Trust is intangible, yet it’s vital to business success. A simple error or oversight that breaches trust – whether it’s a website getting hacked or a public relations failure – can easily overshadow a business that took years to build up.

Hacking is a modern and real threat to businesses.  In July 2015, infamous extramarital dating site Ashley Madison was the subject of a cyber-attack by hacker group ‘The Impact Team’. The hack resulted in a huge data breach which exposed the personal details of the site’s 30+ million users.

Not only did the leak publish the personal details of its millions of users, including phone numbers, addresses and partial credit card details, but analysis of the database allegedly showed a 70,000 strong ‘fembot army’ – fake female user accounts that sent out enticing messages to male users to snare them into buying site credits to keep the conversation going.

Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, responded in a series of press releases, denying and criticising the allegations, emphasising its collaboration with law enforcement and offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the leak, reassuring users the site was once again secure, and issuing a free ‘full-delete’ to all members. Ashely Madison’s CEO stepped down after emails allegedly showing he encouraged hacking a competitor were also leaked.

In a statement the company said: “We are actively adjusting to the attack on our business and members’ privacy by criminals. We will continue to provide access to our unique platforms for our worldwide members”.

And if reports are to be believed, the breach hasn’t permanently damaged the site. The company’s most recent statement reads “This past week alone, hundreds of thousands of new users signed up for the Ashley Madison platform—including 87,596 women”.

By responding quickly, outlining restorative and preventative measures and reinforcing the company’s message throughout, the dating site managed to exploit the negative press and retained its market position, riding the wave rather than drowning in it.

Benefit Cosmetics UK came under fire in July 2015 for jumping on a viral hashtag doing the Twitter rounds, #MakeAMovieAFatty, a word play including derogatory terms.  The backlash came quick and fast as many followers of the beauty brand, one which claims to ‘only spread love’ and takes an anti-bullying stance, expressed shock and anger at the offending tweets.

The brand’s initial response to the uproar was rather dismissive, and perceived as patronising by some, as it appeared to defend the earlier tweets as light-hearted and stating “#laughteristhebestcosmetic”.  This casual response stirred the situation up further, as followers were incensed by the lack of apology and failure to recognise any offence caused.

Eventually a series of apologetic tweets were posted by the account, but rather than showing a united front, Benefit US quickly distanced itself from the incident, apologising for the actions of its ‘UK sisters’. Plus-size model and body positive advocate Tess Holliday reinforced this by concluding that such an approach wouldn’t be taken by the US team. While her message is supportive of the US brand it adds to the division at a time the brand should be cohesive and present a united front across both continents.

More than one of the brand’s own community guidelines was directly violated by the debacle. These include being respectful of others and prohibiting “offensive, hateful or vulgar” content.

In its poor handling of the situation Benefit did nothing to minimise the negative PR surrounding the tweets and the episode culminated in an online campaign to boycott the brand.

As we can see no company is impervious to vulnerability or error, but the management of the situation is often the deciding factor in whether recovery is successful or not. Here are six actionable tips to help steer your business in the right direction for a long-lasting, trusting relationship with your staff and clients alike:

Minimise Risk

Take steps to reduce the risk of breaching your customers’ trust. This can vary from ensuring that your digital and physical security is up-to-scratch to training staff in diversity awareness and having clear, enforced social media guidelines.

Practise transparency

By practicing transparency you demonstrate to others how and why a process is in place or a decision is made. People will understand your reasoning and motives, which can be crucial in engaging people and gaining support, especially when there are tough or unpopular decisions to be made.

Communicate openly and positively

In times of crisis it can be hard to see the positive, but with every mistake or mishap comes a learning opportunity. When faced with awkward or negative questions, acknowledging the problem and providing a positive solution or learning can turn things around in your favour.

Demonstrate your core values

Your company’s core values should be at the forefront of all your activity. In times of adversity and negative PR, it is crucial to demonstrate them. Reinforcing your company’s values and relating them to how you will survive the challenge will reassure those invested in your business.

Admit your mistakes

Everybody is susceptible to making mistakes and it’s pointless trying to pretend otherwise. Generally speaking, showing the human side of your company will appeal to others. So, owning up to your mistakes will demonstrate humility and humanity, strengthening credibility and trust.

Keep your promises

Or don’t make any. If you can’t follow through on the promises you make you will soon lose business or employees, so you should always be prepared to go the extra mile to honour your agreements. Giving that level of attention to your relationships can make you and your business stand out above the rest.

Trust is at the heart of every relationship, and ensuring you have the trust of your employees and customers will help secure your business for years to come.

S. M. Nelson

S. M. Nelson


Freelance writer specialising in business, marketing, tech and finance.