Although it has been around for many years, crisis communication is just now starting to see an increase in awareness towards the importance of the industry and the impact crisis communication has on the wellbeing of businesses and institutions from all over the world. In today’s technology-driven times, when information travels with the speed of light, the way a company handles a crisis – whether internal or external – is of utmost importance and can even decide the faith and future of said company. A mishandled crisis may lead to financial loses, a decrease in brand loyalty, and even bankruptcy, depending on the situation.
Two years ago, Oxford dictionaries chose ‘post-truth’ as the word of the year, and since we are indeed living in times in which objectives facts matter less than appeals to emotion and personal belief, even if you are on the right side of the truth, you still need to have an effective crisis communication strategy in place in order to minimize the damages that arise in case of a crisis. For example, based on a recent study, ten years after the financial crisis, 46% of Americans still think that the economic sector is not as secure as it should be. The data does not stop there, there are studies and research talking about the impact of fake news, all which matter a great deal during a crisis, even one in the corporate environment. The way people look at a crisis has changed over the years, therefore the way you present yourself during and in the aftermath of a crisis needs to always take that into consideration.
Once an information is out there, companies, institutions, and crisis communicators need to know how to convey their message beyond relating the fact – from having templates in place to knowing how to interact with social media – which is why we’ve put together five tips for effective crisis communication that will help you handle any situation with professionalism and care.
A crisis is not something that happens every day, which is why most companies sometimes think that they don’t need to have a strategy or plan in place in terms of crisis communication, and that it is best to just handle things when or if they happen. The truth is that not only the existence of crisis communication is mandatory, but also that it is drafted and implemented based on data gathered, analyzed and personalized for a wide range of situations.
In order to have an effective crisis communication, you need establish guidelines and work based on WHAT-IF scenarios, so that if the time comes, you are prepared for anything. Implement your crisis communication strategy with the help of a modern communication tool so that you will have access to a wide array of options and data, and even make use of solutions such as mass notification systems.
Crisis communication gets its effectiveness from making the best use of time. In the case of a crisis, there is usually no time to waste with drafting what messages you need to send, which is why it is highly important to have already-drafted templates, for a wide range of situations, such as power cuts, natural disasters, internal network failure, active shooters, structural damage, and everything else which might affect your business. Drafts, alongside with a multi-platform integration plan go a long away in terms of saving time. Plus, a template written in advance means you are not working under the stress and pressure of the crisis, so there are no risks of saying something inappropriate or broadcasting information you shouldn’t.
Make sure that your templates are clear, professional, to the point, and that they offer all the necessary contact information so that people know who to reach with questions or concerns. Also, your templates should have a link directing to a webpage or an app where updates about the crisis can be found. Don’t forget to have an ALL CLEAR message which to send once the situation has been controlled.
In the crisis communication environment everything is in an ever-changing state, from policies and industry guidelines, to even the crisis itself. If some years ago we had no idea what it means to have internal or external hacks, or how much damage can a data breach do, today such IT-related situations have become the norm in terms of corporate crisis. We can predict what tomorrow brings, but for that your crisis communication strategy need to undergo ongoing evaluations and your personnel needs to be trained in accordance to emerging or changing guidelines and regulations. No matter the sector you are activating in, crisis communication is a variable component of your business, and you need to always be up-to-date with what that means.
Although a social media presence is not always required for a company, having active profiles of your leaders and key team members people can turn to in case of a crisis is a great idea, as long as you keep in mind that social media needs to be handled with care. Make sure that you are broadcasting the most important information through an immediate channel, such as text messaging, and providing links to further information. Having social media platforms profiles in place does not mean you need to ignore the fact that the simplest and fastest way of communicating in a crisis situation is via a text message. Yet, regardless if it is because of its immediacy or the familiar feeling it conveys, people sometimes turn to social media in case of a crisis. So after you’ve sent a text, having a response team on major social media platform will help manage the crisis communication strategy and stay in touch with those involved or affected.
Also, you need to have a media list in place, with contacts you can use if you need to broadcast a message or crisis information, or need to be in contact with the media for anything related to the crisis at hand.
You might think that since you have drafted templates, made use of a modern notification system, and prepared yourself and your team for all possible scenarios, when the time comes, everything will go smoothly. Unfortunately, that’s not how a crisis works, and understanding this is an important step for having an effective crisis communication strategy in place, and most importantly, for not making a mistake if or when the time comes. Accepting the uncertain nature of a crisis and its ambiguity in terms of reactions from employees, people you are in business with, the public, and the media will help you not lose track of what a crisis communication strategy is meant to do: help those involved and/or affected by a crisis have all the necessary tools at hand to overcome with little to no damage. Not being aware of this aspect can lead to rash decisions or stress-related mistakes such as broadcasting the wrong message, not broadcasting one at all, or having an inappropriate reaction in public.
Regardless of your sector, having a crisis communication plan in place is mandatory for assuring that things are handled with professionalism and immediacy in case of a crisis. And even though you cannot predict all possible outcomes, following these 5 tips for effective crisis communication will give you the advantage you need over those who are handling a crisis in the spur of the moment, but most importantly, will help you maintain business continuity and provide all those involved with information and with suited solutions.
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