Are you prepared for a trust disaster?

August 29, 2022

In the social media era, potential trust crises are a constant threat for every business and non-profit. A simple error or misstep can blow up into bad press and unfair attacks which erodes your organization’s trust with target audiences.

Thankfully, most critics are irrelevant. But when your target market is negatively impacted, you need to be ready to respond, not reactively flailing in real time.

It’s like dealing with a toddler throwing a tantrum because you cut the PB&J the “wrong” way: reactivity means you lose your cool and shout when you shouldn’t. Responsiveness means you have a primary plan, backups in place, and you remain calm because you’re ready to deal with it.

Here are two simple steps for bulletproofing your organization against most trust crises:

Building trust in advance

Number one, build trust early and often. You don’t want target audiences, and the media gatekeepers who stand between and your audiences, to be hearing your story for the first time after a disaster hits.

  • Build a profitable, loyal customer base. Your product or service should be backed by strong relationships, loyal staff who treat customers well, and excellent processes.
  • Use marketing tools (ads, social media, email newsletters, website content) to continually “touch” prospects and other key audiences regularly. Positive messaging reinforces your trust reservoir with customers and clients.
  • Have the press to tell your positive story as frequently as possible. Thought leadership op-eds and earned media coverage is an investment in building trust with those who haven’t directly interacted with you.

Crisis preparation

Second, be ready for crises by developing response campaigns for the top five or 10 most likely disaster scenarios. Be prepared by making your response strategy a “best practices” element of your overall trust-building efforts.

  1. Identify the top likely crises. Where will they originate, and why?
  2. Predict how they will impact target audiences. Will clients cut off business ties? Will the crises jeopardize potential contracts or investor/donor relationships?
  3. Plan how to reassure target audiences. Does the situation call for apologizing, ignoring, or refuting? Does the measure of the response match the size of the fallout?

Consider how major corporations have responded to recent PR disasters. In June, a traveler posted pictures of bugs in his American Airlines salad to social media. The airline directly contacted the passenger to apologize and resolve the issue – no mountains out of molehills.

On the other hand, a severe heat wave forced the University of California-Davis to abruptly cancel graduation after several attendees were hospitalized. The university apologized, made commencement changes, offered refunds to the graduates affected, and conducted a survey to determine the best time for a redo of the event.

The worst crises can be mitigated by earning trust in advance and being ready to rebuild trust when it’s broken. And if your execution matches your preparation, you may even be able to turn disaster into opportunity.

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