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Stakeholder engagement infographic

Over the past few months businesses throughout the world have had to adapt to a completely new way of working as the Covid-19 pandemic has unfolded. What was once just an option for many of us has now become a necessity and we’ve adjusted to remote working for the foreseeable future. 

Communicating with customers and stakeholders 

As we settle into the new normal, businesses are asking themselves how they can motivate staff and keep customers loyal during these challenging times.

While many companies are, rightly, focusing on internal communications at this time, your stakeholder engagement strategy is also vitally important.

Stakeholder engagement is about building relationships with the communities and groups that are interested in your organisation and its products, services projects and campaigns.

It creates opportunities for decision makers to hear from the people their decisions directly affect – the stakeholders themselves. Engaging with a diverse group of stakeholders means companies will make better decisions, enabling them to improve their services and build loyalty and trust among their customers.

Should we still engage in these challenging times?

As many businesses are in survival mode and have had to rapidly re-think their business models, your stakeholders may not have the head space or resource to engage in the way they normally do. While you should be mindful of this, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage at all. It’s important to continue talking to your stakeholders and gaining their feedback. Your core stakeholders will be looking for reassurance about how your company is responding, adapting and looking after their interests as the situation develops.

What are the benefits of stakeholder engagement?

Exemplary stakeholder engagement is about working in partnership with your stakeholders to achieve common goals. When an organisation successfully engages its stakeholders, they are willing to champion its cause, and become cheerleaders for its projects. We call this stakeholder advocacy. It is key to protecting your organisation’s reputation and influencing the public policy agenda. Your company will always benefit from working with stakeholder advocates and this is especially true in the sensitive environment we currently find ourselves in.

Five top tips for excellent stakeholder engagement during the ‘new normal’

Here are our five top tips for engaging your stakeholders remotely during the Covid-19 outbreak and beyond:

  1. Engage early: It’s important to contact your stakeholders early on in an incident or when you’re planning a new project or campaign. Engagement should involve two-way dialogue, transparency, and active listening. Because we’re all working remotely and virtually at the moment, people are likely to be flooded with electronic communications such as emails, newsletters and blogs. So it’s worth taking the time to ask your stakeholders how they would prefer to be communicated with. We should also be mindful of the messages we’re sending and make sure we’re being sensitive to the current situation. It’s best practice to appoint a single point of contact in your organisation who will be responsible for liaising with stakeholders and keeping them informed. Always share press releases and media statements with stakeholders to ensure they’re kept fully up to date and don’t hear information elsewhere first.

  2. Continue the conversation: Two-way dialogue is a major part of stakeholder engagement, so all your communications should be part of an ongoing conversation. If your business is doing things differently right now, you should be keeping your stakeholders informed and asking for their input. Stakeholders should be consulted at every stage of a project or campaign and have a real opportunity to influence what your company is doing. If you’re running a public consultation, traditional town hall and face to face engagement methods are not an option at the moment and you will need to move your engagement online. There are plenty of tools available to make online community engagement easy. Make sure you choose a digital consultation tool that is interactive and enables full collaboration with stakeholders from the start of the process. 
  1. Host virtual meetings, workshops and focus groups: Video calls are a great way to engage our stakeholders virtually. So there’s no reason why we should have to postpone any meetings, workshops or focus groups we had arranged before lockdown. Video conferencing software and apps such as Teams, Zoom and Skype are perfect for these kinds of events. They even have features such as online breakout rooms and content/desktop sharing, and you can encourage participants to ask questions and provide feedback. 

  2. Engage on social media: Social media is great for stakeholder engagement as it enables you to have two-way dialogue in real time and provides an easy way for stakeholders to amplify your messages. But you should also watch channels closely and react appropriately to any negative comments or stories that could be damaging. It's best to respond to complaints by thanking them for highlighting the issue and moving the conversation onto email or private message.
  1. Aim for two-way advocacy: One of the most important parts of stakeholder engagement is building advocacy among your stakeholders and, in turn, championing your stakeholders’ views within your own organisation. Advocacy is built up over time and is the result of carrying out top-quality meaningful engagement, in partnership, to deliver results that work for everyone. Stakeholders are more likely to amplify your messages and champion projects they have created with you. This is important for protecting your organisation’s reputation at all times, and especially at the moment. Advocacy works both ways and it’s important to make sure the right people in your company hear the information and expertise from your stakeholders, at the right time. Make sure you champion your stakeholders’ needs and be their advocate internally, as well as making sure your organisation listens and responds. This will help build relationships and trust over time. 

With a bit of a re-think to our communications and engagement strategy, and by following the tips above, we can ensure we are still having two-way dialogue and engaging our stakeholders in our organisation’s activities, even in these challenging times.

Article originally published on CIPR Influence, 26th May 2020.