Many crises show up unannounced, which often puts business owners in a place of reactivity instead of proactivity. Without a moment to prepare, you can often feel thrust into the middle of an evolving situation without any clear direction to craft your messaging. It is especially challenging when you don't yet have answers or solutions, but still need to communicate with your target audiences.
When COVID-19 started spreading rapidly throughout the United States, we were forced to a brief standstill while we tried to grasp the changing circumstances. We were and may continue to be in shock. When you have a hurricane or a flood, you know things will settle within a couple of weeks--perhaps a month. But when the “end” of a crisis is nowhere in sight, it can lead to a lot of fear and uncertainty in the market.
Yet, despite what we are feeling personally, we need to remember that people are looking to our brands to see how we are handling the situation. Panic begets panic, so be the calm and trusted resource your followers need you to be.
Let’s take a look at how to craft strategic messaging in a time of crisis:
1. Revisit your company values.
Before considering anything else, you want first to go back to your company values and ensure that you're aligning your message around what matters most to your brand. You don't want to lose focus of your end goals because this will end, and you do want to be here on the other side. Keeping your values close will ensure that your messaging will remain consistent with social media posts, blog posts, website content, and other brand materials.
2. Instill faith and confidence.
When your clients look at you in a time of crisis, they want to know that you’re steady and prepared to adapt to the changing circumstances. This should also be the message you’re presenting to other businesses because, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. You can and should be honest and open, but it’s important to show up when you’re needed most. Ignore the fear mongers and continue promoting positivity through your channels.
3. Tell your story.
If you don't tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. So, in a crisis, you need to show up and share what you're doing. Stuck at home in quarantine? That doesn't mean it's time to disappear from social media; if anything, be more present! Share some inspiration about how you’re staying motivated while working from home. Volunteering in a disaster zone? Explain why it’s an important cause for your business and what you’re doing to help. Only you can tell your story in the right way, so take control of it before someone else does.
4. Be careful with “personal” posts.
When you share content online, it speaks to your business--even if it’s on a personal page. You are the face of your business and, therefore, what you think and say are inherently connected. Avoid sharing overly sensitive or controversial content on any channel because you are a business owner who will have to answer for anything you post. Regardless of whether you have a private account, recognize that you are always the representative of your brand.
5. Make communication easy.
Even if you’re working from home, ensure that your clients and colleagues know that you can be reached and are ready to discuss questions, concerns and plans. We didn’t know how to use Zoom before this pandemic, but now we do. We’re working with clients through phone calls, emails, text messages, video chats, and really whatever modes of communication make the most sense for them.
6. Adjust your marketing strategy.
When a crisis arises, the first thing you should be doing is adjusting your current advertising and marketing efforts to avoid the risk of sounding tone-deaf. However, that's not to say you should sit back and wait for the situation to blow over. Once you have addressed the issue at hand, you can continue to market and advertise; in fact, you should do so, because life carries on after a crisis, and you want your business to survive the threat. There are still couples planning weddings for the year after and beyond--nothing changes for them, so this pandemic is merely a blip the planning process. But, now, they have all this time at home and will inevitably spend it researching online!
You need to adjust your messaging to be more strategic and sensitive to the matter at hand. Encourage people to #postponedontcancel, empathize with feelings of isolation, highlight your accessibility through phone and email—you get the point. Be careful to avoid seeming like you’re taking advantage of the situation, but do get creative and appeal to the humanity in the situation. After all, you’re stuck at home, too!
7. Don’t waste time.
If people are looking to you as a pillar of the community, don’t make them wait days to hear an update from your team. When a crisis strikes, carve out time immediately to craft a message to your audience. Even if you don’t have all the details, sharing a basic statement and promising later updates is enough to show people that you’re present, thoughtful, and professional.
When COVID-19 started spreading, we wrote up a blog right away. We didn’t know everything—we still don’t—but we wanted to do what we could to start allaying fears in our community. We are based in Houston, so we’ve lived through some dire circumstances—particularly Hurricane Harvey. If we can convey even the slightest bit of hope through our own experiences, that’s what we want to do.
Now that we’re all at home with time on our hands, take some time to focus on developing that crisis plan. It’s never too late to create one, because crises are unpredictable yet inevitable. It doesn't have to be detailed and in-depth; it can be a general outline of what you want to achieve in any given crisis. Use it as a framework that can be built upon when it strikes.
Having a plan, even for the future, helps us to crawl out of the fear spiral and step up to the forefront of the industry.
Lisa Krumm Anhaiser is the founder and president of Houston-based LBL Event Rentals, which has been providing quality linen and event rentals to the area for more than 20 years. Lisa is also a graduate of the prestige Goldman Sachs “10,000 Small Businesses” program; she enjoys sharing her knowledge with other business owners through educating via one-on-one consultations and speaking engagements.