What is required in a crisis is transparent, to-the-point, concise, and timely communication. Organizations need to set realistic expectations for communication, and then communicate as early, and as often, as possible. Of course, the idea is not to alarm people, but to speak to the magnitude of the situation and ward off confusions or concerns, if any, sooner than later. At the time of a crisis, people want to hear what is going on, even if the news is not so good or encouraging. A crisis situation can also pose a threat to the brand’s perception and reputation. An effective Crisis management plan will also take care of the Online Reputation Management (ORM). Hence it is extremely important to communicate precisely and with complete transparency at regular intervals using all possible forms of communication, including social media. Today, a LinkedIn/Facebook post is picked up and seen by millions almost Instantaneously.
Key components of a communication plan
An effective crisis communications plan must answer the following questions:
Who the stakeholders are?
What tools are used to communicate?
Who communicates with the stakeholders?
What the message is?
If the above-mentioned information is put into a communications matrix, it will clearly specify as to who needs to be communicated to, the tools to be used for communicating, who is to communicate, and what to be communicated. For example, a communication matrix for Covid-19 related information clearly specified that the communication would go directly to all Indian citizens through all prominent national as well private national news channels by one representative from the ministry of health and one representative from the home ministry. And the communication will be very specific to the containment measures being taken by the authorities, safety instructions to be taken, the progress in a given time frame, challenges being faced in overcoming the containment and how the public can participate.
Key channels of online and offline communication
Here is the general overview of the existing online channels and their effectiveness:
Text Messages or SMS are by far considered to be the most preferred method of communication at the time of a critical event. This is considered better than even email messages or notifications.
Social media is the fastest way to reach the public – including employees and customers in real-time, in the fastest possible manner, and at scale.
Email is still an effective mode of communication, especially when it comes to internal communication.
Although email has been the most common channel of communication from employers today and employees in every organization have almost 100% adoption of the email channel as the most preferred channel; complete reliance on email as a primary communication channel can lead to an unreliable plan as technology and communications outages are very common in crises such as a disaster or remote work/mobile environments. Mobile communication – including text, mobile app, and mobile phone calls – are considered as the top channel of communication during crisis. And this is followed by communications through social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
Social media has often been used as a key channel for communicating during natural disasters or adverse weather events. Although the authenticity of communications remains a bit of a challenge, we must understand that social media is one of the key channels of a two-way communication.
In any situation, having multiple options for communication is strongly recommended. Creating consistent messaging in multiple formats should be a fundamental part of any communication plan. And a mix of emails, social media communications, text messages, app notifications, etc. should be a better strategy instead of zeroing in on one primary channel for communication during a crisis.
3 key considerations of a crisis communication
There is always a conflict or disconnect between speed and information. An organization must ask themselves these three critical questions on how effective their communication is during a crisis:
– What is the response plan?
– Formal vs informal messaging
i. Urgency or the time-sensitiveness of the message
ii. Relay of confidential or sensitive information
iii. General vs specific information
iv. Individual or a group-level communication
v. Intended for those who will help manage the incident, or intended to just inform a wider audience
vi. Is the communication to be delivered to a team or to the entire company?
vii. One-way vs two-way communication
– The plan for disseminating messages at the optimal time and via the optimal channel
– The type of information sent, and the frequency
As employees and customers are more willing to trust their employers or brands, organizations must enhance their communications through a well-planned and proactive outreach program. By supplementing and expanding on the publicly available official communications and effectively performing online reputation management (ORM), employers or brands will be able to reduce confusion, instil confidence amidst employees, customers and other stakeholders, and ultimately recover faster from a critical event.
Effective communication through social listening
Crisis can be in any form. Be it in the form of a pandemic, such as Covid 19, a natural disaster, or an economic or social crisis. In this section, we will examine how social listening can be used in managing cris, how we can prepare ahead of time with social listening, determine the core issues of employees, customers, and stakeholders; and create a well-informed corporate communication strategy.
Social listening is an indispensable aspect of today’s crisis management. It would be tough to effectively complete the following three steps for managing crises:
– Getting advance warning of an impending crisis
– Determining the core issues of customers, employees, or anyone in the organization’s ecosystem
– Creating a well-informed and relevant corporate communications strategy
– Analysing the effects of the communication strategy implemented
By the use of advanced social listening platforms, organizations can monitor their brand across the web including the entire search and display networks, social media platforms, and myriad digital properties; and analyze discussions. Without access to such real-time notifications and analytics, organizations are almost blind to what conversations are transpiring about them.
Preparing ahead of time with social listening
The best way to handle a crisis is to prepare ahead of time with a solid plan in place by identifying key stakeholders and their respective responsibilities with a clear chain of command. Though, it is always better to prevent a crisis before it begins. A good social listening platform can help organizations spot emerging issues on social media well before they become a crisis. Monitoring brand mentions and social sentiments can give some advanced warning of a surge of social activity. If there is a sudden peak, that’s a clue to start a deep dive into organizations listening streams to figure out what people are saying about the organization or the brand. A sudden spike in brand mentions always needs to be investigated whether it is due to a negative trigger or a positive one. With most social media listening tools, alerts can be set to be able to be automatically notified if there are major changes in sentiment or number of mentions. This gives an advanced indicative warning of a crisis while it’s still in its infancy.
Identifying the norm and differentiating it with an impending crisis
People say all sorts of things about an organization or a brand online. It is normal. It’s not a crisis. But if enough people repeat similar negative remarks about an organization or a brand on social media, all at the same time, that might be an indication of a potential crisis. What really differentiates a crisis from a normal criticism is a major negative change in the online conversation or an overall negative social sentiment about a brand. In order to identify a change from the norm, of course, companies would need to know what the norm is. An ongoing social listening can give organizations a pretty clear idea of what a norm is.
A company-wide crisis communication plan allows companies to respond quickly to any potential issue or an impending crisis. A key component of effective communication is effective social listening. In addition to communicating with external ecosystems such as customers, vendors and stakeholders, communicating internally with employees is a crucial part of crisis management. This keeps everyone within the organization on the same page and helps to prevent misinformation and the spread of rumors. Companies must make sure that everyone in the organization knows exactly what they should (or should not) say about the crisis on social media. It’s a good idea to distribute pre-approved company messaging to all employees that they can share on their own social accounts. Managing internal as well as external communications through effective social listening must be a key component of any crisis management plan.
Sameer Narkar is the Founder & Chief Software Architect at Konnect Insights. Although a techie at heart, Sameer has a flair for story-telling and often wears multiple hats as a marketer, business developer and customer experience. He is been the brains behind Konnect Insights, which is the most preferred social listening and analytics platform.Tags: COVID19, Crisis Management, Facebook, Konnect Insights, LinkedIn, Marketing communications, Pandemic, Public Relations, Sameer Narkar, Social Listening, Social Media