What you need to communicate, and with whom you need to be communicating.
A good communications strategy is important to any business. But in the event of crisis, communicating effectively becomes more important than ever. The stakes are high, and often, time is short. In this kind of high-pressure environment, a series of seemingly simple tasks become more difficult to execute than you’d think. Without a proper plan in place, it’s easy for this pressure cooker of risk to lead to missteps with potentially devastating outcomes.
So what kind of things do you need to think about when you’re making a crisis communications plan? Here are five simple steps that, when considered in advance, can save you a lot of trouble later on.
1) What Has Happened?
While the specifics of a crisis are, by definition, hard to predict, it is possible to identify the broader categories of emergency that are relevant to your industry.
For instance, if you’re in the transport and logistics industry, you’ll be susceptible to different kinds of emergencies than someone working in education. Rather than school evacuations, your potential crises would likely have to do with vehicle crashes, IT outages, major delays and shift fulfillment.
Once you’ve identified the types of crises that your business is most susceptible to, you can start to plan for the amount of time it will take you to assess different types of situations, and what kinds of resources you’ll need to resolve them.
2) Who Needs Information?
Different types of crises have different sets of stakeholders that will need to be informed. Once you’ve identified your crisis categories, you can start to attach different contact lists to each.
It’s not enough, however, to create a contact list and ignore it until disaster strikes. Effective communication in the event of an emergency relies on contact lists that are also up to date. There’s no point, after all, trying to deliver essential information to a key stakeholder if you don’t have their current mobile number.
Just as important as having current contact lists is having a platform that is capable of storing them securely, reliably and dynamically.
Modern communications platforms make crisis preparation easier by streamlining crucial aspects of contact storage. For instance, dynamic contact lists can automatically group relevant contacts into communications categories, while other platforms offer web portals that allow stakeholders to update their own contact details as they change.
3) What Do You Need to Communicate?
Under ordinary circumstances, even the best communicators make mistakes. But in high-pressure crisis situations, the likelihood of errors is dramatically increased.
So how do you ensure that your message is appropriate and relevant in advance? How do you ensure it contains all of the important information while still complying with brand guidelines? How can you possibly remember to think about these things under pressure?
You can’t. Which is where – again – communications technologies come in. While you can’t be expected to know specific details in advance, you can, using the right software, create message templates for your various crisis categories. By laying out the kinds of information that need to be communicated in case of emergency, you limit the details that need to be filled out last minute, and minimise the risk of error.
4) How Do You Ensure Your Message is Heard?
In most crisis situations, fast action is crucial. In fact, the decisions made during the first hour of an emergency event usually have as much impact on reducing risk as all subsequent decisions made during the communications lifecycle. So, even if your contact list is up to date, how do you ensure the right people see the message before it’s too late?
When it comes to getting your message across, the simple rule is: the more channels, the better. But when time is of the essence, SMS should be the shining star of your crisis plan.
With faster open rates than any other channel – an average of just 4 minutes – it’s highly likely that your stakeholders will be checking their phone before they check their email.
With modern communications platforms, you can not only send your message instantly across multiple platforms, you can also make sure it’s not lost in the ether. Some communications platforms offer the ability to ‘push’ your message, with pop-up mobile notifications that don’t disappear until they’re acknowledged. After all, in crisis situations, you can’t leave your open rate to chance.
5) …But Did They Get It?
It’s one thing for a recipient to open your message, and quite another for you to know they’ve opened it. Having real-time visibility over the status of your message once it’s been distributed to key stakeholders is crucial to informing the next steps of your communications life-cycle. Without this visibility, you end up waiting through the radio silence, and wasting precious time.
Modern communications platforms give you control of your message even after it’s been sent. With the ability to track the status of your message in real time, you put time on your side, and make the escalation process both faster, easier and more trackable.
Communicating under pressure is difficult. And in crisis situations, there’s a lot at stake. By doing a bit of forward planning – thinking about the ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ of your potential events – you minimise the chance of making a critical mistake at the last minute.
Smart communications platforms assist you across all stages of the communications life-cycle. From initial planning to final reporting, if you have the right technology at your side, you can ensure you’re always prepared for the unexpected.