Being prepared for a crisis doesn’t just mean having a cookie-cutter crisis communications plan collecting dust in a drawer—it means actively working to build resilience now. A resilient brand is like a friend—when a crisis strikes, you’re willing to withhold judgment and believe the best.
And like a friendship, resilience is built slowly, over time. For some, it’s just that old standby, the brand that’s been around forever: Sears, Roebuck and Company or Coca-Cola. But for others, it’s the brand that’s transparent, that has a human face: think of the Apple diehards who love the iPhone in large part because of how much they love Steve Jobs.
This type of resilience requires letting people in, giving a human face to the brand, and building empathy. Think tanks, unfortunately, are traditionally not very good at this. Whether we intend to or not, we spend much of our time in an ivory tower, dispensing white papers and opinions from afar.
Social media is the perfect opportunity to climb down from the tower and humanize any brand. For some, that means trolling McDonald’s for using frozen beef or photos of strange items going through airport security. Others argue that their tacos and burrito bowls are the key to romance, write pizza-themed Sound of Music renditions, and share photos of baby skunks. Meanwhile, dictionaries get in on the game by adjudicating debates about offensive words or wading into the controversy over an all-female Ghostbusters remake.
While it has plenty of potential, using social media to humanize a brand can be double-edged sword. People are less trusting of social media platforms than ever, following the recent crisis at Facebook wherein the public learned that foreign actors had used the advertising platform to buy political ads in the runup to the 2016 election.
Whatever your thoughts on those events, at least two lessons can’t be ignored:
- No one is immune to crisis. No organization is too big or small to fail. Don’t think you’re too much of an “institution” to be truly hurt by a scandal or too small to be of interest.
- Be prepared. Facebook wasn’t ready, which is why they were hit so hard in the public eye. Preparing now by building resilience is the key to survival.
Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we do what we can to prepare for crisis by building resilience. This will look different for everyone, but the guiding principle is: humanize, humanize, humanize. Give a real face to your organization. Be transparent.
Some organizations might have a scholar walk around a neighborhood discussing their latest research on housing policy, while others post photos of office parties or behind-the-scenes shots at events or TV interviews.
No matter what it looks like for your organization, the key is to get rid of that fourth wall. Let people in, show them who you are, what you’re about, and why they should think of you like a friend. Then, when the crisis comes—big or small—you’ll be ready, because your audience will know you and be ready to believe the best.
Abigail Salvatore is the Communications Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.