While Covid-19 has saturated media reporting for months (a journo friend of mine told me recently that she felt horribly guilty about being excited to hear the George Pell appeal decision. Not excited that the conviction was reversed because that is obviously devastating for everyone involved, but that she actually had something to report on other than coronavirus), the media hasn’t let one lie when it comes to how well companies have or haven’t communicated through this crisis. 

Airbnb and Uber were both in the spotlight when they announced redundancies across their businesses in May. Airbnb’s announcement was largely well received or reported on neutrally when they informed their people they were letting go 25% of staff. The empathy they showed the employees who had lost their jobs was noted – the CEO Brian Chesky personally handling the communication with impacted employees – he explained the why and the how, letting those employees keep their company laptops to help with job searching and development, minimum 14-weeks pay, 12-months health insurance in the US, as well as other entitlements.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

Uber also reduced their global employee count – by around 3,700 people in May. Employees were told via Zoom and the call was hosted by Uber’s head of Centre for Excellence in the US, Ruffin Chevaleau not by CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Dara did however host a call with analysts a few days later, ultimately showing his priority was his bottom line and not his people. This wasn’t perceived well and rightly so.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi

While we’re not through this crisis yet and there will be new rules and trends for how to build an ethical and robust corporate reputation, here are some elements that are emerging as essential for any business wanting to communicate well during and following this crisis.

1. Look after your people first. Uber and Airbnb aren’t alone in having to reduce the size of their workforce as Covid-19 makes a hard impact on businesses around the world. But what stands them apart is that Airbnb communicated in a human way and by CEO Brian Chesky handling communication, he showed how serious he and his team knew this news was for many of the people losing their jobs. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a business that has to make cuts or you’re fortunate to be retaining your entire workforce, take your people on the journey. Communicate with them often. Tell them what you know and what you’re working to figure out. Communicate in a way that befits the news and tell them first. I’m a recent but pretty dedicated CrossFitter (hold the jokes, I’ve heard them) and the owner of my gym found out that CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman had resigned via social media. What?! This wasn’t acceptable pre-Covid, but with this virus impacting people and industries around the world in ways unimaginable, telling your people first, telling them clearly and treating them like real human beings will be in the spotlight more than it has previously.

CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman

2.  Embody your brand purpose. In a recent article, Harvard Business Review discusses ‘purpose inertia’. It’s been widely recognised for several years that consumers regard a brand’s purpose as integral to whether they want to do business with them or not, but this article quotes research that found most brands ‘aren’t delivering clearly on this front’. Covid-19 and #blacklivesmatter has pushed brand purpose to the fore again because no longer can brands afford to be unclear about their purpose or communicate their purpose for the sake of it. The businesses and brands that are clear and live their purpose through their brand promise, products and services, communications, leadership, decision-making and people culture, while communicating it clearly and effectively, will emerge with stronger reputation in the future. As HBR says, ‘For once, leaders can boldly let brand purpose drive business decisions.’

3.  Take your stakeholders on the journey. Don’t just tell them about the wins and the launches, the innovations and the donations. Show them how you got there. Show them the real issues the business is tackling. Show them the thinking behind what the company is doing. Show them who from your business is managing these changes. Share timings, milestones and critical deadlines. Of course, give the business some leeway with announcing timings but be prepared to show your audiences how you got there, rather than just announcing with fanfare when you get to the destination.

4. Be consistent. This is PR 101, but the uncertainty people are living with means it needs to be mentioned here. Plus, the overall theme of these recommendations are that businesses need to communicate more – it’s expected and companies should take it as their duty. Increased communication means businesses need to put more resources to comms so it can be done effectively and to ensure your brand’s messaging, tone and outreach is consistent across all platforms and all audiences. A senior comms person or consultant should be in the room with executive decision makers so they can devise the comms strategy as a priority.  

The brands communications director should be in the room at executive meetings

5.  Build your audiences on the platforms where you can have direct engagement. The big brands do this well already, but with the shrinking of news media (even more so over the past few months with title closures across some of Australia’s major publishers), brands that have used platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter as an after-thought in the past have the opportunity to prioritise them and build engaged, targeted audiences that potentially have more value in the long-term than a piece of high quality media coverage in a national masthead (or as much value).  

6.  Be willing to be an advocate. The devastation of Covid-19 and the attention George Floyd’s death has brought to the Black Lives Matter movement mean that brands can no longer sit on the fence, maybe have an employee volunteering program or donate generously when a catastrophe impacts their region or industry (eg. the generous support for Australia’s devastating summer of bushfires). From now on, not only do companies need to be willing, but they also need to be transparent about the stand they are taking on important political, societal and environmental issues. Now more than ever, businesses will be accountable to do what’s right, whether it impacts their bottom line or not. Consumers expect the brands they buy from to do what’s right, not do what’s right as long as it doesn’t impact their share price, dividend or profitability.

George Floyd’s death in the US turned global attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement

Being an advocate means communicating your policies on important issues clearly and making them easy to find. It means communicating them proactively to your people, partners, industry, the media, prospects, government and agencies. Being an advocate will be about companies doing what’s right for their people and stakeholders, not just acting like a good corporate citizen to aid perception. Your people will see through that now. I know it’s been used a bit lately, but this is true for individuals and it’s true for companies: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

7.   Show them what the future looks like. This is hard right now because for many companies and industries, it’s not clear what the future looks like. But you can tell them about what you’re starting to see. Or how you’re planning on getting there. Tell them about your commitment to your customers or clients, how you’ll be innovating and adapting. How you’ll be protecting the interests of your people. And how the business plans on coming out the other side. 

Business can bring people together for good

8.  Create a sense of community. This has been a priority for companies and executive leaders during lockdown. How can you instill a sense of community with the people you lead, your online communities, your customers when human interaction is so limited? But when you consider brands’ heightened role as advocates for what’s right, the expectation of brands to tell the why as well as the what and the how, the requirement of companies to be more transparent than ever and the increased focus on building engaged audiences on online platforms, the expectation of businesses creating a sense of community is one that I think will stay. How will your business bring people together? How will you create a shared sense of interest with your customers, partners or clients? How will your business tell its story? And how will you share – not just the wins, but the challenges, the difficult conversations, the setbacks and of course, the sense of achievement when the business, your industry, your country’s economy, the global economy, health systems and the health of individuals worldwide overcome this?

Angela Cross is a reputation strategist who works with c-Suite leaders and brands to build and protect their reputations through PR, corporate social media, industry profiling, stakeholder engagement, and effective issues management. If you would like to build your reputation with purpose and authority, email her here.

When I’m first meeting c-Suite leaders who want to build their reputations, I often hear “I know I need to do this, I just don’t know where to start.” There are many executives locally and overseas who have built global reputations by being present online, sharing their knowledge, telling their organisations’ stories, and engaging with their customers. But no one starts with thousands of followers, so here are some insights that may help you start to build your profile with purpose and authority.

Sir Richard Branson

CEOs synonymous with reputation are known to most: Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk (but that’s a separate case study on the balance between CEO reputation and corporate reputation being out of alignment), John Legere, Naomi Simson, and Ariana Huffington, and many others. They all started somewhere and they approach building their reputation with purpose, patience and clarity.

Arian Huffington

Locally, The Australian has recognised ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott for using social media as “his quiet strategy of differentiation to his four pillar counterparts.” Elliott tweets, regularly posts video to LinkedIn and Twitter, is a Facebook Business Influencer, loves a selfie, and shares ‘day in the life’-style content as much as he supports ANZ company announcements by explaining what they mean to his followers. Probably one of his most notable social moments is this Facebook Live interview, which he filmed on the first day of the Royal Commission in 2018. The video currently has more than 43,000 views. I’d like to see Elliott share a bit more of his human side, but maybe that’s coming. Elliott says he finds social media fairly easy to fit in throughout his day.

ANZ Bank CEO Shayne Elliott

Here are some insights on how leaders can start building their reputation with purpose and authority:

  1. Every leader started somewhere
    Not even Elon Musk created an account on Twitter and woke up the next morning with 25 million followers. Don’t worry if you have 16 Twitter followers and most of them are old colleagues or family. Start sharing your knowledge and insights and your audience will grow. Just start. Start with one platform and one topic, if that feels right, and build from there.

    Elon Musk

  2. Tidy up what’s there
    This won’t be the case for younger generations as they join the c-Suite, but most of the CEOs I work with created a Twitter (for example) account sometime in the past 10 or so years, tweeted a few times and left it dormant. Delete those tweets, update your bio, upload a new profile and background pic, link to your website. Start following media, industry sources and groups, peers and institutions that help inform your purpose as a leader. Do the same for Facebook (if you’re on it), LinkedIn, Instagram or any other platform where you can see yourself comfortably engaging with an audience and sharing your expertise in a relevant way.
    Resourcing a CEO’s reputation strategy so that it doesn’t distract from your purpose as a leader is also a whole other post (or series of posts), so we’ll write about that soon. But this is where you can rely on your internal teams or trusted advisors to help you with this in a way that is natural and sharp.
  3. Know your purpose
    This is so important. Leaders today are overwhelmed with messaging that building a reputation is an imperative for their business and their profile as a leader. That you should be on social media. You have to be a thought leader on a topic no one else has thought of. All at the same time as leading your organisation, growing your businesses, engaging your board and shareholders, fostering your company culture, and taking a stand on social issues. Oh, and being a human, like having a family, spending time with friends and being part of your local community.
    Knowing your purpose for building your reputation starts with knowing your values and aligning them with your priorities as a leader. When you know your values and your goals, it’s easy to identify your purpose for building your reputation. From your purpose flows your content, your messaging and keywords, your sources of information and insights, and your position on relevant topics and issues.

    A family at the beach

  4. What is your career legacy?
    This one is closely aligned to purpose but it’s often overlooked when leaders feel pressured to start building reputation. If your reputation is going to be an asset that performs for the long-term, and is therefore worth the investment, you need to be clear on what you want your career legacy to be. This becomes the undercurrent of your reputation strategy – or your strategic vision – and will keep you on track over the long term.
  5. Map out potential issues
    Every leader has potential issues and downfalls that may result out of building your profile. If you anticipate what they are, know what your messaging will be and how you will respond depending on the event, you’ll be able to manage issues as they happen and move on. Ex-CBA CEO Ian Narev should be doing this now that he is joining Seek. Narev’s reputation is tarnished (some might say ruined), but with the right approach, more transparency, honesty and authenticity, he has the opportunity to move on from his downfall at CBA or he risks 2018 becoming his ultimate career legacy
Angela Cross is a reputation strategist who works with c-Suite leaders and brands to build and protect their reputations through PR, corporate social media, industry communication, stakeholder engagement, online optimisation strategies and effective issues management. If you would like to build your reputation with purpose and authority, email her here.

This isn’t a post about how a c-Suite exec or leader should decide on their particular passion for sustainability and incorporate the topic into their reputation strategy (though if it’s a true passion you definitely should). It’s about how – as an executive with competing but equally important business goals, priorities and pressures – you can build you reputation in a way that’s sustainable for you over the long-term.

CEOs today are expected to be active and engaged publicly. You’re also expected to have a strategic online presence, so that when a stakeholder researches you they know your priorities, your achievements, your expertise and your passions. Basically, what this means is that who you are and what you stand for shows up, whether it’s on page one of Google, in the media, on LinkedIn etc. But many experts who recommend that a CEO is active on social media don’t talk about how a CEO can make this a reality. As the CEO, do you have to do it all yourself (many think they do)? Where will you find the time? Is it really a priority as much as the tangible goals and leading the people within your business are? How do you do it so that it has meaning?

Here are some tools and support available to leaders so that you can run an aligned reputation strategy in a way that helps you be a better and more engaged leader without distracting you from leading your business and your people.

Decide on the platform(s) that are right for you

Every social platform has its reasons for you being on it or not and different executives have had success with different platforms. Head of NIB Mark Fitzgibbon is embarking on Instagram in his “Fridays with Fitz videos. Through one-minute videos Fitzgibbon says he is engaging Millennials on topics he believes are important all people understand. So far he’s covered immunisation, Australia Day, immigration, global warming, and others. His following is growing slowly. An industry expert has told me he thinks the videos are the beginnings of Fitzgibbon moving into politics. Time will tell.

LinkedIn is a given for every professional. You might want to start with one platform and do it well and LinkedIn might be it. Twitter is an easy extension – or starting platform – and many CEOs find it the right platform to engage with customers in real time. Other CEOs prefer Facebook, and some (like Fitzgibbon) are emerging on Instagram. If you’re starting out, pick one and get it right. Start building an engaged audience. When you feel comfortable, move to your next platform.

In the US, CEO of T-Mobile John Legere is a social media titan, and while Twitter is his preferred social platform to engage and help customers, he also has more than 355,000 followers on Facebook and is known for his #slowcookersunday videos. Not typical CEO-style content, but it works for him.

Refine your style of content

LinkedIn is full of talking head videos because it boosts engagement and video is the future of everything (apparently). But if it’s not right for you yet, don’t start with it. You don’t have to do everything.

Look at thought leaders, high-profile executives and influencers you admire and analyse their content style. Some might only publish video. Others might only publish day in the life of style insights. Others might publish long-form written posts. Some might do a mix. Look at what feels comfortable for you and start with that.

Plan it out

You schedule most other parts of your professional and personal life, and your approach to building your reputation should be the same. Once you know where you’re going to start building your profile and how you’ll do it, plan your frequency and content-type across your platforms. Schedule it into you and your team’s schedule like you would any other professional priority. Mentioning your team takes me to the next important point – how to resource your strategy so that it’s sustainable and doesn’t feel like a burden.

Resourcing

This is so important. Despite CEO’s having numerous resources both within their organisations and the consultants who support them, many think they have to do every element of their reputation program themselves. This isn’t how it works.

Your EA can manage your daily schedule and be coached to draft short posts on your behalf. They can keep you on track each day and remind you what you need to post or the content you need to provide.

Your internal social/digital/marketing/corporate affairs and comms teams can keep you briefed on upcoming announcements that you should either make for the organisation direct to your social and brand platforms or incorporate into your daily posting to communicate to your audience.

You should also engage with an expert consultant to keep your stategy and positioning aligned with your purpose and long-term goals for building your reputation. They can point out new opportunities, brainstorm new topic areas, be available to advise you navigating an issue if it happens, and help you overcome any resourcing roadblocks to protect the sustainability of your reputation strategy.

Angela Cross is a reputation strategist who works with c-Suite leaders and brands to build and protect their reputations through PR, social media, industry communication, stakeholder engagement, online optimisation strategies and effective issues management.  If you would like to build your reputation with purpose and authority, email her here.