Communicating your Way Through a Crisis like COVID-19

As most of the country is hunkered down at home in order to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, citizens are no doubt receiving an influx of important information relating to this unprecedented public health crisis. From digesting the news, social media posts from friends and family, and the onslaught of emails from almost every company they have ever given their email address to — it’s easy to see how vital messages could get lost in all the noise. In this fast-paced, unpredictable, and constantly-changing environment a poorly executed communications plan could potentially cost you or your company opportunities in the process. It is precisely why it is important to streamline communications during a crisis.

No, perhaps your company did not contribute to this crisis, but how you behave and communicate during it could affect business for years to come. Regardless of your trade: from retail or food and beverage, to security or healthcare, and everything in between — your company should always be prepared for potential crises. This includes severe weather, fire, crime, product issues, reputation crises, HR incidents and as we are seeing today: a global public health crisis.

Streamlined crisis communications, both proactive and reactive, ensures that all relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other as well as sharing information to swiftly rectify a bad situation, protect employees and assets, and ensure business continues.

A great example of good crisis communications this past week has been the major grocery retailer, HEB. As millions of Texans flocked to one of the state’s largest grocery chains and products started to fly off the shelves, HEB stepped up, acted swiftly, and communicated effectively to mitigate meltdowns, ease concerns about running out of product, protect public health, and demonstrate that their business would continue to operate as smoothly as possible. As toilet paper flew off the shelves and images of shoppers panic-buying bulk items were reported across the country, HEB acted swiftly.

In just a matter of days, HEB posted clear and concise instructions to protect public health: six feet of distance between shoppers in line, installing “sneeze guards” for cashiers, and they communicated how they were sanitizing and keeping their facilities clean for the safety of all Texans. They communicated that they were adjusting store hours to be able to restock product, and would be limiting popular products like toilet paper and cleaning supplies to a certain number per customer. HEB even went one step further, since they are an integral part of Texas’ community, and waived delivery and curbside pick-up fees for residents.

HEB blasted several notices out to all media outlets. They put messages on all of their social media channels to be shared, and on their website. They posted clear and concise instructions at all of their stores — both to give guidance and reassurance to customers, and in many cases allow customers to pass along the information via their own personal and social media networks.

The swift and decisive response was immediately reported by local media and shared all over social media.

By HEB putting this direct and reassuring communication out to the public they equipped Texans with the knowledge of how to move forward during a crisis situation. The main goal of crisis communication is just that: to enable seamless communication during a crisis and reassure the customer. Three effective strategies for streamlining communications that many effective companies utilize are:

  • 1. Real-Time Communication: as with the COVID-19 crisis and period of quarantine, the situation is changing every minute. Acting swiftly and updating content as the crisis evolves is vital.
  • 2. Accessible Information: do not hoard your content or expect that the right people will find it on their own. Crisis messaging should be distributed far and wide.
  • 3. Relevant Messaging: Communications should be relevant to the individual/customer — what problems they are facing, and how you are rectifying the crisis or stepping up to the challenge.

While we never hope you or your company has to deal with a crisis situation, recognizing that crises can come from outside or inside your company, and the importance of having the tools and a plan in place — is vital. Every year more businesses of all sizes are recognizing this importance and are investing time and resources into emergency communication methods. Communicating effectively takes knowledge and practice.

At Mach 1, we work to empower you and your brand with the skills to achieve your communication goals and offer tangible crisis communications support before, during, and after a challenging time in order to help you and your business come out on top.

Alice Claiborne

Author Alice Claiborne

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