COMMUNICATION

Tips for success

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It is highly recommended for an organisation to identify any possible crises that could occur in the future. Follow these helpful tips to ensure your success:

1 Plan ahead, be prepared for the unexpected

It’s Murphy’s Law: “whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way”, especially if you’re not prepared.It is highly recommended for an organisation to identify any possible crises that could occur in the future.

Strategic thinking and planning is essential and should be applied to all spheres of decision making, as all future outcomes need to be taken into account. Chaos reigns when a crisis unfolds, all affected stakeholders want answers and it is therefore imperative to be prepared and have a comprehensive crisis communication strategy in place before the crisis occurs.

This will enable all internal stakeholders to know exactly who should communicate what to whom and at what time. The effectiveness of the plan should be tested.

This can be done by practising potential future crisis situations consisting of real-life scenarios and interviews with journalists in order to identify potential adjustments to be made to the plan.

When questions are asked, the best informed person about the crisis situation should be the one to communicate it. It is not necessary for every internal stakeholder to communicate about the crisis; there should be only one or two dedicated people who deal with the media so as not to relay a different message. It is, however, important to ensure all internal stakeholders are able to communicate effectively with the media should a crisis within their field of expertise occur.

Media training is a great investment in crisis communication planning, as it helps equip the team with media management skills, giving them credibility and authority. If a person of authority speaks to the media, it is a good indication of confidence that the organisation does not have any hidden agendas and that it is taking the situation seriously by taking ownership.

Never ‘mud-sling’ or shift the blame – this will lead to more negative coverage and cause unnecessary arguments.

2 Be responsive and timely

Keep your stakeholders in the loop. Tell them all that you know, and do it quickly – before they have an opportunity to jump to conclusions or search for other sources that may have incorrect information.

Never keep quiet, but don’t speculate or give unverified facts, either. “No comment” is a big no-no, and is in fact a comment! Rather state that you are investigating the situation and will provide information as soon as it is made available.

3 Keep your stakeholders updated

Be honest, open and transparent. Keep stakeholders informed about the crisis that is taking place and the various actions that are being taken. Engaging with stakeholders, especially during a crisis, could lead to positive long-term relationships with them.

As far as possible, include stakeholders (especially employees) in the organisation’s decisions and the way forward: ask them for their inputs, and it will become a shared problem that they feel they need to help your organisation solve.

If used correctly, social media can be a great tool, too, when engaging with stakeholders. However, one needs to be mindful that with the emergence of social media and the instantaneous power of online news platforms, a timely response is key.

Active consumers weigh up an organisation’s reputation before making purchasing decisions. Should the organisation not respond in a timely manner, this could influence the buying behaviour or loyalty of these consumers.

4 Stick to your guns

Stay true to the company’s values, and vision and mission, especially when communicating during a crisis. Reiterate your corporate values, if these have been compromised during a crisis.

5 Be empathetic

Communicate that your organisation is invested in the correction and alleviation of the problem. The organisation needs to acknowledge it is empathetic toward all stakeholders influenced negatively by the crisis, and should apologise where relevant to gain trust back. Accordingly, stakeholders will be more open to accepting apologies from the organisation.

6 Keep it simple

The spokesperson for the organisation should not analyse or incessantly explain the situation. Using complicated terms and industry-related jargon can confuse stakeholders and it will give the impression the organisation is trying to hide the truth by being overly vague or complicated.

Simple messages get the main points across and provide the best opportunity for being understood. Choose the right communication channels and adapt messages according to each stakeholder group in order to properly communicate with the stakeholders.

7 Take action and make sure the stakeholders know about it

An organisation should communicate its efforts to alleviate the problem and follow through. The same crisis should never occur in an organisation twice. It is important for an organisation to communicate to its stakeholders that it has learnt from the mistakes and is taking the necessary steps to prevent the same issue from occurring again.

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