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Crisis communications: What to anticipate in the next 4 to 6 weeks

On Friday, April 3, the team at NATIONAL Atlantic hosted a virtual Q&A about the phases of a crisis and how organizations should adjust their communications approach accordingly.

For those of you who were unable to attend, here are the main takeaways from the conversation:

We need to start thinking about recovery now, even if there’s no timeline.

There are three phases to a crisis—preparation, response, and recovery.

In the preparation phase, we were focused on reviewing pandemic, crisis, and business continuity plans and working to understand the impacts on operations and communicating this information in an open and timely manner.

Moving into the response phase—where we currently are—we are still heavily focused on the now, but the focus has started to shift to effective internal and external communications.

While we don’t know when the final recovery phase will happen, we are starting to turn our sights to it. We don’t know what this looks like, but it’s important for organizations to start thinking about this now. Things to think about include identifying key challenges—financial, reputation, effectiveness, culture, etc. It’s also important to identify which audiences are impacted by these challenges and what messaging they need to hear.

This crisis has significantly changed the way we approach social listening and analysis.

Typically, we try to identify the issue and analyze large data sets to find salient and applicable insights. These are typically blind spots for clients that may pose a risk to reputation.

COVID-19 has been unique because we had to begin by wrapping our arms around everything that was happening. Our first challenge was just gathering the information because there was so much of it. There was a real need for us to make sense of everything, so we structured these reports in a way that could serve as a beacon—prioritizing a deliverable that provided more answers than it did questions.

The volume of information has also provided an opportunity to focus more on search listening—looking at search engine data to understand audience concerns. Using this in tandem with social listening has allowed us to get a better idea of the greater need of the audience and how we can pivot to help the greater good.

Internal communications need to be clear and concise.

When it comes to internal communications, employees want to hear from leadership. Start by asking: What do our employees need to hear from us? What are the questions and concerns they have? Those concerns need to be acknowledged and organizations need to be prepared to express what actions they're taking to address these concerns. When it comes to frequency of internal communications, we’re trying to avoid having employees look back at the end of this and think, “I didn’t hear from my company enough.”

Check in with employees to see what they need. This can be done through surveys on a larger scale or just through one-on-one conversations. If you aren’t sure if you’re communicating through the proper channels to your employees—ask them.

This will be a marathon, not a sprint.

We can’t say how long the response phase for this crisis will go on for, but it will be prolonged.

Establish regularly scheduled contact with employees—whether through weekly email updates, team meetings with supervisors, or virtual town halls. Ensure all information circulated to employees is available on an Intranet or shared drive that is easily accessible. Making past information easily available on platforms is important since many people are overwhelmed with information and might need to digest this information later.

Social listening will tell you when it’s time to start shifting communications to business-as-usual.

As we look toward the recovery phase, it’s important for organizations to understand the key conversations happening by sector.

Social listening for what customers, clients, and stakeholder audiences are talking about will be the best indicator of when content can shift. Staying in tune with conversations in the coming weeks will be important. This is the time to communicate effectively in the here and now, but also planning for the long-term.

Need support? Our COVID-19 communications team comprised of crisis communications experts across Canada is ready to help organizations effectively communicate with their stakeholders.