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How to Protect Your Recruiting Brand During a Crisis

As I’ve spent time in online job seeker communities recently, I’ve begun to see a number of posts from new job seekers joining a community because they are one of the millions laid off due to a rapidly escalating global pandemic. They’re upset and angry, and they’re sharpening their pitchforks and putting their former employers on blast for not handling the situation as compassionately as they might have done.

It’s human nature to have these kinds of emotions when the world and our economy suddenly shifts in a way no one could predict. These candidates are angry, hurt and scared—and they are using their suddenly free time during shelter in place to attack and disparage their former employers. While it could be written off as “this is happening to millions of people right now” or “we couldn’t have seen this coming as an employer, we did the best we could,” and even if these stories are “just” the perspectives of recently laid-off employees, there are companies that certainly could have handled the situation with more sensitivity.

In light of the current climate, employers should be actively managing and monitoring their online employer brand now more than ever. Damage control is never easy and there is no way any of us could have seen this coming and prepared for it, but there are a few ways to engage with former employees and potential future candidates in a compassionate way.

Where to Start With Digital Brand Management in Recruiting

First, start listening

If you’re not already using monitoring technology—also called “reputation management software”—like Brandify or Reputology, you don’t have to halt everything to buy and learn it. You and your team have a lot on your plate and there are fast, easy ways to monitor your brand online. There are more than a dozen employee review sites, not including sites like Google My Business (GMB), Yelp and Facebook reviews. You need to know what and where people are talking about your company and it can be as simple as setting up Google Alerts for various phrases and mentions of your company.

Setting up Google Alerts is easy. In the “create an alert about” field, simply enter your company name the same way you’d enter terms in your niche you want to get alerts for. You’ll get email notifications of your mentions via Google’s database, based on your preferences: as they happen, at least once a week, and at most once a day. Take a look at this list of the top sites you’ll want to monitor.

Start working on review responses

The important point here is communication and improvement, not to discount the negative reviews with a defensive response (not responding is a better option). You want to show employees and candidates that your company is listening, acting on, and addressing the reviews. You can and should talk about changes you have made.

For example, if your company is receiving criticism for layoffs because your state is under a shelter-in-place mandate and your business was deemed nonessential, first consider where and how you failed to communicate this. If you respond from a place of empathy, and do it sincerely, you’re going to first apologize, explain how you would have done it differently given more time, and demonstrate that you’re taking their criticism seriously.

Does the situation suck for you as well? Absolutely, but empathy is different from saying, “Hey, I’m negatively impacted too.” If you’re responding on behalf of your company, then you still have a job. The former employee whose review you’re responding to does not.

Develop a content strategy

Develop a content strategy that speaks to the current climate. You have a talent newsletter, your (now) former employees are on it, what resources can you share that HR didn’t during their exit interview? If your layoffs happened before March 18, 2020, your former employees may not know that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was passed in response to the spread of COVID-19. The act brings relief to states in need of funds to pay unemployment insurance to claimants, and in some states, increases the amount of unemployment payments.

Consider working with outside recruiting agencies that are trying to find candidates right now and sharing that information with former employees. Shifting from a nonessential worker category to essential may not be ideal, but companies are taking extraordinary precautions for essential workforces and you can share that information as well.

Your content strategy during a crisis like this one can support your review response, as an add-on, not a replacement for your compassionate reply. Start with your “we could have handled it better” statement, then invite them to a landing page with resources for former employees or to sign up for your resources newsletter. The dominant messaging should be something to the effect that this is bigger than we could have imagined, it wasn’t executed perfectly, and how you feel matters to us.

Related article: 6 Ways to Repurpose your Recruitment Marketing Content

Don’t put off managing your brand

Sure, you could wait and it might die down eventually. But if you’re keeping up with the news, this pandemic is something that changes what our “new normal” is, in the same way 9/11 changed us. People remember where they were on September 11, 2001. They’re going to remember what company they worked for when a pandemic escalated to a global crisis, and they’re going to remember how that company handled layoffs.

Being quick and responsive is key

If a lot of negative chatter is happening in closed job seeker online communities, consider drafting and releasing a statement that speaks to what your company is doing following necessary layoffs. It doesn’t have to be an apology for not handling it well, it just has to speak to what you’re doing now, but don’t distribute it until you’ve reached out to your former employees with support and resources.

Your Candidate Experience Must Lead with Empathy

We’re all going through the same thing, some of us are impacted more than others, but we must have empathy, compassion and patience with job seekers, employees and customers at this time. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again: Your employer brand exists whether you manage it or not. How you respond now speaks volumes about your brand and you can turn a negative experience into a positive one.