After months of a global pandemic, racial justice protests and heaps of economic uncertainty, crisis communications has taken on new meaning. Some communicators have even gone so far as to suggest that everyone is a crisis communicator these days.
But what about the tactics and strategy is specifically different and how can brand managers adapt to be better prepared for whatever comes next?
Jennifer Granston, head of insights for Zignal Labs, shares her take on what the past few months means for the communications industry and what steps should be taken to be ready for an uncertain 2021.
PR Daily: How has crisis communications and crisis response changed in 2020?
Granston: 2020 has forever altered how we look at crisis comms and response. Brands are dealing with multiple overlapping issues at global scale, around the clock, with an unimaginable amount of data being created and exchanged online.
On top of that, they have to separate truth from fiction – and combating mis/disinformation when it occurs. Considering the myriad platforms on which ideas are shared today, and how rapidly they spread, these are no small tasks. The expectation is that brands are acting as a real-time resource to their stakeholders, including employees, consumers, and shareholders, and that they act as the credible voice to make sense of it all.
PR Daily: What are the biggest threats to brand reputation heading into 2021?
Granston: Without a doubt, the primary threat brands face is disinformation—in its many forms—and this threat is compounded by the speed with which false narratives can take root and spread.
PR Daily: What are the things that a brand is most likely to get wrong about crisis comms?
Granston: Not having a clear strategy to monitor and alert in real-time, emerging issues that will impact the brand, and a clear organizational response that allows for rapid cross-functional ability to address these things.
Being risk-averse and assuming that doing nothing will protect them – or that an issue will simply go away on its own. If they don’t take action to control the narrative, then the narrative will be written without them – and they probably won’t like the result.
Assuming they have more time than they actually do. News and ideas – and, importantly, mis/disinformation – spark quickly and spread like wildfire in today’s online ecosystem. Gone are the days of hearing about an issue and saying “I’ll deal with it in the morning.” Waiting for it to appear in the mainstream press before acting just won’t cut it anymore. Issues are percolating much earlier in pockets of the internet. But the good news is that you can find those and address issues before they take root.
PR Daily: What are the most important metrics/data points to monitor for brand reputation?
Granston: There are three key items to consider when evaluating how an issue or narrative may impact your brand:
- Veracity: Is the narrative based on truth or falsehood?
- Velocity: How quickly is it taking off?
- Sentiment: Is it helpful or damaging to your brand?
PR Daily: If you had to make a prediction, will crisis comms be harder or easier in 2021? Why?
Granston: Crisis comms has been extremely challenging this year, and it’s poised to become even more so in 2021. For one thing, the multiple overlapping issues that made crisis comms so hard this year—COVID-19, climate change, social justice and elections—are not going away. But as if that weren’t enough, brands will also be reckoning with issues like vaccination, return to work, economic recovery, policy issues, and a much greater percent of these issues being discussed online versus in traditional outlets. The disinformation crisis will continue, and we will see more sophisticated attempts to undermine the truth and create confusion.
Interested in learning more? Join Zignal Labs for its special lightning talk as part of Ragan’s Crisis Communications Virtual Conference on Dec. 8.