It’s all too easy to assume you’ll never deal with a major crisis. But as the COVID-19 pandemic has proven, sometimes it’s possible to be swept up in something no matter how little it may have to do with your company. That’s why it pays to have a crisis communication plan. From a fire to an executive’s after-hours activities, or yes, even a pandemic, there are plenty of examples where you need to be prepared to react.
In the absence of information, humans naturally fill the void with speculation. That’s why it’s essential to start talking as soon as possible when faced with a crisis. Be brief, but be honest, and be human. It’s crucial that messaging during a crisis (when there’s often an overwhelming amount of information coming at us) not be wrapped up in corporate gobbledygook. Speak plainly, so listeners don’t speculate about what you really mean.
Don’t forget to listen
It can be easy to create a significant to-do list of crisis tasks as problems and questions crop up. It’s essential to listen to what’s being asked, from employees, staff, contractors, and media. While questions can sometimes feel like being second-guessed, they’re a valuable source of information about how your company is being seen and how it’s handling itself while in crisis. Take criticism seriously—and if you can correct your course, do so.
Share what you know, and what you don’t
Particularly in the early hours or days of a crisis, there are a lot of unknowns. That causes many companies to sit silently and wait until they have all the facts before venturing forth with any information. That’s a mistake.
Sharing what you don’t know shows employees or even the media that you are proactive; it demonstrates that you know there’s interest in specific information, and you’re working on getting it.
Don’t be afraid to be seen
Our world is wholly digital today. We expect video in almost every context. If you need to update staff, tape a simple video on your phone. People tend to feel better, even when getting bad news, when it’s delivered face-to-face.
Create your truth and share it widely
Having an influential speaker with a calm demeanor to communicate with staff or media, can go a long way to displaying confidence and earning trust.
It’s also important to have a clear pathway for information and updates, so no one has to go hunting for reliable, accurate facts. Set up a separate web page with a link through your company’s main front page with information, and spell out how often people can expect it to be updated. Don’t forget to use your corporate social media feeds to get the word out too. If you are clearly communicating the truth, rumors and speculation have no place to grow.
Focus on your people, not just the problems
While leaders are checking To-Dos off the list in a crisis, don’t forget to check in with your staff to see how they’re coping. A simple check-in, asking how they’re doing or how their family is, can go a long way to easing tensions, and it shows you care. To that end, don’t forget to check in with yourself too. It’s difficult to lead others when one feels lost, so ensure you’re getting rest, making time for wellness, taking regular breaks, and not dwelling on missteps.
Your communication plan can lay out exactly who will handle what in a crisis, and what your first and subsequent steps should be. Don’t forget to update it yearly.