How you communicate in a crisis can influence the outcome nearly as much as the crisis itself. In the ensuing chaos, it’s easy to lose sight of the long-term consequences of whatever you say. But a poorly planned and executed communication strategy can spread rumor and inuendo over facts and send an organization into a tailspin from which it’s difficult to recover. The way you handle the situation can shape perceptions of your organization for years to come.
When it comes to crisis response, information is key. Whether you’re talking about customers, suppliers, employees, or other important stakeholder, people want to know what’s going on. They want facts. They want the truth. And they want it now.
Successful crisis communication starts with advance planning. Have your communications team and a comprehensive strategy in place and at the ready. Amid a crisis, deciding what to say is hard enough without the added headache of assembling a communication team on the fly.
Here are five tips to consider when crafting your external and internal crisis communication strategy:
Move quickly. Speed is of the essence, when it comes to crisis communication. Get in front of the situation by being the first to tell your story. If others beat you to the punch, you’ll be forced into a defensive position, making it very difficult to take back control of your message.
Be authentic. Trust and transparency are essential when communicating with employees, customers, or other stakeholders. If you made a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Set a tone of openness by making sure everyone knows exactly what is happening, and provide honest, accurate, up-to-date information on a regular basis. Kept in the dark, people will fill in the blanks with an unwanted fire of speculation.
Show humanity. People need to feel heard and supported in times of uncertainty. Don’t be afraid to share your own personal experiences – especially with employees. Listen to comments, suggestions, fears, and concerns – of employees, as well as customers, partners, and other stakeholders – and address them in the most productive way possible.
Assume every message will become public. In this era of social media, very little stays private – not even that “for internal use only” email. Some even consider it their ethical duty to share all information publicly. Pay attention to your online presence. Social media can’t be ignored.
Act as a team. Great teamwork often leads to great outcomes. Going through a crisis together can bond people to each other and to the organization more than words of a mission statement ever could. And that doesn’t apply only to employees. Communicating with honesty and integrity also can inspire external stakeholders like customers to advocate for you during a crisis.
In this era of ever-changing conditions, the contents of your communication might need to be written in pencil, but your strategy shouldn’t waiver. Be upfront and transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Even if you don’t have all the answers.
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