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Effective Crisis Communication: Why is it Important?

  Apr 17, 2020

A business crisis is not a new term in the business world, the only difference with the current COVID-19 pandemic is that it is affecting businesses around the world simultaneously and in an almost similar manner. This pandemic is different from other business crises as it is both a social and financial crisis for businesses and employees alike. The rapid spread of the pandemic is changing the way we work, live and how we interact both socially and professionally thrusting business leaders and employees into new territory.

A business crisis can take different forms; technological crisis, natural crises, financial crisis, accidents or natural disasters. Crises spread very fast and may threaten a business’s stability if not handled strategically. A crisis impacts a company’s image, reputation, financial standing, and even its employees. The COVID-19 pandemic is spreading even faster than most crises and is affecting some of the most important aspects of any business; revenue, continuity, employees’ wellbeing and even reputation for some.

During a time as such, organizations must ensure that communication is ongoing, accurate and transparent. Communication, both internal and external is the cornerstone of any organization’s success and even more so in times of crisis.

What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication can be defined broadly as the collection, processing, and dissemination of information required to address a crisis situation.  It also refers to the communication between an organization and the stakeholders along with the public before, during and after the crisis. Crisis communication is related to three major factors: management of issues, discussion of risk, and control of reputation.

Timothy Coombs defines crisis communication as “the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate negative outcomes” (Coombs, 2010).

External Crisis Communication

External crisis communication refers to communication that is sent out to the public and other external stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, and investors during a crisis.

During crises, the organization tends to bend towards external communication as opposed to internal communication. This is because external communications will portray the organization’s stand during the crisis and can either damage or build the organization’s brand reputation

All communication during the crisis period must be accurate and transparent, this helps in building trust which is exceedingly valuable for the public and your employees, more so during a crisis. People want correct information about what is happening and how it will affect them, their work and their families. Inconsistency in the information provided will make an organization seem incompetent.

Internal Crisis Communication

Internal communication refers to communication within an organization. It is important to ensure you keep your employees in the loop during a crisis. Employees want to know what is happening and how it will affect their lives, work-life, finances and families.

With many reports of layoffs globally and locally amid the COVID-19 pandemic, employees in many organizations may be feeling uncertain about their future employment while leaders, on the other hand, are at crossroads on how best to communicate to their employees to allay concerns and anxiety.

By implementing a good internal crisis communications plan, you can keep your entire team connected until you’re back to business as usual. Here are five tips to handle crisis communications in the workplace.

  1. Prepare your employees.
    A crisis can happen at any given time, it is therefore important that as an organization, you prepare employees for such scenarios. Ensuring that your employees are familiar with the policies and procedures. People will react differently to a crisis, some need more information, others get anxious, frustrated and demotivated Keep in mind that post-crisis, your employees will play a huge part in picking up the pieces.
  2. Identify a crisis communications team.
    This team plays a very critical role during crises, it should ideally be made up of senior executives with public relations and legal expertise.
  3. Train the crisis communications team.
    The members of this team will be the key communicators and therefore must know exactly how to respond.
  4. Develop a crisis communications plan.
    You need to assess your communication channels and determine how you can leverage on each. The company website needs to be updated so the public knows what is happening and what initiatives are ongoing in response to the crisis. It is also critical to keep your social media platforms active. Constantly share information on these platforms; people are going to want to visit platforms where they can interact with friends and family.
  5. Accuracy over efficiency.
    With the era of social media, there is a lot of misinformation of the coronavirus which just causes more anxiety. Even though a timely response is important, accuracy is key. Don’t publish incorrect information because you feel rushed to “get something out there” or because the media and your competitors are doing it.

To be able to successfully pull through a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations must be able to effectively communicate to their external and internal stakeholders. Keep in mind that an organization’s reputation, public image, and continuity is pegged on these two aspects.

Article by Juliet Hinga

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