Being faced with a crisis on the scale of COVID-19 is overwhelming. How you use crisis communications during this pandemic is key to reputation management and maintaining relationships with employees, customers and stakeholders.
It’s worth remembering that everyone is in the same boat. Businesses of all sizes are feeling uncertain and unprepared for what has been thrown at them. For the vast majority, there are challenges ahead, not just reputational, but operational.
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGY
A crisis strategy in this situation is a bit different to a usual crisis and reputation management plan. Also, businesses need to respond in relation to their size. Small companies will have different processes to larger concerns.
However, one thing that doesn’t change is that how you deal with the situation can have a profound impact on the reputation of your business. Poor communication, or lack of it, won’t serve you well.
Being honest, transparent and sensitive in your communications will ensure people trust your brand. If, on the other hand, you choose to ignore what’s going on, you risk appearing non-committal, allowing competitors to take the lead.
Remember to keep it simple – there is so much information in the public domain right now that important information is at risk of being missed if messaging is too complex.
Above all, have empathy with your audience. Right now, nobody has all the answers but companies still need to communicate. Yes, there is a great deal of uncertainty, but say what you can about sensitive information and don’t worry about needing to correct mistakes further down the line. Communicate early and often and be as transparent as you can.
WHAT YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT
Here are some ideas to consider for your crisis communications:
- Anticipate and mitigate risks to your business to ensure you are prepared. Consider how the situation will impact operations on different levels. Will your supply chain be affected? What about profits and investments? What impact will a ban on non-essential travel have?
- There will be other effects around premises and your workforce. Will working from home affect team cohesion? Will your office need to close for a deep clean? Are there enough laptops for staff to take home?
- Undertaking a risk assessment will allow you to address the foreseeable problems and to map out a plan of action.
- Ensure you communicate regularly to staff and customers to update them on what you are doing and what you plan to do. Are there any changes to operations that may have an impact on them?
- Make sure any information you share about the virus is from a reputable source, such as WHO or Public Health England to avoid sharing fake news, which is fuelling the public scaremongering. Your role should be to provide trustworthy information to reassure others that you will support them and their business.
- Communications should be consistent, regardless of the platform. Ensure operations are planned and report all planned activity to the PR lead. Keep it clear and simple – audiences will understand if events are cancelled or if some members of staff are unavailable.
- When creating social media posts, ensure messaging is linked to the pandemic. Pause your usual scheduled posts.
- Stay up to date. The situation is constantly changing so ensure that any information you give is up do date.
- And finally, mind your language. This really isn’t the time to talk about a video going viral or adopting a hands-on approach.