By Haig Kartounian, Public Affairs Manager, Southern California Edison (SCE)
Communication during a crisis event can alter the way we do business. During a crisis, people have limited attention spans and are overwhelmed with the abundance of dire news. They filter through information quickly, trying to key in on answers to their concerns. There can be a dangerous epidemic of false and inaccurate information, especially in the digital realm.
To combat concern, fear, and misinformation, agencies and organizations must adapt quickly to everchanging situations. It is imperative to project a unified, clear message, with all staff on the same page.
To meet critical communication needs, the following are some best practices to follow for a crisis event:
- Have a crisis communications protocol set up ahead of time. Make sure all staff are familiar with the protocol and know where it is located.
- Create a communications toolkit in advance, including a boilerplate press release and other information that can easily be
tailored and updated
- Identify possible crisis situations and develop boilerplate messaging that can be tailored to an event
- Assign tasks and duties as part of the protocol, and activate those once a crisis event occurs
- Set up talking points and have all staff stick to them
- Establish regular checks in, daily briefings, and weekly recaps during the crisis event to keep information flowing internally
- Check in with elected officials early and as needed to ensure they have the correct message points to give their constituents
- Assign staff to regularly monitor social media and dispel misinformation in a timely manner
- Stay honest and transparent and be open and flexible to changing needs; have compassion with the public and with each other
- Express empathy in all messaging
The COVID-19 pandemic epitomizes the need for good crisis communications protocol. The information and guidance for the public during this crisis changes daily, sometimes hourly, and agencies need to work quickly and effectively to stay on top of these changes. The public is eager for information and needs proactive communications from agencies. Lack of official agency information creates opportunity for people seek out sources that may not be legitimate and start spreading their own information in the community.
Partnering with the media can be a great way to provide regular updates to a wider audience. Agencies can also use this more proactive communication as a way to emphasize what they are doing in the community and the vital role they play, both raising awareness and providing reassurances.
At Circlepoint, we use these tools and best practices with our clients to assist with COVID-19 communications. We help our clients build out social media engagement strategies and messaging that provides consistent information, engaging and clear graphics, and a high degree of flexibility in responding to concerns arising in the ever-changing online conversation.
Circlepoint engages in daily communications with the public for large infrastructure projects to ease fears and ensure those affected by the project know what will happen even as the news changes on recommendations for COVID-19. We also coordinate talking points for the media and elected officials on the kinds of behaviors to encourage, and discourage, to keep the public safe and in-the-know while public services are changed or augmented.
The COVID-19 pandemic can provide an opportunity for agencies and organizations to become even more active members of their community. Audiences can be involved in new ways, including extensive social media and online engagement with those who may have never been engaged before. Long after the current crisis subsides, these strategies can create stronger community connections, in authentic, holistic ways that serve the needs of both the agency and the public.