Crisis Communications Tips for the Coronavirus Pandemic

The coronavirus outbreak is affecting all organizations on a global scale, and it’s important for businesses to adapt quickly. Communications professionals play a large leadership role in guiding their organizations during times of crisis, bridging the gap between internal and external audiences.

Maintaining a calm, collected brand voice and keeping open channels of communication with employees, customers and other stakeholders can help mitigate risk, chaos and confusion. For businesses looking to navigate disruptions to their operations while putting their employees and customers’ health first, follow these crisis communications recommendations.

Develop a Coronavirus Crisis Response Team – Even the best communications teams do not have the authority to make sweeping organizational changes. Emergency situations can benefit from having a crisis response team made up of core leadership that can approve recommendations, changes and new policies at a rapid pace. Keep the team at a manageable size, meet regularly and have honest conversations about your current status, challenges and opportunities. Once decisions are made, each leader should work with their teams to implement changes and distribute appropriate messaging.

Communicate Transparently – It’s important to keep calm and understand everyone is facing this global crisis together. During times of chaos and confusion, taking extra steps to communicate transparently to both staff and customers can help mitigate risk significantly. Every question cannot be immediately resolved in a rapidly evolving situation, but a business can give insight into the steps they are taking. For example, letting them know you have set up a COVID-19 committee to address issues in real-time lets your audiences know you are taking this seriously and are actively working on it.

Stick to the Facts – In a rush to respond, businesses can mistakenly put out incorrect or misleading information. It’s important to stick to the facts and refer to the experts, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). No one is expecting you to have all the answers. It’s acceptable to let audiences know you are working to address their issues and refer them to a designated place on your website where they can get real-time information.

 Stay Up-to-date and Adapt – From crowd restrictions to cancelled flights, rules, regulations and policies are changing rapidly. Brands must adjust their communications strategy in real-time to address these rapid changes. Remember not use absolute statements. For example, many brands have gone viral for saying they’d stay open no matter what and are now severely regretting their previous statements. COVID-19 is not your typical crisis communications issue. It’s a global pandemic that cannot be predicted. Remember this when drafting statements.

Anticipate and Listen to Customer Needs – If you haven’t already, start creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document that anticipates any questions your audiences may have and ones that are already being asked. This should be a living document that all team leaders across your organization can access and drop in any questions or themes they are tracking across communications channels and departments. Draft messaging to address these in real-time so your comms teams can communicate in one voice to your audiences. This will also help you develop policies to address evolving needs.

Review your Advertising and Social Media Marketing – Many brands are still promoting in-person deals, conferences and events, despite state-wide bans on large gatherings. Your marketing needs to constantly be reviewed and adapted to any new changes. It’s also important not to schedule any tweets or other social media postings due to the fluid nature of the coronavirus crisis.

Know Your Brand’s Place – Many brands feel helpless and want to do anything to help. Sometimes this can do more harm than good. Consider how your brand can be useful during this crisis and make sure it aligns with any federal or state guidance. For example, some brands want to crowdsource donations, but that would require in-person measures or may not even meet the most critical needs of another organization or population. Take the time to assess how your brand can best help in ways that align with your business strategy and expertise. For example, many social sites are pushing CDC information directly into news feeds and timelines, which aligns with their business strategy as a communications channel. Other organizations are making monetary donations to allow for an individual organization to best determine their needs.