Crisis is a word that brings fear to all businesses. From natural disasters to data breaches, a crisis can strike at any moment and bring damaging consequences. What’s more, a crisis can take months to recover from, and some businesses don’t recover at all. 

💡 Read Crisis Management 101: How to Save Your Business When a Crisis Strikes

So, with limited ability to prepare, what’s the key to survival when a disaster strikes? Crisis communication can help you weather the storm and minimize its effects. With that in mind, let’s look at the steps of crisis communication planning and ensure you’re not caught out. 

What is crisis communication?

A crisis communication plan outlines procedures to enable information sharing during times of crisis. This ensures that every part of your organization can respond effectively. This way, you can begin the process of disaster recovery before issues become too damaging. To illustrate the usefulness of a crisis communication plan, let’s give a common example: a data breach. 

Read 3 Powerful Good Crisis Management Examples

During a data breach, you have a short window to respond and deal with the issue. A communication plan can help ensure that relevant departments are informed immediately. You can quickly notify affected customers and begin taking steps to bolster security.

Without strong crisis communication, this scenario could have been much worse. It could’ve taken longer for customers to be notified. Hackers may have continued to exploit security weaknesses. You could have lost enormous amounts of money – and your reputation could have taken a hit.

Capterra's 2022 Crisis Communications Survey
Image sourced from capterra.com

Unfortunately, there’s a reason that so many businesses are hit hard by crises. As illustrated in the image above, more than 50% of businesses do not have a documented crisis communications plan. If you’ve yet to put a plan in place, don’t wait until tomorrow or it might be too late. Let’s look at how you get started. 

9 Vital Steps of Crisis Communication

There’s no denying that communication is an essential factor when it comes to crisis prevention. But to communicate effectively, you need a solid plan. Here are some of the key steps of crisis communication planning. 

Read How to Manage a PR Crisis

Create a timeline 

Communication planning
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Crisis communication is all about speed. It goes without saying that the longer your response time, the worse a crisis gets. But how quick is quick enough? One hour? Two hours? Within the first ninety minutes, your crisis communication plan should have taken effect. For a quick response, build the following timeline into your plan. 

  • Within 15 minutes – You need to publicly acknowledge that a crisis has occurred. It doesn’t matter if you don’t give many details. A quick response will help ensure customer confidence. 
  • Within 30 minutes – Provide a more detailed update as more information becomes available.
  • Within an hour – A member of your organization should make a public announcement. This should include announcing the steps being taken to resolve the crisis. This could involve posting videos to social media, email, and on your website. 
  • Within 90 minutes – Hold a press conference and be as transparent as possible.

Identify teams

Coworking space
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When crisis strikes, your crisis communications teams will be the first hands on deck. For each potential disaster, they’ll draw up a response plan. Ideally, they’ll put you in the strongest possible place to respond to a crisis when it hits. 

Read 5 Key Elements Every Social Media Crisis Plan Needs

If possible, you should create multiple teams to deal with different types of crises. For example, one team might deal with product recall, another with supply chain disruption, and a third one with security-related issues. 

Choose individuals with the experience and knowledge to respond. Usually, this means senior executives with prior experience in handling a crisis. Each team should also appoint a spokesperson, who will be in charge of making statements during a crisis. 

Create an escalation framework 

An escalation framework can be a useful tool for communicating and resolving a crisis. As the name suggests, it’s a set of guidelines for resolving issues. Your crisis communication plan should include a clear framework for dealing with problems.  

Below is an example framework. Your model doesn’t necessarily need to follow every step (you can add or remove stages), so you should use this as a guide when structuring your framework. 

  • Spreading the word Warn team members that an issue has occurred via pre-specified channels of communication. Try to think of methods for spreading the word quickly and effectively, such as a voice over IP phone system, or instant messaging software.  
  • Assessing the situation – The scope of a problem might not be clear straight away. Take time to evaluate the situation and know which areas have been affected. 
  • Managing the crisis – Now that you know the extent of an issue, you should begin work to resolve it. The crisis team will begin enacting pre-planned crisis management strategies. This will include steps for responding to media and customer inquiries. 
  • Consistently monitoring – Throughout a crisis, keep a close eye on what’s going on. Issues might change over time, and it’s important to adapt your approach. 
  • Reflecting and planning – Once you’re confident that a crisis is over, it’s time to reflect on your successes and failures. We’ll talk about this in more detail later.  

Read Crisis Management Plan Examples: The Best & The Worst

Know your target audience 

As mentioned, each crisis communications team will be devoted to a different type of crisis. As such, each will have a different target audience to address. For instance, a data breach impacts the customer, making them the primary target for your messaging. When dealing with a strike, however, you’ll be speaking largely to your employees. 

Each scenario requires a slightly different form of messaging. By knowing your target audience before a crisis occurs, you’ll be able to prepare more effective communications. 

Spot potential issues early 

Not all crisis events can be anticipated. There are, however, plenty of examples of issues that could have been prevented. Dialogue is the key to spotting and addressing these problems early. making this one of the important steps of crisis communication.

For instance, by keeping in touch with key stakeholders, you can get a better sense of potential risks. Stakeholders, for instance, might tell you about security concerns relating to third-party apps. By taking this feedback on board, you can carry out a third party risk management process, and address issues before they become damaging. 

Communication with customers can be equally useful for spotting a crisis. Let’s imagine you are teasing a new product launch. Customers have lots of negative comments about a certain aspect of your product. By responding to this feedback, you can avoid a flood of negative reviews on release. 

Create accessible messaging 

Communication alone isn’t enough. Your crisis management messaging needs to be accessible and easy to understand. 

Avoid getting too technical. For instance, if you’re dealing with an IT issue, customers don’t need to know the exact error. Get straight to the point so that the respondents know how an issue will affect them. Always have the key takeaways at the start of your message so a reader doesn’t have to search for them. 

Consider the platform that will reach the highest number of people. For instance, people are more likely to check their emails than visit your website. 

Promote transparency 

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The more transparent you are pre-crisis, the more good faith you’ll acquire when something goes wrong. It could be transparency towards your employees, and communicating when things don’t go to plan. If, for instance, there’s an issue with IT systems, you might explain new initiatives to prevent the problem from happening again. 

Or, it could be being open about when your customer service doesn’t quite hit the mark. You might explain how you’re introducing a new contact center as a service to improve the quality of your support. 

Whatever the scenario, being open about issues and your plans for correcting them will always garner more favorable responses. 

Support the customer 

One thing that you guarantee is that when a crisis affects your customers, they’ll have something to say. When this happens, communication is more crucial than ever. After all, the way you respond will not only determine whether you retain customers but also whether you gain new ones. Perspective shoppers will judge your business by how you treat your existing customers. 

With that in mind, try to build some of the following steps into your crisis communication plan. 

  • Contacting customers to apologize for any mistakes that have been made. 
  • Offering refunds or discounts to make up for an issue. 
  • Collecting feedback from customers to help you respond more effectively to future crises. 
  • Using monitoring tools to check sentiment online and spot negative reviews. 
sentiment-dashboard
Determ’s sentiment analysis

Read 7 Essential Crisis Management Tools for PR Pros

Evaluate your response 

A crisis might be resolved, but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. Even the most efficient crisis communication plan won’t be perfect. A careful evaluation can help ensure you improve your crisis response in the future. During the evaluation process, try to ask some of the following questions:

  • How effectively did you respond? 
  • Are there steps you could have taken to ensure a quicker resolution?
  • Have you recovered fully from the crisis? 

Read 7 Corporate Crisis Examples and Ways to Manage Them

Communication is key 

A crisis is never welcome, but there are methods for minimizing its effects. Communication must be at the center of this. You need a clear strategy for exchanging information across your organization. This way, when disaster strikes, everyone is clear on their role. 

Today, we’ve looked at your plan concerning steps of crisis communication. Follow them one by one, and see how crisis communication can be implemented in your organization. The process will take time and involve some trial and error. In the end, though, you’ll have much more control when things don’t go to plan. 

So, next time disaster strikes, don’t panic, just remember: communication is key. 

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