Connecting in a time of crisis

The guidance we all need right now. And hugs.

Managing change, especially in times of crisis, is difficult. Clear communication is a critical component in guiding your company through any major change. Content marketing—the creation and sharing of a variety of media content—can supplement your communications plan during a crisis.

Crises that businesses experience are most often due to a variety of business-related factors: economic shifts, major personnel changes, security breaches. But sometimes crises arise that are outside the norm, we refer to these as “external crises.”

In these cases, content marketing really shines by establishing a two-way communication forum. It provides your workforce with a safe space for questions, increased exposure to any changes in processes, and, ultimately, improved support and buy-in your company’s plans to handle the external crisis.

Content marketing and crisis communication

Content marketing can be used to communicate with both your employees and your customers. However, no matter the audience, content marketing gives you the ability to speak directly to a specific audience, appeal on an emotional level, and build a vital communication channel.

Content marketing assets—videos, animations, blogs, eBooks, social media posts, and all other information-imparting media—gives us the toolbox of communication methods needed to keep our channels open. It provides the building blocks needed for strong internal and external connections. Use as many tools as you can.

These connections between your company and its audiences are invaluable always, but especially during a time of external crisis. We have prepared this brief guide to help you understand how to use content marketing to help with your external crisis communications.

The Principles of Crisis Communication

In any crisis, your company’s communications response greatly impacts the perceived severity and duration of the crisis. Effective crisis communication may lessen the impact of negative news events and can build a stronger connection with your audience by successfully responding to an emergency. Conversely, poor communication can make a bad situation worse.

The first thing to figure out when an external crisis strikes is who will be doing the communications for your company. Your company might already have this detailed in a crisis communications plan, and that’s great. If not, get this decided quickly and support it from the top. A central base for all messages is very important for the unity of your employees and customers.

In an emergency, there are Five Principles of Crisis Communication:

  1. State or clarify the facts. One of the best things you can provide during an external crisis is facts. Facts unclouded by opinion, bias, or fear. Your employees and customers are looking for something to hold onto during a scary time—give them the strong foundation that only facts can build.
  2. Communicate quickly, accurately, and selflessly. Crises put people in a panic mindset, and panicky people act quickly. For this reason, you should communicate just as quickly, but always as accurately as possible. Even if you are just letting your audience know you don’t have new information but will pass it on as soon as you do, keep the channel open.
  3. Take responsibility while protecting the integrity of the organization. This principle is straight from our regular crisis communication handbook. But how does it apply to an external crisis? Easy. Take responsibility for protecting your workforce and customers. Without those two groups, your business is just an idea. Your employees and customers are the two biggest resources you need to protect. Everything else will follow.
  4. Communicate action to address the situation. This is similar to Principle 1 but is more active. Instead of simply sharing facts, you are passing on paths of action to take. You are telling your employees to work from home, or your customers to avoid large groups, or everyone to wash their hands. Action provides a physical way to deal with the crisis (or a part of the crisis)—something tangible that can be done to help.
  5. Follow up when the crisis has passed. Once the external crisis is over, it’s time to rebuild. By having open communication channels, reconnecting with your workforce and customers is much easier. Work on addressing all the “what’s next?” steps. Your goal during this time is to help your audiences return to normal.
Content marketing techniques effectively allow you to respond to external crises, providing a platform from which your company can engage with and inform employees and customers alike.

Five things to avoid during a crisis:

  1. Using the crisis to push sales. Using your communications to further advertise and sell your business during external crises is not recommended. Times of external crises are anything but usual, so “business as usual” (or ramped up) will just look like you are trying to take advantage of your customers. Your audience will remember and their trust in you will falter. You might end up called out on social media or in the press, adding to the harmful nature of this practice.
  2. A sarcastic or uncaring tone. The tone of your communications is always important, but more so during a crisis. Be very careful with your word choice, the playfulness of your messaging, and the appropriateness of your message. You don’t want to come off as callous or dismissive or appear to mock the crisis and those affected by it. This is not saying ignore humor, but just make sure it’s the right type of humor. If you’re not sure, best to leave it out.
  3. Taking advantage of emotions, bias, and fear. Using fear and bias to influence a customer’s decision during a crisis is a heinous practice. Your company exists to help your customers, not add to their fear until they buy from you. And while you shouldn’t take advantage of their emotions, there is nothing wrong with showing yours.
  4. Endangering your workforce or customers. Your employees and customers should never have to worry about their safety while dealing with your business. The safer you make all your internal audiences feel during a crisis, the more trust you will engender—trust that will continue to exist when the crisis has passed.
  5. Being invisible. Doing and saying nothing is almost as bad as doing and saying the wrong thing. Of course, you shouldn’t say things just to say things, but neither should you remain mute. You need to have your communication channels open and use them.

Final Thoughts

The key to proper crisis communication is to remain calm, honest, and appreciative. Highlight the helpers, distribute the facts, celebrate your team and your customers, and, above all, remember to be human.

Surviving an external crisis requires all of us to work together to survive, adapt, and overcome. Discover how you can become part of the solution—even if your part is just to make a small group of people feel a little better about the world so they continue to stay strong through the crisis.

You can do it. Things will get better.

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