When a breach of trust occurs between your brand and your audience, how you react in the immediate aftermath of the crisis will determine whether or not you can salvage your relationships.
The revelation sent shockwaves through the hearts of civil libertarians and foreign chancelleries the world over, and through Silicon Valley’s tech companies and their employees, not to mention idealistic, internet-trawling college students everywhere. What existed to intercept enemy communications had in one news cycle become the adversary of web-righteous techies everywhere. Gone, as Business Insider pointed out recently, was the admiration of these potential future NSA employees, and gone was the cooperation of giant Internet technology companies who treasure Internet freedom. The NSA’s “trust capital,” if you will, had vanished.
Rebuilding relationship capital
The good news is that, in most cases, a crisis of trust doesn’t necessarily draw the curtains completely on your relationships. There are ways to restore the faith. But your efforts have to start immediately.
NSA or Silicon Valley?
In a crisis, your contacts need to know what happened, need to know where you stand, and there was the critical question, especially abroad: Were these companies complicit in the spying? The heavyweights staked out their position using all available communications channels, distancing themselves from the practices of the agency by writing open letters of complaint to the Senate and the president, by filing lawsuits against the NSA to protest the secrecy of court orders that forced them to turn over data, and by very publicly scrutinizing government surveillance in the news media and online.
In fact, since the crisis, the Silicon Valley/tech bloc has become one of the most vocal critics of government surveillance in general. By making it clear they were on the side of their client companies, the tech organizations made a critical first step in reestablishing trust.
The new brand perception
By responding swiftly and authentically, by addressing the problem and communicating clearly about solutions, Silicon Valley companies managed to keep the public’s mistrust of the NSA from tainting their client relationships. Most importantly, the company didn’t let poor crisis management become part of the crisis. After all, the sooner you seize the story with your response, and not lack thereof, the sooner you can reclaim trust.
The Takeaway: Relationships can be salvaged after a breach of trust, but your company must be authentic in its apologies, clear about allegiance, and quick to implement preventative measures for future crises. Don’t forget to galvanize your people, too. Your employees can also help to restore confidence by spreading the message with their own relationships.
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Philip Garrity is an associate editor of 914INC., a quarterly business-lifestyle publication serving Westchester County, New York. Concurrently, he’s an editorial assistant for Westchester Magazine.
RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.