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Communicate solutions instead of excuses during a crisis

Communicate solutions instead of excuses during a crisis

This article first appeared – with permission – on the Firebrand Talent blog.

Communicating solutions is a well known, tried and tested content marketing strategy. It works because people engage with content that provides them with information that is useful and solves a challenge they are experiencing.

So why when a crisis occurs do people do the exact opposite and start communicating excuses?

There are two reasons for this:

  1. We are socially conditioned to view failure and fault as a sign of weakness; and
  2. Psychologically and physiologically, our internal ‘fight or flight’ natural instinct is to flee when presented with most crises.

While societal norms can and are being challenged by savvy leaders and communicators who understand that trust equates to influence; overriding our natural instincts when faced with conflict and criticism is a much more challenging task.

There are however, ways to build organisational resilience to enable communicators to respond to crises in ways that are productive and effective. Building trust starts first within your organisation and it is this groundwork in resilience that will enable you to communicate solutions during a crisis. Here’s how:

1. Be prepared for a crisis. The plan is to have a plan before you need a plan!

Projecting a trusted and influential capability doesn’t happen by accident. Trust first must be cultivated from within the organisation so that leaders feeling secure about the strategies and plans they have approved and secondly, the advisors they have in place to support them.

To be prepared you need to have invested in planning your strategy and tactics ahead of time; and have practiced implementing your crisis strategy and deploying your tactics in a safe, simulated environment.

Successful crisis outcomes don’t happen by accident — they are the direct result of deliberate and rehearsed strategies being put into motion in a timely manner. Savvy brands turn their existing social media streams into crisis brand newsrooms during crises to optimise narrative control.

2. Be visibly present and demonstrate genuine leadership and accountability

The only way to demonstrate authentic leadership and corporate responsibility for your crisis is to have an appropriately senior individual be actively and genuinely present as the face of your organisation from the outset.

Being visibly present from the outset gives you more than just a face to the crisis. It also:

  • Allows you to quickly assess public perception and audience sentiment
  • It enables you to quickly build relationships with the news media covering the crisis
  • It eases you into invest in what will inevitably be a long media cycle; and
  • It tells you what questions you need to have answers for.

3. Start conversations that matter

Having invested in the news media cycle early, and being present gives you the ability to influence your narrative with information of value.

The only thing your audience and the media are interesting in finding out is what happened and what are you doing to remediate the situation. Ideally YOU should be the one to start that conversation.

If you don’t have a press conference to attend, start your own using social innovations like Facebook Live. Actively engaging with your audience and the news media to cultivate a virtual press conference allows them to both hear your statement delivered in person (also a good idea to repost that same video to YouTube or Vimeo for easier sharing) but more importantly to answer questions from your customers, stakeholders and the media.

Best of all, you can do that live, reading the questions as they arise or post video comments in response to selected comments.

4. Be honest about focusing on solutions

A crisis may not be of your doing, in fact it may emanate from events entirely out of your control — but that matters little to a customer who pays you to a deliver a product or service that you are failing to deliver. Compounding and convergent issues around safety, regulatory compliance or criminality may all influence your ability to provide detailed information, however that isn’t a free-pass to avoid communicating.

If you don’t have the answer or it would be inappropriate for you to speculate — say so while refocusing your audience on:

  • What you are doing
  • What is important to you right now (such as the safety of your people, passengers or customers)
  • Where alternative interim solutions and qualified sources of information can be found (Emergency Services for example); and
  • When you will next update everyone on the status of the crisis and where/how that will be.

We live in a time when nothing should really surprise us and yet, too often we see a crisis being played out in the media which could have been handled far more effectively had a crisis management and communications plan been in place.

Longevity in particular is often an organisational casualty of crisis as businesses fail or leaders fall on their swords in an effort insulate shareholders and employees from a crisis out of control — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

When things go wrong, offer your customers solutions, not excuses — and lead your organisation and your stakeholders towards recovery.