Consistency in Crisis - Owning Your Narrative
During an emergency or crisis, details about the event, misinformation and questions will begin circulating almost immediately. They will start making their rounds on social media and even through your employee network. A critical best practice to support owning your narrative is to communicate with consistent, verified messaging to both your internal and external audiences using all the communications tools in your toolbox.
Here are 5 steps to help you with this process:
1. Gather and verify the information before sharing it.
You likely won't be able to share all the details at once, as it takes time to get all the facts together. Consider if you're managing a situation with fatalities: the Next of Kin notifications will need to be completed before a name(s) is released. Share the facts as you know them and tell your audiences you will be sharing more information once it becomes available. Share what you know right now, even if it is just tell your audiences you’re dealing with a crisis.
2. Communicate with your internal audience.
Sometimes, organizations get so focused on getting information into the media's hands that they forget to tell their employees, leaders, and Board Members what is happening. Don't forget your internal audience as they are usually your best ambassadors. Tell them what you know and give them regular updates.
3. Use all your platforms to communicate.
It takes time to get content prepared for each platform, but it is necessary. Sending the same consistent message across all your feeds leaves little room for questions. To own your narrative, you need to be the trusted and credible source of information on the event. Be visible.
4. Keep Communicating – don't stop.
Remember, just because you shared a message once, doesn't mean everyone has heard it. Keep repeating the same information you have until new information is available. Timestamp the message or mark "Update 1,2,3" so that people know you are sharing the information you have available at the time, even if there are no new details to add to the original message.
If you don't keep communicating, your audiences will begin filling gaps with their thoughts, and this is where you start having issues with misinformation.
5. Monitor and correct misinformation immediately.
If you're dealing with an evacuation, for example, a lack of clear, consistent information on what residents need to do and where they need to go could mean the difference between life and death. There is no room for misinformation. By continually communicating with clear and consistent information, you can drastically reduce your chances of misinformation. However, continuously monitor and correct misinformation as quickly as possible to avoid confusion if you see these issues arise.
The public may or may not remember how you physically responded to an emergency or crisis but, they will remember how you communicated about that response. Make your communications as clear, consistent and timely as possible to keep your audiences up to date with new information as it becomes available. By using all of the channels and tools you have in your communicator's toolbox, you will reach a wider audience in the locations where they are going to seek information. Lastly, do some analytics after each crisis to determine what channels were accessed the most often throughout the event. This information will help you to prioritize your communications efforts for your next crisis.
Shawna Bruce is a wife, mother, veteran and business owner. She is passionate about Risk and Crisis Communications, Emergency Public Information, and Public Engagement.