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Trust and data triumph over crisis

Every crisis response should rely on data, but organizations don’t do this enough

Lisa Ross, Edelman


Trust (n): assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed

Trust gets at the crux of everything. Facts have become optional. Trust in institutions is at an all-time low. This one simple word we’ve all grown up with now retains an outsized impact and is key to successfully navigating a crisis. The organizations that do this well leverage data, take a stand on social issues, and engage the right messenger to deliver the news.

Leverage data in crisis

Every crisis response should rely on data, but organizations don’t do this enough. There is an abundance of social listening tools available and incredible insights that can be delivered in real time. Data informs level, scope, and timing of engagement, as well as key audiences to reach and leverage. And yet the instinct is often to abandon and invest less in these efforts before a crisis hits or even after one subsides. Keeping a continuous pulse on audience sentiments provides the benchmark that’s crucial to anticipating and navigating a crisis.

Taking a stand on social issues

The opportunity here is two-fold. Organizations must align crisis response on data. But they must also work to rebuild trust that’s been broken, and sometimes never built in the first place. Engaging with audiences and taking a stand on issues they care about is a way to rebuild what’s been lost.

What’s more, data shows this approach works. The Edelman Trust Barometer revealed employees and customers expect business to lead. They expect CEOs to speak up on policy and social issues. They expect senior leaders to shape government policy. Employees expect their organizations to support community activities and would pressure management to weigh in on social issues.

It’s critical this is done with an authentic and compelling voice. Customers easily spot a disingenuous message. When it’s genuine and rooted in identity, it builds trust and brand equity with the audience, so when a crisis does happen, it’s a small fire instead of a blaze. The road to recovering reputation ultimately becomes more manageable.

Engaging the right messenger

When it comes to earning trust – in crisis and in calm – it’s not just the message but the messenger that matters. Finding the most ardent advocate means looking closer to home – employees are now more trusted and seen as more credible voices than CEOs, but are seldom utilized. People still expect CEOs to take a stand, but their response often comes too little too late. Giving employees a voice and devoting thought to who will resonate the most with given audiences often gets glossed over in a crisis. Yet it’s something that can mean a difference between a short-term issue and an ongoing problem.

In the end, all roads lead to trust: one in which confidence is placed. It’s never been more topical and simultaneously more endangered than it is today. As communicators and strategic advisers, understanding the keys to leveraging data to earn, build, and protect trust has to be our number one priority.

Lisa Ross is president of Edelman’s Washington, DC, office.


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