation process by trained staff.
Here’s how companies that have undergone a reputational damage can start rebuilding corporate reputations following Covid-19.
Manage the crisis well in the first place to rebuild corporate reputations
The most important aspect of a post-crisis reputation recovery is, frankly, to manage the crisis well in the first place. Instead, if an employer proceeds with making many crisis management errors throughout the crisis time, that will build up mistrust and resentment pilling up amongst many of its stakeholders. Consequently, this will deepen the reputational damage and make the recovery far harder.
In fact, reputational recovery should be on the agenda of a crisis management team (CMT) from an early stage. The CMT’s role should not only be to think strategically and long-term but most importantly, to oversee and evaluate the immediate crisis response. Having a clear understanding and objectives for reputation recovery may in fact help inform actions whilst the crisis is still being managed.
Reach out to rebuild reputation
A CMT should constantly keep in mind that after a crisis, internal and external stakeholders will be re-evaluating their opinions of the business, which in turn will affect its wider reputation. Therefore, rebuilding trust, regaining the public’s support and recovering reputation should be at the top of the agenda.
One of the most crucial steps of reputation recovery is in proving that performance is once again meeting expectations, standards and complies with ethical business conduct through making amends. Rebuilding damaged corporate reputations is all about walking the walk and not just talking the talk. Therefore, the key lies in delivery, not promise.
Rebuilding within the organisation
When rebuilding damaged reputations, it’s crucial to recognise the importance of internal stakeholders. Recovery efforts should always start internally. Internal trust might have taken a severe hit and morale might be low. All the good work that has been done over the years to turn employees into ambassadors may have likely been undone. Hence an internal communications campaign to rally the troops and rebuild the business will be of great help.
Find opportunities for evergreen content
When it comes to online damaged reputations one of the best methods of replacing negative search results is to publish positive evergreen content about the company. Evergreen content means that the content will always be relevant. For instance, a blog on business management is evergreen, whereas an article on Black Friday 2019 isn’t.
State your story
Defending your company even when through a public apology is crucial. So is finding the right words to convey your message. Be simple and deliver a transparent, honest, believable message. Moreover, make sure to keep your story consistent across all channels. Research has shown that most people will start believing a message after hearing it an average of six times.
All in all, organisations in the public light must be seen to be honest to their stakeholders whilst considering the welfare of their staff. If even one of these elements fails, the company is likely to face reputational backlash. When dealing with an unprecedented crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic, the key lies in transparency to both employees and the public. Try to return to normality and daily operation as soon as possible, reassure your stakeholders, and heavily invest in communication to avoid fake news, further mistakes or panic.
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