There have been some pretty horrific goings-on in the world of late, and one thing that became apparent was that a large proportion of the SME community did not know what say or do via their communication channels during this time. This could have been avoided with a simple plan created specifically regarding their crisis communications.
By crisis communication planning we do not mean ‘what happens if we have an unhappy client’ that says something harsh – businesses should have a different policy for that type of issue. A crisis communication document outlines what to do when the unthinkable happens. Even if the catastrophe has nothing to do directly with your business. This way everyone in the company, in your marketing department and those you work with remotely, know what to do and can communicate appropriately when needed.
It can seem so natural to start sending out condolences and to design or share graphics that show that your business is thinking of those affected. However, is it appropriate?
What to do?
There is no definite answer to this. If your business has been affected by what is going on or has connections to the area/business/family/city then, of course, it makes sense to acknowledge the events. However, do so with dignity and caution. Acknowledging what is taking place in the world is not a bad thing to do as long as it does not look like:
- You’re trying to canvas for sales, exposure, followers and such like
- That you have strong opinions about what has happened – the situation is too emotive and so less is more when it comes to words
- You are jumping on the bandwagon as your brand usually does in these times
One certain piece of advice is – If in doubt, stay silent. Or at least, pause for thought.
By pausing we mean all marketing and sales activities. Reschedule any communications you had going out that day. Social media updates, email campaigns, social media ad’s, blogs, all of those can wait one day if not more. People will not think less of you if you wait. However, they will quickly unsubscribe, unfollow or hang you out to dry if your communications seem particularly insensitive.
Don’t fill timelines and inboxes with ‘noise’ that is not required. For those affected and in the thick of it, those channels of communications need to be left clear for necessary information from the emergency services, individuals involved and news channels.
If something goes out that you could not have got to in time then here are some words of advice.
If the update has not had any engagement. Delete it. If it has then a comment/reply in/to the update apologising will suffice while you are deciding whether to leave up or take it down. We do not recommend sending out a further update to highlight the mistake. This will only distract from the issue which should be the focus.
Pause your social media adverts as soon as you can. A recent example that spurred us on to write this blog was a social media ad for a national home insurance company, specific to house fires. In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we just can’t believe that it is still running. For Facebook, you can do this through the Facebook Ad’s app, so there is no reason not to turn them off as soon as you hear the news.
Shut down all automation tools as soon as possible. Whether that is an RSS feed or an auto schedule from blog to social media outlets, this is when they can let you down (and we do not recommend relying on them).
If your email campaign has gone out, look to send out a follow up the next day apologising if it was a sales email our about a topic that could cause offence.
Does your blog usually go out on a certain day? If it happens to have been the day that the disaster stuck, then you have two options.
Draft it and reschedule for another day.
Just do not publicise it until it is appropriate to do so.
PR events & launches:
This can be tricky as you have probably spent much time, resource and money getting ready for this moment.
The key is not to look like you are using the global events to boost your new brand or product. If you can postpone, do so. If you cannot, make it muted and invite the guests and the press to a secondary launch at a time that would be more appropriate. The third parties that are usually involved in this events will most likely agree that this is a better course of action if your want the launch or event or be a success and to gain coverage.
While crisis communication is one of those topics that no business wants to talk about and usually gets left low on the priority list. Unfortunately in times such as these it is one that needs to be discussed and actioned. It should then be saved in a place that is easy to get eyes and hands on should the unspeakable happen. It should also be reviewed yearly.