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Updated Apr 10, 2024

6 Effective Strategies for Communication in a Crisis

In a crisis, many businesses and their customers are left in the lurch. Follow these steps to communicate effectively with your audience during these times.

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Written By: Julie ThompsonSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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In today’s ever-changing, fast-paced, social media-hungry world, a crisis is inevitable. During one, it’s vital that you provide your stakeholders, employees and customers with a clear, heartfelt message. The speed and sincerity of your response can be the difference between your company moving forward or dangerously backward.

By preplanning your crisis communication, you can increase your chances of success in overcoming public relations nightmares. Proactively preparing your leadership and employees for a downturn can decrease anxiety and foster confidence.

Whether your crisis is caused by natural, financial, personnel, organizational or technological issues, we have provided our top six effective crisis communication strategies.

Effective strategies for crisis communication

1. Prepare a crisis communication plan.

Although crises often come unexpectedly, you can prepare by creating a crisis communication plan and a crisis management team. Generally, the plan should include the following information:

  • Goals
  • Members of your crisis management team
  • Who your target audiences are
  • Numbered steps to take when a crisis emerges
  • How to communicate with the public, such as on your social media channels and in your published content or official statements
  • How to prevent the issues from happening or (in the case of natural crises) at least from hurting your company 

You can draft your organization’s unique crisis communication plan or download templates from online resources. Even if you use a sample template, you’ll need to customize your plan based on your business’ needs and crisis type. 

For example, how you communicate with customers during a natural disaster, such as a global health crisis like COVID-19, will differ from how you publicly address an organizational crisis like issues with your products or services.

It’s also vital to define who will be on your crisis management team. These people will work together to analyze the situation, identify possible solutions and communicate with the key audiences.

TipBottom line
When a crisis hits, it's understandable that tensions run high. Once a crisis plan is created, condense it to bullet points and/or single-digit steps. The edited plan provides clear, digestible instructions that can quickly be shared across teams.

2. Put the customer first.

A crisis usually brings up strong negative emotions. If your company makes mistakes, your unhappy customers may write negative comments on review sites like Yelp, Google or on social media. 

When this happens, don’t play the blame game. Try to foster a supportive and collaborative attitude rather than a defensive communication climate on your social media, including your company blog. 

There are productive ways to respond to unhappy customers if you see negative comments on your social media pages. These are some possible responses:

  1. Offer discounts for a future purchase of your products or services.
  2. Contact the customer directly to apologize.
  3. Change the policy that caused the issue.
  4. Offer a refund.

The research findings suggest that changing corporate policy is the response most customers prefer. Try to find a solution by communicating with your customers. This open communication will help you solve the problems, reduce the negative impact and restore your brand image.

3. Communicate with the public quickly and accurately.

Inaccurate information can cause more harm and make your target audience panic in a crisis. Ensure all information and supporting materials you post on your website, social media or provide to journalists as public responses are accurate. 

Provide updates constantly to reduce uncertainty, anxiety and rumors. If possible, designate a single spokesperson for your company. All the information you send out via different channels ― mass media, social media and your company website ― must be honest, open, transparent and consistent. [Read related article: 7 Essential Components of Excellent Customer Service]

4. Take advantage of all communication channels.

Communicate with your audience via multiple channels, such as email, text, a toll-free customer service phone number, voicemail, your website and social media. 

Provide updates not only online but also via traditional channels. For instance, update your voicemail message and put a sign on the door of the store if you need to close or change your hours.

Some companies are still operating using a different model, such as selling products online or telemedicine for medical appointments. Notify your customers about any changes or new options in your service. 

Your office or store may be closed, but you should still check its voicemail and return your customers’ calls. For example, a customer may have ordered a product from you before the crisis but can’t pick it up because your store is closed. In this case, they may call, email or text you, so keep an eye on all these channels and respond to them.

5. Use social media as a crisis communication tool.

Social media is widely used as a crisis communication tool. For example, many organizations use Twitter to communicate with their customers during a crisis. You can post company updates and notifications on Twitter as often as necessary. Your audience can retweet and respond to you and other Twitter users.

In addition to social media, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube, you can use your company blog as a crisis communication tool. While it’s an essential trend for organizations to use social media as a crisis communication tool, each crisis is different. Consider the nature of the crisis and situation to choose the appropriate communication channels and messages.

6. Conduct post-crisis evaluation and follow-up communication.

Usually, the intensity of a crisis diminishes over time. When a crisis is over, you can evaluate how your company handled it. These are some questions you could ask yourself and your team:

  • What strengths did we show during this time?
  • What weaknesses were exposed?
  • How are we doing now?
  • What could we do differently next time we’re in a crisis?

If you evaluate your performance and responses during the crisis, you can learn from the experience and better prepare for the future. You may also need to do some reputation repair and follow-up communication. [Read related article: Online Reputation Management, and Why It Is Important]

If you promised customers or the media to provide continuous updates on the recovery of your business, deliver on your promise. You can use social media and other channels, such as emails and your website, to keep your audience updated during the recovery stage.

Crisis communication can be challenging. It’s essential to be prepared, honest and responsive. Provide constant updates to your audience via multiple channels, effectively using social media as a communication tool. After the crisis settles, evaluate your crisis-time performance and follow up with your audience.

Crisis communication mistakes to avoid

Don’t skimp on leader education.

All critical business decisions require a strong leader. Leaders must reflect the company’s values and have vital emotional intelligence. Excelling in both can help them connect with their key audience in times of crisis.

By providing leaders with training from communication experts, you can minimize slow response times and misinformation, emote confidence and increase your chances of success after a crisis.

Don’t discount feedback.

Listening to company feedback from stakeholders, employees and customers allows you to understand your audience from a more profound emotional perspective. Sending out occasional surveys and polls through email and social media channels provides a baseline of what your followers value and expect from your company.

When a crisis hits, you can use this baseline data to understand how your target audience feels and what kind of solutions they expect. Such data is essential for resonating with your audience in everyday interactions and crises.

Bottom LineBottom line
Having a clear understanding of your target audience can help prevent your company from sounding tone-deaf, under-communicating, over-communicating and using language nobody understands.

Don’t lose sight of your employees’ needs.

It’s common for companies to focus on external communication during a crisis. Businesses must quickly address stakeholders and their customer base to avoid a breakdown of loyalty and revenue.

However, do not forget to be transparent with your employees during the process. Uninformed employees can take the brunt of the stress and get overwhelmed quickly.

Take frequent assessments of your employees’ mental health and acknowledge their hard work and dedication to their role during this difficult time. Caring about your workforce encourages a positive company culture and helps propel your business forward.

Don’t be inconsistent.

Depending on the size of your business, you may have multiple leaders on damage control. All spokespeople must deliver the same message to prevent confusion and prolong the crisis. 

Your target audience should be able to identify who’s in control. Consistent messaging should be transparent and genuine.

Don’t leave your audience hanging.

During a crisis, it can be difficult to inform everyone promptly. You should always provide a contact person, a responsible department or an online link to post information and updates. 

However, don’t lean solely on one-stop-shop messaging. A crisis can be complex, and companies should be sensitive to stakeholders, employees and customers that have specific questions. Offer the resources and experts that are necessary to put everyone’s tensions at ease.

Ming-Yi Wu contributed to this article.

author image
Written By: Julie ThompsonSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Julie Thompson is a seasoned B2B professional dedicated to enhancing business performance through strategic sales, marketing and operational initiatives. Her extensive portfolio boasts achievements in crafting brand standards, devising innovative marketing strategies, driving successful email campaigns and orchestrating impactful media outreach. Thompson's proficiency extends to Salesforce administration, database management and lead generation, reflecting her versatile skill set and hands-on approach to business enhancement. Through easily digestible guides, she demystifies complex topics such as SaaS technology, finance trends, HR practices and effective marketing and branding strategies. Moreover, Thompson's commitment to fostering global entrepreneurship is evident through her contributions to Kiva, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in underserved communities worldwide.
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