In parts I and II of our series on crisis communications, we provided an overview of what crisis in business is – and is not – and explored how to plan for crisis and respond to the media and other outside parties.
In this third and final part, we look at internal crisis communications – the all-important, two-way flow of information between employers and employees.
Though we tend to prioritize outside messages (what will we tell the media?), internal crisis communication is every bit as important as what is said to external audiences. Company personnel are our most precious resources. Not only do they ensure effective business operations, they are also the rank-and-file staff in whom outside parties often have more faith than corporate officials (though designating spokespeople is paramount). Putting staff first is critical.
Have a Plan
The need for a strategy in advance of crisis to share with all levels of staff cannot be overstated. Not only does a plan equip your company with a road map of what to do if crisis occurs, it also imparts to your team how valued they are, building trust, morale and even work ethic.
How Will You Protect Your Team?
Assuming that you will brainstorm all manner of disastrous possibilities (and you should), the physical safety of your staff is top on the list of priorities. Envision scenarios that could pose bodily threat (a fire, flood, explosion, bomb, shooting, widespread food contamination), and devise a plan for how you will quickly and efficiently safeguard your team in each of them. Obtain advice ahead of time from police, emergency personnel, government agents, etc., as appropriate. Run drills of these procedures so your staff can practice and become familiar with them and you can assess their effectiveness before they’re actually needed.
How Will You Inform Your Team During Crisis?
Information is the first line of defense during crisis, and having push notification technology in place is a formidable shield against danger. Push notifications go out through various channels (text, email, phone alerts, P.A.) without requiring recipients to solicit – or pull – information themselves. These notices should be clear and explicit about what has happened, what to do and where to find further information, such as a dark website.
About Social Media
Social media is not ideal for the dissemination of information during crisis, to either external or internal audiences. Its potential to spawn viral false reporting is enormous, and the time and effort that goes into proper, up-to-the-minute monitoring is exhausting. However, because social media is an instantaneous and pervasive means by which anyone and everyone can say anything and everything, companies are wise to post an accurate, authorized, preferably pre-prepared statement about their crisis on social media. Boilerplate copy is okay, provided it can be tweaked and updated by vetted admins to individual circumstances. Heavens knows, you don’t want @ludesfordudes snapping a photo of your building’s fire and slapping it all over the Internet with no authorized response from you about the situation.
What Should Your Team Know?
Just as honesty is paramount in external crisis communications, total transparency must be the guiding rule inside the company as well. Provide staff with truthful, expedient, accurate information about not only the crisis itself (including damage to persons, property, reputation, stock holdings, etc.), but how it may impact their personal employment status, if at all. Let there be no time of silence, not only for the sake of trust and transparency, but to forestall the inevitable rumor mill that will grow the longer information is withheld. After push notifications have instructed employees about what to do during crisis, face-to-face conversations or audio/video conferences should ensue as well as point-by-point emails, internal memos and other company-wide communications about the situation and its impact.
Messages should be as consistent across all tiers of employment as possible and originate from the same source at the same time. This will mitigate misunderstanding of the situation and foster a sense of unity and ownership across the entire company. Convey to staff what you are doing to move forward in a positive direction – but be careful not to say more than you know. Don’t share anything you cannot verify.
Whom Should Your Team Tell – Or Not?
This question underscores the importance of keeping your staff in the loop, accurately and thoroughly informing them of the crisis as it unfolds and enters various stages. “Employees are increasingly important voices during crisis,” said Shel Holtz, principal at Holtz Communication + Technology in San Francisco. However, it is imperative that staff not speak to the media about the crisis. This is the territory of media-trained, designated spokespeople only.
Next, dissuade unauthorized personnel from posting information or engaging in commentary about your crisis on their social media, for the reasons stated above about the viral and erroneous nature of online discourse. That said, HR and communications experts differ on whether employees should be able to communicate externally about their company’s crisis.
Some say it’s simply not feasible to stem the tide of online comments and inquiries. Instead, employees should be armed with accurate and timely information to offer, if evoked, on their personal platforms. According to the Public Relations Society of America, “The natural inclination for many companies in crisis is to send messaging to employees and ask them to spread the word. But it only works if employees have been prepared, and if a discipline exists that allows them to do so effectively.”
Regardless of the differences of opinion on this matter, social posting should be done very cautiously and judiciously. It’s just too easy to get carried away in the exponential chitter chatter, and less is more.
What Should Your Team Tell You?
Encourage questions and conversations among your employees. Let them know there will be no reprisals for sharing and that your door is open to talk and, more importantly, listen. If possible, install a hotline or other line(s) of communication for staff to confidentially let management know of a potentially dangerous or damaging situation before it occurs. Examples of this might be witnessing abusive or neglectful behavior of residents by another staff member, in the case of a senior living community, or a malfunctioning gas line. Freedom to communicate in both directions is essential to the prevention of, reaction to, and recovery from crisis.
Thank you for your engagement in this three-part series on crisis communications. We hope this has been a helpful guide. If you have further questions or would like the assistance of our team of experts in planning for and managing crisis in your business, please feel free to contact us. We’re here for you!
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