Corona communication #5: 5 observations for reputation management

April 9, 2020

We have now been quarantined for a few weeks and we can finally take stock of the situation. What communication trends do we see and what are the applicable lessons for reputation management that we can learn from this?


We have now been quarantined for a few weeks and we can finally take stock of the situation. What communication trends do we see and what are the applicable lessons for reputation management that we can learn from this? Here are 5 observations:

1. In crisis, people are looking for trust in the government and in their brands: confidence in the government is increasing, while confidence in our fellow citizen is on the decline, and citizens’ concerns grow by the week (source: Motivaction). Prime Minister Rutte currently attracts more than 7 million viewers during his press conferences and is more popular than ever. However, things have not always gone smoothly, as we have seen. You can make mistakes in crisis communication, provided you (quickly) admit them yourself and then act decisively (actions). Organizations can also draw communication lessons from this. After all, in times of crisis, organizations are in doubt to communicate. The opposite is necessary. It is essential to inform and tighten ties with stakeholders. Right now, you need to be transparent; indicate how you as an organization think and what you do. Not everything has to be finished, but it is necessary to keep communicating, even if things are ‘in the making’.

2. The greater importance of sentiment, monitoring and looking ahead. Brands must look through the compassion lens. More than ever, the tone of communication is essential. 71% of the Dutch think that advertisements should be adjusted (source: DVJ Insights). What is accepted and what is not changes quickly; this also applies to goodwill communication. What was an extraordinary achievement before the crisis, is now quickly seen as normal. Stay realistic and focus on what you are good at. Mark Ritson wrote a nice piece about this. The BE-DO-SAY order is more important than ever. In concrete terms, this means: 1) consider which brand values ​​can help you get your brand through the crisis 2) determine which type of goodwill actions best bring these values ​​to life 3) implement and only then evaluate whether it is a good idea to  say something about this and to what extent. Pre-testing communication messages has become more relevant. It is also important to monitor sentiments: What do they say about you? About your sector? Who says what? This crisis also requires having a “back to a new normal” scenario ready. Brands that engage in such scenario planning emerge more vigorously from the crisis, as long as they maintain the right connection with their environment.

3. Opportunities for “more social” communication are growing: We see that social media is growing more and more into places for self-expression. Working from home does something to you. The #lovemylife hashtag is being used more. Brands can respond to this through more personal communications; by posting content with their contribution to the community and sustainability, or by encouraging and helping customers and others to get their business going. Media are also engaged in more personal forms of entertainment. Think of the success of the (Dutch) talk show “Beau stays in” which is recorded at home via video conferencing with ordinary people instead of experts who explain the news.

4. There is a revaluation for the power of (internal) communication. Right now it is essential to make yourself heard more regularly internally and to really listen to your employees. We see growth in the importance of empathic internal communication (employee engagement). What does your organization stand for, how do you monitor the health of your employees and how do you help them get through the crisis with motivation? Communicating via ‘the line’ is no longer sufficient and leadership communication requires a new level, now that everyone works remotely, and keeping connection is even more relevant.

5. Growth of brand-relevant partnerships. The strategic cooperation mentioned earlier was already an important social trend that brands also see, but the impact of the crisis will make it permanent. It is now expected from brands. Take multinational DSM, for example, which self-supplies 130,000 liters of disinfectants to the government and healthcare institutions for free. However, criticism is lurking for brands that suddenly show their “social face” and do not want to make a sustainable commitment.

There are plenty of opportunities for ways of communication that now offer added value to stakeholders. It remains increasingly important to be vigilant for changing sentiments that can put (well-intentioned) communication initiatives in a different light.

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