Stocks, sales, jobs and morale are plunging, so it’s not that surprising to learn about the latest victim of the current climate to hit rock bottom: consumer trust. According to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, 77 percent of U.S. respondents have less trust in corporations than they did a year ago. For the record, that’s lower than the days following Enron, the dot com bust and September 11th.
Globally, the study found the ability to trust a company is one of the most important factors in determining a company’s reputation, just behind product quality and employee treatment. During a time when reputation and consumer trust is critical to market survival, what can companies do to mitigate further damage?
Act Responsibly- Actions speak louder than words or spin, and people will be quick to call attention to any missteps. Taking a corporate jet to legislative hearings for a bankruptcy bailout is one of the most obvious blunders of late, but all companies are faced with making tough decisions every day from prioritizing investments to pricing goods, to choosing suppliers and fair treatment of employees.
Be Authentic- Before communicating with your stakeholders about your positive efforts and good work, ensure that there are credible corporate practices in order to support any information you are sharing.
Be Transparent- Stakeholders expect a more open book regarding financials and business transactions today. Now is not the time to hide behind closed doors. Acknowledge your struggles and the solutions you will pursue to assure your stakeholders that you are proactively addressing any issues.
Engage in Dialogue- Instead of talking at your stakeholders, start a conversation and listen and respond to what they have to say. Social media offers an inexpensive and direct way to engage, so meet people where they are online and provide new forums for them to express themselves.
Be a Good Neighbor- During times of crisis, companies that can prove they are more than mere providers of goods and services and demonstrate their commitment to their communities, employees and other stakeholders will stand out after troubling times have passed.
Be a Resource- Your stakeholders are feeling the economic pinch too, so take the extra step to provide your organizational expertise or relationships to create a teaching moment for your stakeholders. For example, McDonald’s and Visa launched "McDonald's Practical Money Skills" program to empower employees.
At Cone, we’re heeding our own advice about the unparalleled importance of reputation management today and in the future by appointing our first “Chief Reputation Officer." In this new role, Mike Lawrence will be responsible for all client-facing reputational issues across the agency related to business issues, corporate responsibility, media relations and crisis prevention and management.