Summary. While there are businesses that may have been shaken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can prepare your business for an emergency or unexpected event with a crisis communication plan.
While there is a saying that “one man’s crisis is another man’s opportunity”, it is Sun Tzu’s Art of War that best encapsulates the thinking behind crisis and opportunity: “…in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage’. We, at Socium, believe that every crisis is an opportunity for your business (and not others). While there are businesses that may have been shaken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can prepare your business for an emergency or unexpected event with a crisis communication plan.
What is a Crisis?
A crisis is not limited to a natural disaster or catastrophic event. It can also mean a reputational blow to the business, especially in the current digital communication landscape where information is disseminated faster. This includes fake news and deliberate sabotage or reputational blows. In fact, mistruths spread faster on social media than truths do.
Crisis is contextual and appears in different forms. Indeed, a crisis for your business might appear as an opportunity to others. So, you need to be able to recognise when a crisis is brewing and when it hits you (or better, when it hits others).
Why Do We Need a Crisis Communication Plan?
Because we value our brand reputation and the relationships we have with our stakeholders. And because we must be prepared to break bad news and face the consequences when things don’t go the way we hope they do. It is not impossible for businesses to design their own crisis communication plan, and we would encourage businesses to have an active role in designing their own. When crisis hits, people want to hear from you. Not from scripts designed and disseminated by your PR agency through press releases, social media posts or email messages. Put a face and voice to the messages. Be there when and where it matters.
What is a Crisis Communication Plan?
A crisis communication plan details the steps to take when a crisis first emerges, and how to communicate with various stakeholders. Essentially, you will not have the time and space to plan when crisis strikes, so a thought-through plan will tell you who to say what and when, to who.
With the current communication landscape disrupted by digital technologies and faster networks, the battlefront for each crisis has been expanded significantly. Organisations need to be nimble, more consistent, and reach faster and further with their crisis communication.
Critical Factors in your Crisis Communication Plan
While your communication plan will differ depending on the crisis you are dealing with, below are common factors that businesses use to deliver an effective response:
Identify the team to handle crisis communication. The team should involve the CEO – someone who can lead and be responsible for what is being communicated by the company. You should also identify the stakeholders involved in each crisis type.
Based on the strategic communication framework of your company, identify messages to support your communication thrusts. For example, if you are in the business of food provision and handling, and there are cases of food poisoning caused by salmonella infection from bad supplies, how would you make up to the victims and salvage your business from the reputational blow? Without a strategic communication framework, the natural instincts would be to restore confidence in the food safety standards and to rebuild trust through your actions. However, these actions are limited to those who benefit from them or are affected.
The diversity in informational demands from the various stakeholders calls for varied approaches to your crisis communication plan. The same message can and needs to be delivered through different approaches to reach out to different stakeholders. From the same example, a message to regain confidence and trust comes across differently to your supplier and the victims of the food poisoning.
Apart from the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of crisis communication, the ‘when’ matters too. A crisis communication plan would fail if there is an information vacuum and external parties are filling the information gap. Worse, these parties are stealing your thunder by drawing attention away from your efforts. Have timelines mapped out and ready to be tweaked during a crisis if there is a need for them. This is especially when there are information leaks that might jeopardise the communication plan.
Because it’s the thought that counts – Socium Thoughts bring together our thoughts and opinions on all things communication.
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