Repairing trust and reputation

October 22, 2013

Repairing trust and reputation

I wanted to read the chapter in Trust Inc. by Linda Locke on “Trust, Emotion and Corporate Reputation.” I bought the book because Barbara Brooks Kimmel has done such a terrific job building Trust Across America-Trust Around the World, an organization focused on the fundamental element of trust. Linda is the founder of Reputare Consulting which is a reputation management consulting firm.  I know Linda from events at Reputation Institute and her work leading reputation management at MasterCard. She really knows the field, is a thought leader on reputation, has powerful insights,  and I follow her regularly on Twitter (@reputationista)…love that handle.

In the chapter, Linda mentions that facts are often not enough. It is a good starting place to build trust but if that’s all a company has to provide in a crisis situation, it is not going to work today.  She says: “To earn trust, a company must go beyond the requirements, beyond the simple facts of the situation, and demonstrate that it understands the concerns of the stakeholders.”  Showing empathy, care and concern are necessary ingredients to rebuilding trust, protecting reputation for the long-term and beginning to repair the reputation tear.  What caught my attention was her recommended breakdown of communications content when a company’s reputation is under the glare of spotlights:

  • 50% of a company’s external communciations should express care and concern
  • 25% should express the company’s commitment to fixing the situation (what are you going to do, when and how)
  • 25% should focus on the facts (again, facts have to be there but it is not all there is).

These are very helpful proportions to use when explaining to companies what they need to do about the content of their risk communications. What fascinates me the most, however, is how companies today have to show their “softer side” when they are in the middle of a brewing crisis and be more vulnerable and empathic. This is a major change in how companies are expected to communicate when they have done wrong in the public’s view.

Linda provides some case studies in her chapter that truly intrigued me. She provides a social-pyschological framework to understanding the public’s emotions to losing trust in institutions.  Here’s one to share. She gave an example of a financial services firm managing their reputation during the horrific and unprecedented financial recession of 2007-2008. The firm analysed what people were saying about how they felt during this period.  As she describes it, the firm found that three emotions were most evident in the public discussions about the financial downslide that was causing a real sense of fear and loss of trust. They were: irreversibility (consumers fear that what was happening was irreversible and would be permanent); unfamiliarity (consumers having never experienced anything like this economic uncertainty before) and involuntariness (consumers had no control over what was happening to them and could not influence the outcome whatsoever). The consuming public was paralyzed by fear and what could companies do to assuage their loss of trust. For companies faced with these raw emotions, Linda recommends explaining in everyday language (certainly not corporate speak) how the situation happened, how it is similar to a familiar experience they may have encountered in the past, the role of the responsible parties to fix the situation so it does not happen again and how the company will do whatever it takes to repair that broken bond of trust. And certainly empathisize with those affected and show you care if you want to keep your reputation from cratering.

Building trust is the bedrock of reputation. If your company is not trusted and credible, it is going to fail fast and I mean really fast.



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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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