Crisis Communication Best Practices

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Crisis | noun | a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.

Every company, in every corner of the country, will at some point need to go into crisis mode with leaders making difficult and important decisions.

Crisis mode looks different for every company. Some leaders may need to decide how many employees they need to lay off. Some may need to frantically hire and train new employees. Every leader needs to be prepared to navigate uncharted waters. Leading well is dependent on communicating well. The future of companies hinges on the decisions and communication choices leaders make during crises. Short-term decisions, depending on how they are communicated, have long-term consequences. 

So what types of leaders and communicators weather a crisis well? Those who are mindful of the media, have a strong sense of self and understand the nuisance of timing.

Don’t try to cover up bad news

I commend leaders and companies that are sharing difficult decisions publicly. It isn’t easy to do. Not every question has to be answered, and for legal reasons, some can’t be. But there is always something that can be said. People can deal with the facts, but when questions aren’t answered, the public often fills in the blanks with information that is far worse than the truth. These gaps in information can have long-term negative implications for the company. An unflattering headline can haunt a company’s online search results for years. Both customers and employees respect transparency, even if the news being shared isn’t positive. Be proactive with messages and always avoid the dreaded, “No comment.” More often than not, taking a hit to your reputation today from the release of bad news will benefit your reputation in the future.

Be compassionate and connect with your audience

A lot of Americans feel like the majority of the news they are seeing, hearing and reading is negative. People are looking for inspiration and hope. Consumers and employees are looking to business leaders to step up and lead. Where are people looking? Social media. I have seen leaders post some terribly tone-deaf messages at times. If you just went through a round of layoffs, no one wants to hear how hard your life is or how tough it is to be working from your incredible second home. You can be compassionate about how tough it is to make decisions that impact families. Remembering who your audience is and what they are struggling with is essential, and if you are disconnected from them, your business and personal brand will suffer. Leaders who are confident in their message and connected to their audience do well in a crisis.

Post positive and authentic content

Consider sending video messages to everyone in the company. A leader can communicate a lot in how they look and what tone they take. A video is an excellent way to showcase calm in the middle of chaos. Short videos are an ideal way to make a connection and to give people who may be panicking some peace. And then there are companies and leaders who are currently in the midst of a “good news” crisis. They are hiring. They have been able to pivot their business to stay relevant in the market. They are donating to charity and volunteering. Use traditional media and social media to share these stories. Social media isn’t just for companies; leaders who don’t have social media should consider launching a public profile to appropriately communicate authenticity and positivity to your teams and customers. This is a great opportunity to create relationships with employees, customers and potential customers. 

The choices you make during times of crisis will likely impact customer loyalty and employee trust down the road. A crisis is not a time to hide or stop focusing on communication; it is a time to look to storied crisis communicators like Winston Churchill who said, “The difference between mere management and true leadership is communication.”