Today, we are discussing coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis communications tips for businesses. The future of business looks very different today than it did two months ago. In this rapidly evolving situation, business leaders are forced to respond to questions that may not have answers. This is both scary and uncomfortable. The good news is that the golden rules of good crisis communications still apply. Communicate early and often, be transparent, and above all, be empathetic. By maintaining open, honest, and regular communications, businesses can demonstrate much-needed leadership during a time of uncertainty.
1) Identify a coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis communications response team.
The first step in our coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis communications tips is to select the members of your response team. Your chosen team will be your go-to group of people in a crisis event. Ideally, this group will be led by the CEO, and include the firm’s senior public relations counsel, relevant senior management, HR, finance, legal, and representatives of the board. If your internal communications team is very junior, it may be worth hiring a third-party, public relations agency or consultant with in-depth crisis communications experience.
2) Define roles for the team.
Once the team is in place, assign roles, so everyone knows what to do. As part of this process, make sure that you have identified those responsible for reaching out to all your target audiences, including employees, stakeholders, funders, and media. You will also need to determine the chain of command, along with “alternates” should the point person not be available.
3) Identify your target audiences.
Every company has a variety of stakeholders, and each one will need customized messaging and outreach. Map out all the internal and external stakeholders that matter to your organization. This includes employees who will be looking for guidance and leadership during this challenging time.
4) Communicate frequently with your employees.
Your employees are your company’s most active and credible “spokespersons” to stakeholders and the community at large. If the business fails to communicate what is going on, employees will fill the void with “worst-case scenarios.” Uncertainty breeds fear, and fear spreads faster than any virus could. Business leaders can reduce anxiety by providing regular and frequent updates as the situation evolves. Ideally, the spokesperson in these situations would be the President/ CEO.
Luckily, we have no shortage of communications channels to choose from. The best practice is to post information with as much frequency as possible in multiple locations – via email, on company intranet portals, Facebook, Slack, and so on. Provide updates as often as possible (ideally, daily), even if the update is simply one of support. Don’t forget to outline the rationale behind each decision, so employees understand why certain steps are being taken.
5) Step up regular communications with customers and stakeholders.
Customers will need a different set of messages and reassurances than employees. Unless you are providing essential services, customers will require enhanced but not daily communications. The important thing is that you emphasize health and safety while communicating plans for business continuity.
In any communication, it is vital to understand the customer and what is meaningful to them. Outreach might focus on safety procedures, such as enhanced cleaning, remote working, and social distancing measures, or updated service offerings like home delivery. Be sure to communicate your plans to continue providing services, and what measures you have in place to support customers.
Most importantly, communicate empathy. Now is not the time to create new selling opportunities in your advertising or messaging. Keep your messaging in line with the times and offer opportunities to help, not harm, those who are struggling.
6) Monitor and adjust your coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis communications.
Establishing monitoring systems will help you “listen” to what is being said across platforms daily. Active listening allows you to understand how conversations are trending and will enable you to adjust your communications outreach accordingly.
For traditional and social media monitoring, setting up Google Alerts for various keywords is free and easy. There are also several paid monitoring systems with the ability to run more sophisticated analysis, including the tone of media coverage, reach and impact across social media platforms. Ensure customer service representatives have mechanisms to collect feedback so you can stay on top of evolving issues or potential problems.
In times of crisis, leadership is established not by what you know, but what you do to ensure your people and your business emerge successfully when the issue passes. By maintaining good coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis communications practices and our sense of humanity, businesses can mitigate fallout and build trust with employees, clients, and the community. Click here to learn more about our services.