Communications in challenging times

In the last few weeks I’ve been really impressed on the personal front on how many of the small traders I deal with have been in constant communication to update me on their service situation. So what communication preparations should an SME be executing in the shadow of a crisis?  Already back in January Seth Arenstein stated in  PR News that for businesses the Covid-19 outbreak:-

“Involves internal and external communications as well as reputation management”   

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve read so far is from Hannah Patel, Director of UK firm Red Lorry Yellow Lorry.  She recommends that companies “avoid making a proactive comment, unless this could directly impact their customers or staff” she goes on to say when you determine you need to comment

“Release the facts you have quickly and clearly – making the information as accessible as possible”

Digital platforms are swamped with misinformation and fake news inevitably leading to fear and even fuelling extreme radical reactions.  So serious have some of the false communications been that digital giants such as Twitter have put a warning label linking to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when users search “coronavirus. For example Fullfact (UK’s independent fact checking charity) recently had to debunk a story that appeared in some of the UK’s largest circulation newspapers that satellite images from NASA showed evidence of mass cremations in Wuhan.

With external communications, fact-based communications and transparency is key to good crisis management. Remember too much information and speculation can lead to unnecessary fear and panic, not enough can lead to mistrust and uncertainties so it’s about finding that balance point. 

Internally not all your staff may be vocalising concerns but no doubt they will be thinking about the situation and may be worrying about it even more than others. Naturally one of the best internal comms is to put as much visible support in place for them, for example through measures recommended nationally on hygiene, staggered breaks and encouraging home working using the many virtual tools  available.  Let them know that you trust them to operate from a virtual environment just as effectively.  

Added to this though encourage them to vocalise their concerns just as you need to share with them the challenges you’re facing as a business.  Hopefully the recent measures announced by Government for small businesses will ease some of the pressures – if they are then share this message with your team.

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