Why coordinated communications are critical in a crisis

Why coordinated communications are critical in a crisis

If the past few days have taught us anything, it's that things change quickly in a crisis.

The Australian Grand Prix, Royal Easter Show and Super Rugby have all been cancelled. Outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people are banned along with non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 or more, 14-day self-isolation is imposed on all international arrivals and a biosecurity emergency has been declared.

Globally, organisations and businesses are struggling to keep stakeholders informed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact and disrupt business and their operating environments.

Planned, transparent and effective communication are key to dealing with a crisis, but it can be challenging to plan or prepare communications when a situation is evolving so quickly.

As some organisations are finding out, you can't stay on top of things by sending out a group email or two.

Technology platforms are key to automating these business-critical communications, enabling real-time two-way interactions with staff, customers and suppliers in different geographies and across multiple delivery channels.

Real-time communications facilitate a coordinated business response from all levels of an organisation that can keep up with changing operating conditions, allowing senior leadership team members to utilise the latest information to make decisions while keeping staff aware of evolving situations and appropriate plans.

And, importantly, they can do all of this at scale.

Below are eight tips from Whispir, drawing on our 20 years' crisis communications experience with emergency providers, government departments and companies across several sectors including coordinating communications for the recent bushfires and the current COVID-19 pandemic:

  1. Map out all your stakeholders and how you communicate with them. While the safety of your staff is a clear, immediate priority, enabling your staff to effectively engage with customers, suppliers and regulators during crisis situations is equally important and often overlooked. Each stakeholder group will require tailored and targeted communications that address their specific needs, and these will need to be quickly updated as conditions change.

    Many organisations have internal collaboration systems that are used for daily unstructured staff interaction; however, these systems tend not to include external stakeholders or facilitate the consistent and standardised (structured) communications required during a pandemic.

  2. Engage with stakeholders in the communications channels they use most, such as SMS, WhatsApp, video, voice and email. This ensures critical communications are not missed. For urgent communications, SMS accelerates notification speed with the average text message accessed within a minute. Automated voice calls with recorded messages and instructions to mobile and fixed lines generate an even faster response and can be triggered automatically from many communications platforms as certain criteria are met.

  3. Timely communications is key. A clearly defined plan for communicating as certain stages of the pandemic are reached will enable businesses to respond promptly as new developments emerge. This prevents confusion or the spread of misinformation, which can lead to unnecessary stakeholder anxiety and disruption to business operations.

  4. Use pre-approved templates, that can be quickly amended. In rapidly changing business resilience scenarios, such as pandemics, things often don't work out as planned or evolve suddenly. While message templates can be prepared with specifics, the ability to quickly modify content can save valuable time when trying to keep stakeholders informed in a timely manner.

  5. Err on the side of 'over communicating' and use the official government health authority advisories as a source of truth; you don't have to create it - you need to disseminate it and coordinate your actions with it.

    If there's a communication vacuum people tend to assume things are worse than they probably are. At a minimum, organisations should issue regular communications about changes to business operations, workplace access protocols and self-isolation directives. Effective stakeholder communications during a crisis improves business resilience for organisations of all sizes, from small and medium enterprises through to large government departments and infrastructure operators.

  6. It's not enough to just send messages. Your communications to stakeholders need to be actionable and two-way to allow for feedback. This provides visibility on who is really engaged and captures insights from people on the ground, improving analysis and decision making. Communications software can trigger event-based communications - if A happens, send B - so that the appropriate stakeholders are contacted when criteria are met.

  7. Security. As organisations and governments restrict movements people are being asked by their employers and managed buildings to provide sensitive personal information. As security of this information is crucial, you need to ensure you are using secure and encrypted communications channels. This will also ensure compliance with statutory obligations for management of privacy data, which may be aggregated over time.

  8. Organisations need to ensure all stakeholder interactions are recorded for auditing purposes. As the pandemic evolves over the coming weeks and months, organisations may be asked to provide reports on interactions for contact traceability - and often these reports will be demanded quickly.

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