Communicating in the age of coronavirus: Is your company winging it?
Coronavirus propelled companies into crisis mode. The situation is unusual, but most organizations take an unprepared, let’s-wing-it approach to handling crisis communications even during normal times. And when companies mishandle a crisis, they make a messy situation uglier. Without a detailed action plan, a business can jeopardize its future and finances. Customers might perceive silence as indifference. Ensuing public scrutiny could damage your organization’s reputation and bottom line. A crisis plan should pinpoint your weak spots and plan for risks, threats and potential scenarios.
Take the following steps to better weather coronavirus — and future crises:
1. Assemble a crisis communications team.
This is your go-to team — preferably a cross-functional team meeting regularly. Clearly outline everyone’s roles and responsibilities. Who will serve as the company’s spokesperson? Who will back-up roles? Who will ensure facts are accurate? Who should follow policies and procedures for communicating to all stakeholders across multiple platforms?
2. Prepare your key messages.
Quickly acknowledge the issue and do so empathetically. Use your company’s values to guide your messaging. Describe how you will address issues. Make sure you have the facts to ensure your messages are accurate and consistent. Update your messaging as situations change. And be sure your actions match your messaging to protect your company’s credibility.
Know your audiences. Ensure your communications plan takes into account the tools and platforms your stakeholders use. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Communicating with employees, key clients, investors and the board of directors often involves communicating through multiple internal and external communications channels. Does it make sense to create an external hub such as a special landing page where audiences can see these messages and discover other resources? And do your employees have the information and tools they need? Also, identify your partners and friends. These are advocates who might help your company share its messaging.
3. Communicate early and often.
Response time matters. Communicate regularly as the situation changes. Offer a long-term plan of action. Train your spokespeople to properly handle media interviews. If possible, provide the public interviews and articles with your in-house expert to reiterate credibility and leadership. . Ensure your messages are consistent across all platforms.
Watch the web. Listening is one of the most powerful communications modes. Identify a team member who can focus on listening. Monitor the news media, social media accounts and forums where customers talk about your company such as Yelp. Set up Google Alerts to monitor your business and industry to alert your crisis communications team about relevant, timely information.
This is not a one-time exercise. Update your plan regularly. Think of it as a living, breathing document. Track results and establish takeaways. Review how well the company handled the crisis and improve the plan regularly. Doing so will help your company not only better weather these times — but also better prepare for future crises.
Keith and Loren Yaskin run The Flip Side Communications LLC, a Scottsdale media company that helps companies tell their stories through video production, public relations, media training and employee communications.