Clarity in Crisis: Building trust when you need it most

Before the pandemic began, most local government agencies could communicate with constituents daily and in person, almost always through trusted surrogates: principals, police officers, teachers, firefighters, and front-office staff. For many agencies, these interactions were enough to establish trust, reassure, and convey shared values and goals. In this dynamic, it was often possible — even fiscally prudent — to forego investment in communications capacity.

But what happens when those regular, organic surrogate-based communications channels are shut down by a stay-at-home order? How do you build an infrastructure – and trust – overnight?

You don’t.

Like anything else worth doing, there are no shortcuts. Here’s how and why, with the lessons of the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic painfully fresh in our mind, you should invest early and often in constituent trust via high-quality communications.

The last few months have driven public servants to quickly pivot their public communications strategies in order to assure the public they are still providing essential services, maintaining operations, and remaining worthy of constituents’ trust.

Organizations that had already established robust lines of communication with their end users enjoyed a smooth transition. More often than not, they received positive feedback from the  public.

But some agencies found the transition harder than others did. They found that residents and stakeholders were skeptical and unwilling to give them the benefit of a doubt. In many cases, these communities hadn’t regularly received information from their local government agencies prior to the pandemic. Lacking a strong standing relationship, residents and stakeholders grew increasingly frustrated.

How do you prevent this from happening?

Like preventive medicine, preventive care of your communications plans is key to avoiding awkward and stressful interactions with the public and, more importantly, to guaranteeing that your constituents receive critical information about the services you provide and the work you are doing.

To begin to assess your crisis communications strategy, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have clearly branded social media pages? Do you post frequently and monitor engagement?
  • Do you publish monthly email updates? What type of content do you include in your newsletters?
  • Do you treat these channels as avenues for constituents to receive critical information on services?
  • What type of engagement are you getting on these digital interactions? Are you successfully reaching the people you serve?

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, it’s time to take a hard look at your communications plan and do a full audit. Taking these measures will help you reassure your stakeholders that you are all working together.

Transforming your agency’s digital communications strategy can be a challenging task, and Presidio is here to help you navigate the process. Feel free to reach out to us!


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