Effective communication during a crisis
In times of crisis, effective communication is critical to minimise reputational harm and instil confidence in your organisation and brand.
We all know a crisis can hit a business at any time. But, how quickly you respond and the way you respond will determine how your organisation survives a crisis or, indeed, if it does survive at all.
It’s standard practice for businesses to respond to a crisis situation within 20 minutes — any longer and they risk jeopardising their reputation. Australian companies, including many government agencies, have crisis deadlines with a required response time of just 13 minutes.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, a public health emergency, a financial meltdown, an accident, or even a ransomware attack that disrupts your business, it is important to ensure everyone knows what to do and what to say when the worst happens.
Time is critical
If you are involved in a crisis, time is critical.
The longer you are silent, the greater the risk someone else will speak on your behalf and control the narrative.
Remember: you only have 20 minutes.
“No comment” is not the answer. Not only is it a missed opportunity but it can be interpreted as an admission of guilt, it can make you appear untrustworthy, and it can portray a lack of empathy.
Clear and concise communication
Clear and concise communication is paramount during a crisis. When chaos reigns and uncertainty looms, people seek information they can easily understand and act upon.
Jargon, technical terms, and convoluted language can make it harder for people to comprehend and understand your key messaging. In fact, ineffective communication can exacerbate the disaster, fuelling panic in the community and further damaging your brand and reputation.
Communication during a crisis must be simple without sacrificing accuracy. Important details such as safety instructions, available resources, and immediate steps to be taken should be communicated in a straightforward manner, leaving no room for ambiguity or misinterpretation.
Honesty breeds trust. In a crisis, people need to know the facts, even if they are difficult to digest.
Concealing information or providing misleading statements can erode credibility and exacerbate the situation. Transparency builds confidence in leadership and allows individuals to make informed decisions.
By acknowledging the severity of the crisis, addressing people’s concerns, and sharing updates as they emerge, companies can foster an atmosphere of trust that is crucial for cooperation and an effective response.
In times of crisis, emotions are heightened, and individuals may be grappling with fear, anxiety, or loss.
It is vital to acknowledge these feelings and demonstrate empathy. Being compassionate and showing you understand the challenges people face, as well as recognising their emotions, can go a long way in offering solace and support, and ultimately loyalty to your brand.
It is important to let victims of a crisis know they are not alone and that their wellbeing is your priority. This can help alleviate distress and foster a sense of unity.
Learn from the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the world’s largest to date. When then-CEO Tony Hayward fronted media after initial attempts to downplay what became the largest oil spill in history, he told the cameras that, “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”
11 people were killed in the explosion before oil leaked for nearly five months into the Gulf of Mexico, covering up to 176,000 square kilometres. Life back indeed.
People receive information in so many different ways whether it be via social media, mainstream media, calls, texts, or emails. This means during a crisis, you need to utilise a multi-channel approach to ensure information reaches as wide an audience as possible, as quickly as possible.
Diversifying communication channels helps prevent misinformation by making sure that your refined, on-target statements are reaching potential customers, and potential media, everywhere they might be privy to information about your crisis.
Consistency in messaging is crucial. Conflicting information from various sources only leads to confusion and distrust. You need to coordinate your messaging through various stakeholders to ensure that messaging is aligned. This consistency helps to establish a clear narrative that individuals can rely on and follow.
In a crisis, information changes quickly and becomes outdated. Timely communication is imperative to keep the community informed as the situation evolves and, importantly, to let impacted customers know if there is any action required that they can take.
Delays in communication can hinder your response and potentially exacerbate the crisis.
Communication during a crisis isn’t just about broadcasting information. It is also about listening.
Creating avenues for feedback, questions, and concerns enables you to address specific issues and correct any misconceptions as they arise. Social media platforms, hotlines, and community forums are some of the ways to boost two-way communication and foster a sense of engagement and trust.
The best way to make sure your crisis communications are timely is to have a crisis communication plan ready to go ahead of time. Crises can and do take you by surprise so it’s vital to have your ducks in a row before, and not after, the need arises.
Flexibility and adaptability
Crisis situations are often fluid and dynamic. Effective communication requires you to be flexible and adaptable as circumstances change. As new information arises and the situation evolves, your communication strategies also need to be adjusted. By being flexible and adaptable, you can introduce new data, insights, and information, ensuring your messaging remains accurate, relevant, and up to date.
Be crisis ready
To ensure you are ready to respond quickly to a crisis, undergo media training so that you are confident to say “yes” to any media requests that will no doubt come your way. Being media ready means you can act quickly to control the narrative, helping to minimise any damage or harm to the reputation of your business or organisation.
Effective communication in a crisis is an intricate dance that requires a lot of know-how, energy and hard work. It is the cornerstone of crisis management and helps guide you and your organisation through what could be the most challenging time you’ll ever face. The more effective you are at communicating during a crisis, the greater the chance reputational harm will be minimised.