Crisis Communications: The Role of Public Relations in a Pandemic

Written by Bailey Revis

Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen companies excel and fail at communicating the proper messages and making their people and their customers the priority. As this pandemic evolves, more businesses are accepting the importance of proper digital marketing and communications for a healthy public relations strategy. It is not enough to send out an email to your customers about how things are changing. Clear and timely communication on all marketing channels is wildly important in helping your community make decisions, stay informed, and feel reassured.

What is Crisis Communication?

A crisis communication plan includes the procedures that a company or organization outlines and implements in order to communicate during an unprecedented event. Crises can include a variety of events such as:

  • Weather or natural disasters
  • Widespread illnesses
  • Internal or external incidents
  • Global events
  • Reputation crisis

The Importance of Communicating Correctly

In all situations where crises occur, communicating the right way will serve your team and customers well while avoiding negative consequences. Every message your brand puts out in an uncertain and perhaps threatening time, should be communicated quickly and effectively. Your objectives should be to inform the public, protect your brand and team, as well as provide assurance.

As in any crises, fear and confusion can be as widespread as the threat itself. Communicating with clarity will provide security for the public you are serving. Additionally, how you communicate now will determine how people view your brand in the future.

What Communications Should I Focus On?

Every organization should develop some sort of crisis communication plan that broadly outlines the expectations and procedures you should take in the event of a crisis. For example, being a Florida-grown business, we have to be prepared for inclement weather such as hurricanes. Developing a plan to follow when a large storm heads our way allows us to act quickly and effectively when the crisis arrives. This also helps us focus on delivering timely communications and updates.

In the same way, navigating the storm that a crisis can bring (literally or figuratively) requires attention for every message on every platform.

Website

Think of your website as your home base for your digital crisis implementation. Users will most likely navigate to your website or social media accounts to find information regarding your response. Your homepage should be designed to immediately help customers find the information they need. We recommend utilizing your announcement section or implementing a banner on your website that directs users to important information.

Other ways to optimize your website is to include a dedicated landing page for FAQs specific to the crisis response. This could include information regarding updated store hours, the best ways to contact your team, changes in operations, and any temporary pauses. You may also want to implement a live chat bot on your site, as this can serve as instant communication for your customers at all hours. You can set up a live chatbot to have automated messages with frequently asked questions. That way, you can answer customer questions without having to be glued to your computer.

Social Media

Social media is increasingly becoming the primary source for any news or information. People will flock to Twitter rather than choose to watch national news coverage for easily digestible information and live updates. In the same way, you should have a cohesive plan for how you are going to tackle your social media posts. If you regularly post on social media for your organization, you will need to shift your posts to provide information, share real-time updates, and connect with your community. In response to COVID-19 and social distancing measures, social media is required to maintain digital connections that have been discouraged in the physical world.

When crafting social media content and responding to your followers, remember to:

  • Listen to the needs and questions of your customers
  • Identify pain points or any points of confusion
  • Offer solutions and answers as quickly as possible
  • Respond positively and clearly in order to build trust

Email

Email provides a direct line of communication that can be personalized and segmented based on your current subscribers. It’s important to utilize this avenue to provide timely information that your customers can access at any time. While someone may miss a social post, they are far less likely to miss your email with important information. Make sure that your subject line doesn’t blend in with other emails in times of regional, national, or global events, as everyone else will be looking to grab attention in the inbox. This can also serve as a channel to educate and delight your consumers in the midst of uncertainty.

Local Listings

For small businesses, updating your local listings is crucial to help your customers find the information they need. You can communicate any store closures or hour updates easily, so that customers can know if they can visit you. Google My Business listings are one of the best and easiest ways to inform your customers about your operations during a crisis. 

Communicating Through a Crisis

Your role in a crisis is to provide services (as much as you can safely) and provide clear messages that instill trust with your public.

1. Define Your Team’s Expectations

If you’ve already outlined a crisis management plan before an actual crisis begins, then the next step is to define expectations with your team. Your leadership team and employees will need to know how and when a response will occur as well as new policies. If your team understands the expectations at the beginning, they can help the organization navigate through crisis.

2. Align On A Message

After the expectations and policies are communicated, you and your team will need to align on a message. This will be largely influenced by your brand’s voice and messaging style prior to the crisis. If you have a fun, upbeat tone, then you probably want to align on a message that incorporates hope, positivity, and gratefulness. 

Your message will serve as your North Star for all communications that follow during the time of crisis. It gives you a benchmark to weigh your messages against. “Does this communicate our message clearly?” “How could this be misinterpreted?” These are the questions you need to answer before publishing anything.

3. Evaluate Your Current Marketing

Communications will also include any digital marketing strategies you have implemented or are planning to. Your content marketing should shift towards helpfulfuness based on current circumstances. If your paid advertising campaigns don’t align with your message nor do they serve as a priority, pause them. Evaluate every single aspect of your digital marketing to avoid any miscommunications.

4. Decide On How You Can Serve

Just as you did with your digital marketing strategies, take a look at every digital channel you exist on. How can you serve new and potential customers? Maybe you use social media to showcase at-home activities that align with your business offerings. Or perhaps, you host a webinar with another local partner to give users more information digitally.

5. Respond and Adapt

Now all that’s left is to share messages and respond. Once you hit “share” or “publish”, your job is not done. Every message should be monitored, responded to, and used to inform your next message. You can mine every social post, contact form, or direct message to craft an even better messaging strategy. This creates a system that heavily relies on your company’s ability to adapt.

Today’s Response Will Be Tomorrow’s Brand Image

When you communicate in a crisis, your words and messages are worth so much more. You have to be clear, consistent, and committed to serving the public because of the uncertainty that comes with crises. 

How your company responds during a crisis will fuel how current and potential customers think about you in the future. Unsure where to start when it comes to messaging in crises? Connect with our team and we’d love to help!

Bailey Revis

As an Inbound Marketing Executive, Bailey implements hands-on practices and innovative thinking to build strong client relationships and deliver valuable content.