The pervasive nature of the recent outbreak of Coronavirus has left many businesses that might have never heard of crisis communications to quickly become experts on the matter. Although the current situation is unprecedented, lessons from past crises provide us with a simple three-word blueprint for what to do in times like these to communicate effectively with stakeholders.
Communicate early on with stakeholders in a crisis. Whether you are a small business communicating with your customers or a large firm reaching out to your employees, early communications are vital as they accomplish two goals – ensuring trust with stakeholders and minimizing the spread of misinformation. During a crisis, a lack of communication will always seem intentional, whether it is or not. If you are not communicating, it will appear as though you do not have a plan or are attempting to hide something. That leads to the second goal, once people begin to think that a plan is not in place or something is being hidden, it is easy for misinformation to fill the gaps in your communications. By not defining your own story, you are allowing people to tell it for you.
Clear communications are the next piece of effective crisis communications. You might not have the answers right away and that is fine, but it is important that whatever you are putting out into the world is clear and does not obfuscate things further. Speculation or hypothesizing about unknowns should be avoided at all costs. If you are putting out communications, it is a good idea to run them by one or two people in the office prior to distribution to make sure the communications are clear. In the heat of the moment, there is a danger of good intentions only complicating things further through unclear or inaccurate directions.
As I mentioned above, establishing trust is crucial in a crisis. Although communicating early and clearly goes a long way with that, it is important to communicate often as well. Communicating often with your stakeholders will make sure that they remained engaged throughout the crisis and ensure they do not feel as if they have been left hanging. That being said, communications should be relevant and informative, do not communicate for the sake of communicating. However, if you have something to say that you think your stakeholders need to hear, then by all means communicate it early and clearly.
During these difficult times, there are a million other concerns facing your business and communications might fall by the wayside. Fortunately, this crisis will be over at some point. It is important to remember that effective communications during a crisis should be a key piece of your business’ operations and will go a long way in how you transition your business back to normal operations.