It’s not just boy scouts and doomsday preppers that need to be prepared; every business should maintain a comprehensive Emergency Preparedness Manual. Planning for a crisis makes good business sense, whether it manifests as a minor local inconvenience like a boil water order or a major disaster such as a hurricane.
In times of emergency it is important for businesses to transmit critical information as quickly as possible to consumers, stakeholders, employees and the public. The beauty of emerging media is the capacity to exchange information with large groups of people, in real time, before, during, and after a crisis.
Anticipating every eventuality your team may face in the midst of an emergency is no easy task, but the following steps provide a helpful review in planning for crisis communications:
1) Plan for a crisis before a crisis occurs
- Don’t wait until the imminent threat or onset of a crisis to determine appropriate emergency protocols. Anticipate problems and troubleshoot solutions in advance.
- Educate your team on what kinds of emergencies might affect your company both internally and externally.
- Establish which traditional and emerging media channels you plan on using during a crisis and make sure they align with your target audience.
- Ensure multiple contact paths to decrease reliance on any one communication channel or device.
- Alert your followers to the specific social media channels they need to check for the most up-to-date and accurate information about your business.
- Prepare a comprehensive emergency manual that includes templates and pre-drafted text for website content, broadcast emails, Facebook posts, tweets, posters, flyers, signage, etc.
- Source useful city, county, state and federal contacts and links you may need to pass along to your constituents, for official breaking news, alerts and tips.
2) Designate a social media team
- Identify individuals with the authority to speak for the company in a time of crisis and determine the reporting structure.
- Ensure that multiple crisis team members know how to fulfill the planned response e.g. uploading content to your website, broadcasting emails, posting on Facebook or tweeting.
- Establish and distribute guidelines for social media use by general employees on their own profiles e.g. sharing official updates.
3) Provide clear and actionable information promptly
- In a crisis, affected individuals require actionable information quickly e.g. is evacuation mandated? If so, where to? Provide links to official sources.
- Be careful to align communications with official statements and include the ramifications for your business operations.
- Make it clear that you are accurately aware of the crisis and taking all possible precautions or steps to resolve or manage the situation.
- Ensure that a consistent message is being communicated across all traditional and emerging media channels, and cross-link where possible.
- Employ calm, clear, concise language.
4) Continue to post information frequently and consistently
- Even if full details are not available, or there are no new details to report, communicate accurately and frequently what you do know and provide assurance that the crisis is being monitored closely. This is a critical component to building and maintaining trust.
- Answer questions to the best of your ability. Social media requires a two-way conversation and should not be considered as a one-way broadcast tool.
- Photographs are a convenient way to provide serial updates, establishing a real-life visual connection to events.
5) Address rumors quickly
- Rumors spread quickly in times of crisis
- Monitor the spread of rumors both online and offline and address them promptly and directly. Track online mentions of your organization’s brand.
6) Ensure that important updates remain highlighted
- When you need to relay important information, ensure that it retains online prominence This could mean pinning it to the top of your Facebook feed or adding a banner to the homepage of your website.
7) Identify physical resources required in the event of a crisis
- Determine the resources necessary for ramping up digital and traditional communication in the event of a crisis e.g. a dedicated generator to power a computer, phone and printer reserved for crisis communications, spare batteries for mobile devices, or, for larger organizations, increased bandwidth to prepare for sudden increases in website usage.
- Build in redundancy and take a leaf out of the peepers handbook “Two is better than one and one is none”. Always have Plan B ready to roll.
- Establish remote access to your systems to keep them going and make sure social media passwords are shared appropriately with the communications team.
8) Debrief post-emergency
- Continue to communicate post-emergency updates to your constituents.
- Solicit external feedback on the usefulness of your communications plan.
- Review internally what worked, what didn’t, and any surprises or challenges.
- Update your emergency preparedness manual, redrafting or adding templates and text.
- Be confident that you’ll be even better prepared next time.
A survey by the American Red Cross confirmed that Americans are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile devices during emergencies, and your audience will expect you to reach them there with appropriately optimized content.
In fact, the Red Cross has developed a disaster online philosophy, using social media to empower clients and supporters to get or give help during a disaster.
A useful report detailing the results of an expert round table on social media and risk communication during times of crisis, presents case studies from bona fide “emergency experts” like the Red Cross, CDC and FEMA.
No matter how demanding your daily professional life may be, making time to draft a comprehensive emergency preparedness manual and social media strategy is essential. Your efforts may not earn you a boy scout merit badge, but it will win the respect and trust of your audience “in case of emergency”.