Everything shifted for Americans on March 11th when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. With this, the U.S. declared a national emergency and began a shutdown unlike any of us have seen in our lifetime. Changes to our daily lives…to our businesses…to our health…began coming at us hourly, rather than daily.
As people’s level of anxiety increased, so did their thirst for information.
How long would this shut down last?
What steps should I take to protect myself and my loved ones?
How does the virus spread?
How will this affect my job/income?
During a crisis there can be more questions than answers. That’s why implementing a top-rated enterprise engagement system early is paramount. Effective communication can serve to:
- Reduce misinformation, which can breed panic and uncertainty
- Reduce repetitive questions and dependency on call centers
- Improve reach by disseminating quality information in a variety of formats
- Improve crisis outcomes
So, what is effective communication and how do I know if we are employing it properly? Below are some tips.
Speed is Critical
The speed at which you issue your first communication can indicate how prepared you were to respond to the crisis. This can set the tone for trust. With the immediacy of social media, your audience can and will get information from other sources in a time of need. This can begin the spread of misinformation. However, speed should not override overall strategy or facts. Be sure both of those are buttoned up first.
Be a Reliable Source of Information
People prefer to consume information directly from sources they trust, be it their government, their school, or their employer. It’s best when these trusted sources cite reputable sources like government organizations (i.e. CDC, WHO, OSHA), notable academic medical centers (i.e. Mayo Clinic, John’s Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic), and renowned educational institutions (i.e. Harvard, Yale, Columbia). Further eliminate speculation and assumptions by providing direct links to these sources whenever possible.
Just the Facts Ma’am
Keep the information simple and factual, which makes it easily consumable. State the facts and repeat them consistently. Educate your audience with clear steps they can take to plan and to protect themselves and their families/colleagues/clients. Be sure to provide enough detail to answer key questions and eliminate assumptions.
Consistency is Key
Commit to a schedule that will guarantee consistent, proactive official updates – even if there is nothing significantly new to share. For example, enact twice-weekly updates to share new information, reinforce policies, and provide additional guidance. In the absence of information, people will make their own assumptions, which can lead to the spread of misinformation.
Communication is a Two-Way Street
The most successful communication is two-way communication. It’s important to issue high-quality reliable information, but that information may trigger additional questions from your audience. And, the information you are disseminating may not be answering the specific questions your audience may have. People tend to feel more comfortable when they are able to provide feedback and get answers to their specific questions.
Implement an Enterprise Engagement System
Use a multi-media engagement platform, such as Ecover Response, to communicate with and engage your audience in a variety of ways including texts, photos, videos, and customizable surveys. This will greatly improve the reach of your information. It’s important to choose an easy-to-use technology solution to communicate with your audience.
Develop Relationships Now
A key component of crisis management is to retain support from your audience and to keep people safe. That means it’s important to develop a strong relationship with your audience before a crisis hits. To do that, deploy a reliable emergency notification and communication app prior to the onset of a crisis. That way, information flow can begin as soon as a crisis occurs.
The worst time to start planning for a crisis is when you’re in the middle of one.
As uncertainty grows, credible, clear, and consistent communication is vital to stability. Having a regular flow of trusted information will help put people at ease, empower them with the tools to keep themselves safe, and help them to stay focused.
No one can predict the future. What we can control is how we communicate with each other. Providing clear, credible, consistent information in a way your audience is comfortable consuming it is essential to successfully managing any type of crisis.