Can Covid-19 provide opportunities to change stakeholder relationships for good?

Paul Williams, Head of Planning and Production, Speak Media, considers the opportunities that are presented by COVID-19

When the coronavirus crisis hit the UK in March, businesses faced the immediate challenge of making sure that their content output was relevant to a strange and unsettling new landscape.

But, even as lockdown eases, could there be lasting implications for how companies communicate with their stakeholders? In a recent survey created by Speak Media and the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), 93% of respondents said that the post-Covid world was likely to bring new opportunities for businesses to connect with their audiences – and pointed to a range of ways in which their relationships could change for good.

Here are four ways in which your relationships with stakeholders could evolve.

1. Adapting to the needs of your customer base

The ‘new normal’ might be starting to feel more, well, normal – but that doesn’t mean your brand should revert to a pre-Covid content comfort zone. Nearly 80% of the comms leaders who took part in our survey said that organisations have an opportunity to become more relevant by adapting to the shifting needs of their customer base.

It is likely that the challenges and anxieties facing your stakeholders have changed significantly, so don’t assume customer interests are the same as they were before the pandemic. Do your research, communicate with your audience and look at key analytics data to identify areas you can provide real value to your readership – then focus your content efforts on them.

For example, sports brand Nike garnered positive attention for its ‘Play Inside’ marketing message – which not only encouraged its community to stay indoors at the height of the pandemic, but also gave them the tools they needed to workout at home. Meanwhile, in the financial services sector, Barclays has offered customers and clients who are facing coronavirus-related challenges access to insights from senior colleagues through its main digital hub, home.barclays.

2. Creating meaningful connections

Close to 70% of our respondents cited creating “deeper and more meaningful connections with different stakeholder groups” as an important opportunity for brands. The last few months have placed a new emphasis on authentic brand identities and the values behind them. As consumers renew their interest in the broader significance of companies, there’s an opportunity to highlight your brand’s story, what it stands for – and ultimately create a more profound connection with you audience.

3. Using your brand as a platform for positive change

It is not enough to ¬just proclaim your principles in generic statements – your brand also needs to demonstrate how it is putting its values into action. According to our survey, 75% of comms professionals think the coronavirus crisis gives brands the chance to “serve society better and use their business as a platform for positive change”.

Your content output should become a platform that explains how your brand is making a difference – whether it is by reporting on events, highlighting colleague stories, publishing a think piece on how a problem could be resolved, or giving your readership the resources they need to take action themselves. Sainsbury’s for example has used the news section of its corporate website to post updates about a new partnership with charity FareShare, which will allow customers to help get groceries to people in need.

4. Become a trusted source of expertise

The pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in almost every industry. It is therefore likely that your audience will be seeking information about the current landscape and how it could evolve.

Show that you deserve their trust by creating content that provides concrete value to your audience on a range of topics that relate to your brand ¬– from reports and expert opinions to advice or guidance.

It is more important than ever to ensure information is detailed, accurate, but accessible enough to appeal to the knowledge levels of your varied stakeholders. Brand content from Vodafone, for instance, has recently covered topics such as making the most of tech while working from home and how smartphones could help find ways of treating Covid-19. And insurer Aviva has published engaging editorial perspectives on effective leadership while working remotely through its podcast.

Invest time in showcasing the expertise already present in your organisation and make sure you choose the best format to inform, engage and help your audience – and foster meaningful relationships.

It is crucial that comms leaders look closely at their content to make sure they place the concerns of their readership at the forefront of everything they do. The current situation may give brands opportunities to foster real and meaningful relationships with their stakeholders – but it is also increasingly clear that those who don’t take action to adjust their comms strategies risk losing their audience’s trust.

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