How to communicate effectively before, during & after a crisis.
In this final edition of our introductory Crisis Communications series, we examine what an effective crisis communications lifecycle looks like and how to start planning a holistic crisis strategy.
There are three phases to a crisis: before, during and after. To effectively communicate your way through one, your planning needs to encompass all three. However, many businesses struggle with knowing where to start, and avoid planning altogether because they assume they’ll need to allocate too many resources to kickstart the process. It’s easy for this reluctance to turn into self-treachery: “why bother, when a crisis may never occur anyway?”
When a crisis does occur, however, those who avoided planning usually experience two things: regret, and damage to the business. In all cases, the task of communicating during a crisis is made substantially easier with just a bit of forethought. And if you have the right technology in place, planning won’t be nearly as painful as you might’ve thought.
In this guide, we’ll take you through what a successful communications lifecycle looks like, from planning to reporting. Once you know where to start, you’ll find it much easier to get planning.
“Many businesses struggle with knowing where to start, and avoid planning altogether because they assume they’ll need to allocate too many resources to kickstart the process.”
Where do I start?
The hardest part of any challenge is figuring out where to start, and crisis communications is no different. But you don’t have to go through it alone: modern software companies such as Whispir can help you analyse, support and configure your system and data set-up. Once your needs have been identified, software – tailored to your specific needs – can be integrated with your existing technologies.
How do I manage my contacts?
These days, most companies will have their contacts stored digitally. The main challenge then becomes: how do you store your contacts all in one place, yet still keep them segmented per your communication requirements? With modern software, you can ‘automate’ your contact list, saving you the pesky job of manually updating. Better yet, some programs offer ‘dynamic’ contact lists, meaning one comprehensive list holding all contacts can be grouped ‘dynamically’, with different types of contacts able to be identified and contacted without the need to pick them out manually.
How do I ensure I’m prepared to manage events?
You can’t predict a crisis, but you can identify the types of crisis your business is likely to experience. Once you’ve identified these broader categories, you can start linking different contact groups to different scenarios. You can also attach different variables – such as the different resources that might need to be activated – to mitigate the chance of costly delays.
How do I prevent issuing unplanned communication?
Once you’ve got your crisis categories mapped, you can start to draft holding message templates for the media, as well as templates containing the different message features you’ll likely need for communication with key stakeholders. Although you won’t know specifics until an event occurs, even generic templates – which leave blank spots for different variables – provide a framework that will make communicating significantly easier once the clock starts ticking.
Can I establish communication rules to meet my requirements?
Just having sub-grouped contact lists is a huge step towards establishing a working communications strategy – and particularly if you’ve strategically linked these groups to different types of crisis. The next step to having a working set of rules to guide you through crisis is to plan escalation paths for your communications, so that you’re not left in the dark when a key stakeholder isn’t responding to a message. Once you’ve got automated escalations in place, you’ve accounted for a huge chunk of communications stress even before the stressful event begins.
“Although you won’t know specifics until an event occurs, even generic message templates – which leave blank spots for different variables – provide a framework that will make communicating significantly easier once the clock starts ticking.”
During a Crisis
Who needs to know what?
You have your contact lists dynamically grouped. You have lists of stakeholders linked to their relevant message templates. But now the proverbial has hit the fan, you’ve got information flying at you from all angles, and your template needs to be tweaked to accommodate these last-minute revelations. Luckily, templates aren’t set in stone. With dynamic software in place, you can rapidly modify and personalise template content and features, across multiple channels, so that you can get the right information to the right people instantly.
How do I cater to multiple channels?
A crisis event is in full-swing, and you’ve got no time to lose waiting for key stakeholders to acknowledge your message. What if they’re not checking their email? What if the media has started spreading false information over social media? How can you remain in control of the communication bubble that’s rapidly spreading outward from the crisis? If you’ve already integrated modern communications software, you’re sorted. Smart communications platforms such as Whispir allow you to send and monitor communications via SMS, email, voice, web and social media – all from a single location. With this in place, you’ve got more time, you’ve got more oversight and, ultimately, you’ve got more control over the situation.
How can I contact multiple people at once?
In crisis, you don’t have time to be sending individual text messages. You’ve got too many contacts, and too little time. Again, modern communications technology is your saving grace, allowing you to distribute crisis messages through multiple channels with a single click. Not only does this multi-channel approach remove critical dependencies on any one medium, it also allows you to target contacts via their preferred channel, maximising their chances of seeing it in time.
What if they don’t respond?
There’s more to crisis communications than just getting the message out. You also need to maintain an open, two-way stream of communication throughout the event. So what happens when your additional parties aren’t coming to the party? With the right communications software in place, not only can you automatically escalate your communications (for instance, with pop-up mobile applications that don’t go away until they’re acknowledged), you can also maintain a real-time view over your message status: who has opened them, who has acknowledged them, and who needs to be chased up.
“With the right communications software in place, not only can you automatically escalate your communications, you can also maintain a real-time view over your message status.”
After a Crisis
How do I report on what has happened?
It’s one thing to whiz through a crisis using your communicational know-how, good organisation and a bit of old fashioned luck, but if you haven’t integrated technology into your communications plan, you’ll be kicking yourself come reporting time. Not only does smart software make it easier to send instant, multi-channel communications during an event, it also makes it a whole lot easier to report on who said what, when. Instead of spending months manually sifting through data, modern communications software provides you with a holistic view of what happened, and allows you to trace audit trails for a more accurate view of accountability.
How do I implement lessons learned?
There’s no such thing as perfection. Even if you’ve constructed an immaculate ‘before, during and after’ crisis strategy, there will always be lessons learnable for next time. With a holistic overview of events in a single, digitized location, you can review your operational procedures and determine where it was that problems arose. And as they say: power is knowledge. Once you know what your problem areas were, you can start refining your procedure in case (knock on wood) it happens again.
How do I ensure my investment in software is future-proof?
It’s safe to say most business leaders want their business to grow. And even if you’re not in this majority, the nature and needs of your business will inevitably change over time. As your business grows and changes, so too must your crisis communications strategy, which is why it’s important to choose software that is scalable. With a program such as Whispir, the bite is taken out of change with continual upgrades that allow you to keep pace with future requirements. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from all this, it’s that the more planning you do, the less risk the future carries.