Crisis communication: 8 rules to follow
In 2020, crisis communication is one of the most common topics of discussion. It seems that just recently crisis communication could only be applied to brands that were, to some extent, at the fault of what’s happening. Now COVID-19 made it apparent that every company needs a crisis communication strategy as their reputation depends on what they do in a crisis and how they do it.
For some, making decisions and communicating these decisions to the public and the government takes an extreme turn.
Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
What can I say, we’ll see how this turns out.
For others, there are rules. There are technologies, systems, and protocols that enable a company to effectively communicate during a crisis. There are spokespeople - members of the company who are prepared to talk to the media during a crisis. In this article, we’ll outline the main rules and the sub-rules of crisis communication.
# 1 Rule: Be quick.
When a crisis hits, the most important thing is to quickly address the public. Everyone wants to know what’s happening and what’s going to happen. If the information isn’t provided by the company in time, an information vacuum is created. People and the media then fill the information vacuum with their own takes on the event. This creates room for speculations, fake news, inaccurate information, and can be used by anyone wishing to attack the company.
A quick response, even if not particularly informative, shows that the company is in control of the event, that they care about the people, and about what people think of them. How quick is quick? Most agree that the company’s response should come within an hour.
#2 Rule: Be accurate.
More than anything, it’s important not to misinform. All information presented to the public should be well checked. You should only cite credible sources.
#3 Rule: Be consistent.
People respond extremely badly to inconsistent information. Inconsistency makes people believe the company is being dishonest, while consistency creates trust and works as the best persuasion tool. To achieve it, you’ve got to make sure your PR teams, social media managers, and other possible spokespeople are on the same page. This, in turn, is only possible if the company is honest and transparent with its employees. During a crisis, information and updates should be shared within the company in real time so that all employees could be clear on the company’s position and course of action, and different people could convey a consistent message.
#4 Rule: Make public safety a priority.
While risking public safety for profit might seem like a solid idea at first, it is very likely to bring losses and reputational damage in the future. Not to mention the immorality of the choice. It's important to not only prioritize public safety, but also announce and explain your decision to employees, customers, and the general public.
#5 Rule: Express sympathy for the victims.
Show sympathy for the victims of the crisis. Offer assistance if it's in your power. Share what you’re doing to (help) handle the crisis and lessen its impact.
#6 Rule: Use all available communication channels.
Depending on where your target audience is, you’ll have to use multiple communication channels. It can be traditional media, email, Twitter, YouTube, etc. It’s important to tailor your tone and your message to the channel. Save official statements for press releases, and be authentic and approachable on channels like Twitter. This refers not only to the original statement but to all crisis-related updates that you're most likely to post on social media.
How are you? Hanging in there OK?— Slack (@SlackHQ) April 10, 2020
#7 Rule: Take care of social media.
Speaking of social media, turn your attention to it. Social media is where the crises become most apparent and most dangerous in terms of affecting the brand’s reputation. Social media managers will have to be extra-careful about what gets published on the company’s pages and what others are saying about the brand on social media. To control that:
- Pause your social calendar. Even if it’s looking alright now, you never know which word combination will have negative connotations tomorrow. Until the crisis is long gone and forgotten, it’s better to review everything that gets posted.
- Have a social media policy, as well as legal advisors and executive decision-makers at hand.
Monitor social media. Use social media monitoring tools such as Awario to catch any conversations that mention both your brand and the ongoing crisis on social media, news, blogs, forums, and the rest of the web. You can find out how to perform social listening for the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in this step-by-step guide.
At a glance, you’ll see how the crisis affects your reputation, what people say about your brand, who the influences are, and so on.
If you open the Mentions feed, you’ll be able to answer individual questions and comments related to your brand and the crisis. If there are too many of them, sort mentions by Reach and address the ones made by the most influential users.
#8 Rule: Identity the people responsible for tasks.
Delegate crisis-related tasks to your employees and make sure they know their responsibilities. Responsibilities could include:
- Talking to the media
- Providing updates
- Answering questions
- Monitoring news and social media
Dealing with rumors and fake information
Choosing spokespeople might also not be that easy. If your communication is only in writing, make sure people responsible for it are patient, polite, and empathetic. If there is a person doing online broadcasting, make sure they:
- Avoid the phrase “no comment”. “No comment” makes people believe the company is hiding something. It also shows that the company isn’t transparent and willing to communicate.
- Avoid jargon and technical terms. People respond to information better when they clearly understand it.
- Appear confident and calm when talking on camera. Have strong eye contact and avoid nervous gestures. It’s important for the viewers to feel that the company knows what they are doing and takes care of problems.
Know all the information. Again, it’s obviously important for the spokesperson to know everything the public might be aware of.
After the crisis
After the crisis is over, it’s important to analyze what was done right and what could’ve been dealt with better.
There is always something to learn from the crisis. Some knowledge will be useful for future misfalls, some could be extrapolated to the everyday work life. It’s important to brainstorm, to write down the notes, and to make conclusions from what the company, and sometimes the world, has lived through.
Sometimes, it’s possible to come out of a crisis as a better and more united company. Sometimes, it’s also the community around the brand that becomes stronger due to the crisis. And all of this can only happen if the communication is right. That is, if you don’t disappear, if you’re being honest and if you talk to the public and listen to it.