This guest post was written by Paul Barton who is conducting the Depressurizing Crisis Communication: Be Your Best When Facing the Worst webinar Dec. 4, 12 – 1:30 PM ET.
When you’re out of time, under pressure and the stakes are high, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here are some common crisis communication pitfalls and tips to avoid them.
(1) Waiting Too Long: Some business leaders think they need to wait to get all the facts verified before they say anything to the news media, their customers and their employees. What they should do is get out in front of a crisis right away to establish themselves as the most credible information source. It’s OK to say, “We are still collecting all the facts, but we are aware of this incident, and we are making sure that all our employees and customers are safe and sound. We promise to keep you updated as soon as we have all the facts.”
(2) Forgetting Employees: Some organizations are so focused on getting statements to the news media and other external audiences that they forget about their own employees. This is a big mistake because it is quite often employees who determine how fast and how fully an organization will recover from a crisis. And, of course, it is employees who are the face of the organization to the customers. Employees can be great and credible advocates for the organization if they have the right information.
(3) Forgetting to Care First: In the rush to get facts out, some organizations forget the importance of addressing the emotional side of a crisis. Until people know that you care, they don’t care what you know. You need to establish that you care early on with a statement such as “Our immediate concern is for the safety and well-being of our employees and our customers. Our hearts go out to the victims.”
(4) Failure to Build Social Media Relationships: Social media is becoming increasingly important. Many organizations fail to build strong relationships on social media channels ahead of a crisis. Having these relationships when you need them the most can help avoid a rumor turning into a viral nightmare overnight.
(5) Failure to Practice: Many organizations have a plan, but they don’t conduct regular drills. Phone numbers and contacts get out of date, pre-gathered supplies get lost, and key players don’t know where to go and what to do. A failure to prepare can turn a crisis into a catastrophe. Solution: practice, practice, practice.
The best way to avoid these and other crisis communication pitfalls is to have great communication strategies and a great plan.