A crisis is never far away. An unfortunate statement on social media or during an interview; a small internal conflict or quarrel; criticism on your work or a small mistake can all develop into the perfect storm. In order to avoid or limit damage to your reputation and credibility, it is important to communicate swiftly in the event of a crisis. Erik Struys, partner at UPR, explains the way to handle a crisis with the right communication approach.
Always stick to the facts. Do not speculate and only divulge what is certain.Show your knowledge by providing numbers, locations, timing, amounts or own validated data.Also show that you take the facts seriously through decisiveness and a willingness to act. Give meaning to your story by absorbing the emotional responses of people and empathetically dealing with them. Manage the expectations of your audience or target group by indicating that new information will follow. Also, say where and when.
Always be open and honest in crisis communication. The communicated information should be correct, clear, and transparent. Make sure that people can find information about the crisis quickly. This can be done by giving all information about the crisis a central place on your website.
Communicate immediately from the start of a crisis. Don’t let anyone be ahead of you. Do not be afraid, but be proactive. Sooner or later the crisis will erupt in the public domain, and you gain credibility by being the first to come out with the news. “No comment” is not used and silence is certainly not an option. This will open the playing field to third parties and you will lose control of your communication.
Ensure continuity in your communication. Do not leave people in the dark during a crisis. Keep journalists informed of new developments. Stay in contact with the media.
Social media channels are excellent tools for crisis communication, but it requires two-way communication where followers expect answers to their messages and reactions.This dynamic also offers opportunities, as rumours can be taken care of immediately.
Choose a ‘warm’ tone of voice. Communicate from the perspective of your target audience and/or possible victims. Empathy is often forgotten in crisis communication. Yet heart gives crisis communication credibility, followed by honesty, reasonableness, and competence. How do you achieve this? By, for example, showing sympathy with victims or offering clear apologies.
Show visible understanding of the emotions of the public or victims and only then come up with your own ‘rational’ points or solutions.
Show that you take responsibility and indicate what action you plan to take to get the crisis under control or to solve the problem.
Recognize if errors had been made, apologize for them, and show that you solve them or that the necessary measures are taken to ensure that they no longer occur.
Winning externally starts internally. Before the outside world is informed about the crisis, everyone internally must know. Employees and colleagues are your most important stakeholders and should therefore be fully informed first.
Pay the necessary attention to the aftermath of a crisis. Even though the crisis is over, it is still crucial to keep communicating about matters relating to the crisis and to monitor the media, including social media, to know what the public still has to say about the topic.
Crises unfortunately rarely go by without obstacles, but everyone learns from his mistakes. Take your experiences with you into the future to ensure that crisis communication will become more streamlined next time.
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