How To Manage Crisis Communication When The Unexpected Happens

This crisis communication article was adapted from Capterra Brazil and translated into English.

In her latest article for Capterra, Laíze Damasceno demonstrates why businesses must have a crisis communication strategy. She also gives tips on how they can create their own crisis communication plan.

crisis communications

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) caused a global crisis in nearly every business sector, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were some of the most heavily affected. Many businesses learned for the first time how to communicate with their audience in times of unexpected crisis.

This article outlines practical guidelines and tips on the best ways to communicate with your employees and customers. The tips can be used even if your business doesn’t have a large communication and marketing department or established protocols (like the big brands.)

Crisis prevention manual

Here’s the golden rule: Regardless of the size of the business, every company needs a crisis prevention manual. It doesn’t have to be a complex document. You can create a lean manual with clear, practical guidelines for leaders, managers, and directors can turn to when unforeseen events happen. The leadership team must be prepared to speak with internal employees, stakeholders, customers, and public audiences. This includes having an adequate communication strategy for each channel.

Since the pandemic began, you may have noticed that, in general, companies use social media as their primary form of communication with the public. 

In many cases, this is because the company simply had no plan for a crisis, and therefore no crisis communication plan. They only began managing the issue when the pandemic had already begun.

Unfortunately, these businesses can’t go back in time and create a strategy for Coronavirus. But we can take a look at the current situation and create a plan for any future crises that may come. 

To help you build a crisis communication strategy, I conducted interviews with four experts on the subject. Together, we built a manual with four basic steps to help small and medium-sized businesses better communicate with their audiences in times of crisis.

1. Be transparent within the company and on social networks

Modern customers demand transparency from the businesses they support. But to be truly transparent, you must start at home—that is, with your employees.

Paulo Silvestre, a digital media consultant who was voted as one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices Brazil, says “companies must focus on transparency and truth in their actions, empathy with others and solidarity. 

“The pandemic is making us look at more human values, and brands must embrace this in a genuine way and not just to ‘look beautiful in the picture’. In addition, you should always be close to your audience, creating actions to meet your needs within what the company produces,” he concludes. 

Paulo shared with me the following tips:

  • Know the needs of the public well and how you can meet them. Focus your communication on that.
  • Use your audience’s language.
  • Operate on the same social networks your audience uses most.
  • Demonstrate the company’s values ​​and how it impacts your communication and marketing actions.
  • Invest in the production of content, tailoring them to the different social media platforms you are using. But always put the focus on customer needs. Remember, they want to solve their problems.

Silvestre adds that “in times of crisis, understanding the other is a duty”.

2. Reinvent yourself in digital culture

Reinventing yourself in the context of digital culture is a major challenge for many companies. But due to social-distancing restrictions, a digital presence is more important now than ever. Undertaking a move into the right digital space is a momentous task, but you still need to create clear communication about the entire process to internal teams and external audiences. 

Neivia Justa, another LinkedIn Top Voice Brazil, explains that “the better a company understands customer needs in this new and unexpected context, and the business’s agility in readjusting to solve these new problems, the greater the opportunity to build or leverage your reputation as a reliable, competent, kind, and supportive partner.”

Neivia gave these pieces of advice:

  • Use technology to your advantage.
  • Create a direct communication channel between company leadership and all staff—a safe and reliable environment where people can exchange information. This should be a place where employees can share concerns, minimise anxiety, resolve doubts, and share useful and valuable content.
  • Have an appropriate tone of voice, frequency, and volume of content to avoid overloading employees.
  • Be honest and truthful in your communication, however difficult and painful it may be.
  • Build solutions together.
  • Communicate in a simple, truthful, and empathetic way.
  • Speak, but also listen. Every conversation should be a legitimate and genuine opportunity to update information, reaffirm your action plan, and share your perspective.

This is the time to prioritise humanised and caring communication. Acting with clarity, objectivity, and care will build trust and preserve the good image of the company.

3. Invest in employer branding

Part of your communication strategy should focus around preserving and improving your “employer branding,” or in more plain terms, the perception employees have of your company. The more respect you build with staff, the better you’ll be able to attract and retain talent. 

For Fernanda Nascimento, a specialist in customer experience and employer branding, “employees are responsible for delivering a brand experience to customers. They will pass on their own perception of the company to customers. 

“The better and more transparent the company is with information, and the more flexible and empathetic it is with its employees, the more it will be able to generate a feeling of security for staff. This is then reflected in the treatment and attention dedicated to the customer.”

Fernanda offered these guidelines:

  • Start the day by asking staff about their feelings at that moment.
  • Understand and seek solutions together with employees and help them find relief from their difficulties so they can engage in work satisfactorily.
  • Do not take action on impulse.
  • Focus on solidarity and collective help, not just your own needs.
  • Understand who can and who cannot be removed from face-to-face work. 
  • Create a daily communication process for those who will continue working in person and those who will be working from a home office.
  • Establish a process for monitoring and actively listening to social networks. The more you understand what followers, customers, and employees seek and talk about, the more you’ll be able to communicate in a way that speaks to the moment. 

Transparent communication only brings benefits: It helps you alleviate the pain of the current crisis, avoid new crises, maintain your commitment to preserving the quality of life for employees, and it also enhances the experience of the customer.

4. Have a supportive and authentic vision

Though we may still be living in social isolation, it’s important to remember that we are all in this together. Social networks are one of the best ways to show you understand this concept. 

Isabela Pimentel, a consultant in crisis planning and management, says crisis management is a holistic process “that begins mapping risks before a crisis occurs”.

“Management is the set of measures that we adopt reactively—in an attempt to control—when the crisis is already underway. Faced with the coronavirus, companies must map possible risks before taking action for employees, running campaigns on social networks, or even publishing content,” she adds.

Isabela explains that there are two potentially devastating scenarios. First, companies fail to address this issue and end up being perceived as cold and indifferent. Second, companies that try to ride the wave of the crisis to sell more. 

The expert has more tips about communicating during the crisis:

  • Avoid an aggressive or insensitive tone.
  • Don’t focus on sales and goals above human interest.
  • Do not adopt a contradictory position.
  • Do not engage in self-promotion under the guise of social action. People will catch on to you and see that as disrespectful. 
  • Use the opportunities that the digital landscape brings.
  • Be kind and focus on the relationships you have with your employees. This will improve morale during and after the crisis. 

“Worrying too much about reputation and image is not a good move in a crisis. It is more important to assess risks. If the altruistic spirit is not already a genuine element in the company’s culture, there is no point in taking up the action just now—it will sound disingenuous and snowball out of your control. Coherence between discourse and practice is essential to avoid crises even greater than the one we are experiencing,” concludes Isabela.

What to expect from the future?

What will the future look like? And how it will impact SMEs’ communication with their audiences? I’ve summarised my thoughts below:

  1. Ways of working will become more flexible.
  2. There will be a reduction in bureaucracy, and a focus on digital transformation.
  3. More businesses will place an emphasis on human values ​​such as empathy, kindness, collaboration, peaceful communication, and solidarity.
  4. We will be more acutely aware of everyone’s interdependence and connection, as well as the duty of social responsibility and commitment to building win-win relationships for business and consumer.
  5. Businesses will place more importance on their ability to listen to customers and clients, and actions that promote good relationships will be at the top of the priority list.

More than ever, businesses must work to earn people’s trust and also learn to trust. Trusted companies are admired by their audience, as a result of consistent communication and an evolved marketing strategy.

During the coronavirus pandemic, taking care of employees, partners, and customers, as perhaps companies have never done before, can take them to a much better place. Where there is a crisis there is also an opportunity. Remember that marketing is not just about branding, services, products, or events. It’s about human relationships.

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About Laíze Damasceno

Laíze Damascenois a specialist in digital content marketing, writer and creator of Marketing de Gentileza. It helps companies and brands to gain public recognition and trust through humanised digital content strategies and non-violent marketing. Voted  LinkedIn Top Voices  Brazil, recognised by LinkedIn itself as one of the Brazilians that stood out the most and with a positive impact engagement in this social media because of the inspiring content.