A crisis communication plan helps your business’s internal and external communications stay on track in an emergency. Whether you’re trying to manage communications through the current coronavirus pandemic or want to prepare for any future situations that your small business may need to navigate, your plan can be simple. You just need to define the messaging, audiences and distribution channels that you will use to get vital information to those who need it most.
With a clear plan, your proactive communication can reassure employees and inspire confidence in your company with customers and vendors. Here’s a closer look at the four key elements of how to make a crisis communication plan.
Clarify Your Audiences and Your Goals
During a crisis, it’s important to know the audiences you need to reach. Customers and the public at large may come to mind first, but your employees, vendors and partners are also critical. Take time to identify your audiences and prioritize the goals of your crisis communication plan. What does each audience care about most and how can you respond now? Employees, for example, are concerned about the future of their employment, so communicating the steps you’re taking to stabilize your business and cash flow can help. Customers may want details of how you’re continuing to operate or what services you’re providing to help them get through this time. Mapping audience interests to your communications goals will help you target your messaging effectively.
Think About Your Messaging
Another important component of your crisis communication plan is determining what you’ll say. The reality of today’s situation is that there are many unknowns, and it’s important to communicate what you can based on the information that you have. Clear, proactive messaging helps your brand stand out as a stable leader in your community and industry landscape. Your messaging can evolve as you gain more clarity around the situation.
For example, many states have taken steps to close brick-and-mortar locations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Having an ongoing messaging plan to communicate about employment, financial and customer-facing aspects of your business — and a plan for when and how to update them — can help you keep regular communication flowing.
Strike the Right Tone
What you say matters, but how you say it is equally important. Tone is everything in crisis communications. One of the goals of a crisis communication plan is to offer support and strengthen relationships. Show your customers and employees empathy during difficult times; let them know they’re not alone. Acknowledge what’s happening and sincerely share your hopes for the health and safety of the people who matter to your business and to you as a small business owner. Strike a tone that authentically acknowledges what’s going on while focusing on the larger takeaways of your message. Decide what tone you’ll be focusing on and use that to help shape the voice of your communications across channels. For example, do you want to signal hope for the future of your industry? Do you want to convey compassion, due to financial concerns? Consider what your audiences’ needs are right now in order to hit the appropriate tone.
Tailor Your Approach to Each Audience
How will you get information to different audiences? For reaching out to customers, consider using digital channels such as your website, blog, social media channels and newsletter. When communicating with employees, consider choosing more personal methods of checking in, such as a phone call or video conference. An internal employee newsletter or regular updates to vendors can be an effective way to reach out to many at once.
If you’re introducing new services as part of your crisis communications plans — for example, if you’re offering delivery for the first time — consider reaching out to the broader community to amplify that message. Ads in a newspaper, for example, might be the right venue to promote your new services as well. Leveraging a wider delivery network can help you maximize the impact of your crisis communications plan.
Thinking through the goals of a crisis communication plan and putting one in place helps your business appear prepared during COVID-19 — or any crisis event. Don’t overlook the opportunity to take a leadership role and forge stronger relationships with your employees, customers and vendors during these challenging times.