The importance of stakeholder engagement during the coronavirus pandemic

Michalis Michael, CEO of DigitalMR, asks where your business will be on day 1 after lockdown and highlights the importance of stakeholder engagement during the coronavirus pandemic

Described as ‘unlike anything seen in peacetime’, the coronavirus outbreak has truly turned our world upside down and has caused serious hardship for businesses around the world in the process.

The crisis will be one of the biggest tests companies will face and, now more than ever, they will need the trust and support of their stakeholder groups as they struggle to cope with the new reality.

Businesses need to consider what happens not just today, but tomorrow and beyond, and the way they are perceived and how they communicate with their stakeholders in these times of crisis will determine which companies come out of this intact.

What is stakeholder engagement?

Stakeholder engagement is an ongoing commitment to understanding and interacting with stakeholders, taking their views into account when making relevant business decisions. Effective engagement is built through two-way discussions and transparency, both in times of crisis and times of opportunity.

Why stakeholder engagement is so important right now

Throughout this pandemic, businesses will remain out of touch with those that matter the most to them without effective and authentic stakeholder communications, no matter how well they are doing or how helpful their actions may be.

Currently, most people have to stay at home, and many will have more time on their hands. This means they will undoubtedly be communicating more online, proactively sharing more content and responding to more social media posts.

Stakeholder communications is a necessary component of sustainable, long-term business success, and businesses need to ensure they are proactively addressing the interests of employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community in order to build trust, not only now, but for the foreseeable future.

How engagement can be done effectively

In order to effectively engage with stakeholders, businesses need to identify who these groups are, and which ones ought to be the focus of their engagement efforts throughout the pandemic. Prioritising who to engage with is crucial, and can easily be done by considering the reasons, benefits and strategic alignment for engaging with the stakeholder.

Companies must then ensure they have a strong vision in mind and are clear on what they want to achieve, before deciding what will be the best tools to inform, consult or collaborate with various stakeholder groups.

Businesses of today are at an advantage, in that they have a plethora of online tools at their disposal which make it simpler to engage, inform and consult stakeholders – therefore it’s essential that they put digital at the heart of their stakeholder engagement strategies.

Social intelligence can help

Whether they are a business producing products in high demand throughout the pandemic [such as toilet rolls or disinfectant sprays], a firm that went to zero revenue from day one [for example a chain of restaurants or a hotel] or is somewhere in between, all businesses can benefit from social intelligence.

Also known as ‘social listening’, social intelligence is when you track your social media platforms for mentions and conversations related to your brand. It helps you understand what’s going right, what’s going wrong and where you need to improve, so you can take this insight and find ways to put it into action. This could mean anything from crafting a tailored response to a customer to redesigning your entire strategy.

Social listening harvests thousands of posts from sources such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, forums, blogs etc. daily, and annotates for topics and sentiment using machine learning algorithms.

It can help businesses learn how to tap into newly created demand, fine-tune their products to address new needs and struggles and provide tips on usage creating goodwill ready for the return to normality.

The importance of strategy

Organisations communicate with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders in every aspect of their operations daily, but how strategic they are in their efforts to engage is what sets those who are successful apart from the companies that report poor results.

In order for engagement to be as effective as possible, businesses need to put appropriate planning and coherence in place across their organisations and ensure they are sufficiently resourced and have clear goals and strategic direction, rather than approaching it in an ad-hoc ad visceral manner.

Effective and efficient stakeholder engagement is a key element to the success of any organisation. By keeping customers engaged, firms can ensure that throughout these testing times, their brand equity is strengthened rather than weakened.

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