Communicating in a Crisis
As someone trained and experienced in crisis management, I can’t help but look at any sort of catastrophe from a communications standpoint. The Coronavirus is no different. While I am not qualified to give medical advice, instruct whether or not you should wear a mask or weigh in on canceling your trip or not, I have strong opinions related to how we communicate in a time of crisis. In short, it is key that all organizations evaluate if some form of communication is necessary with their target audiences, which may include customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Having helped organizations manage crisis ranging from job site fatalities and chemical spills to layoffs and more, the most common mistake I have witnessed is not communicating early and often. Why is this the case? In my opinion, it is because leaders like to have answers before they make any public declaration. Smart. I don’t disagree with the reasoning. However, in today’s age, info spreads fast, and assumptions spread even faster. Therefore, it is key to communicate even if you don’t have all the answers.
So, what does the Coronavirus mean to you? Maybe your organization doesn’t interact much directly with the public and you don’t have plants outside of the United States, so it may not seem related to your organization. However, ask yourself if your key target audiences are talking about it and what potential impact it could have on your operations. Your message can, and should be simple, informing your audiences that you recognize it is a concern and your leadership team is talking about it. For example, maybe let employees know that yes, it is a scary situation, so your organization suggests all employees follow Center for Disease Control protocols such as washing hands and staying home if sick. Let them know that the leadership is monitoring recommended protocols from the appropriate agencies and their safety is important. Studies show that in a crisis, employees and customers alike simply want to know what is going on and that those at the helm are on top of the situation.