Internal Communications

How to Create a Crisis Communication Plan

By Alex Cleary

Updated:

Crises occur when people least expect them. Preparing your business for a crisis is the best way to protect the safety of your employees and ensure limited operational interruptions. A crisis communication plan is a proactive way to prepare your business for whatever life has in store.

Few people can anticipate when an incident will evolve into a full-blown crisis. COVID-19, also known as coronavirus or novel coronavirus, has affected millions of people around the globe.

Governments and businesses are scrambling to adapt to a world besieged by pandemic. During times of crisis, having a designated crisis communication plan for handling the situation can make a world of difference for your employees and your business.

In this post, we’ll show you how to create a crisis communications plan step by step, and break down the most common crisis communication plan examples along with ready-made templates.

What Is Crisis Communication?

Crisis communication is a framework that allows businesses to deal with issues that can drastically affect their operations. Businesses with such procedures in place will be prepared to face each stage of the crisis and minimize its impact on business continuity.

All kinds of things can affect your business, but few are as impactful as a crisis. You can think of a crisis as something that influences stakeholders to perceive trouble for your business. The word “perceive” here is important; sometimes an incident doesn’t even need to happen for your business to experience a crisis. Effective crisis communication and management is about responding to how people feel about your business.

Why Is Crisis Communication Important?

Crises often occur when businesses least expect them. Your ability to endure and overcome crises will depend on how you prepare for them.

Crisis communications are the emails/messages/conversations you exchange with your employees during a crisis. Effective crisis communications aid the speed, efficiency, and safety of your crisis response. You need to establish a reliable and fast communication channel with your employees, and that can take several forms.

How to Communicate With Employees During a Crisis

Email is the most common form of crisis communications. Emails are vital for your crisis response because:

  • They are easy to create and fast to send.
  • They are accessible via numerous devices.
  • They can tell you whether your recipient has understood the information.

That last point is important. You can send countless employee emails in response to a crisis, but if your employees aren’t reading them then it’s as if you didn’t send anything at all. Email tracking software like ContactMonkey can tell you how many employees opened your emails, if they click on any links, and even how long they read your email.

But what if your employees don’t have easy access to their email inboxes? Many front-line and on-site employees don’t work at computers, which will delay their ability to read your crisis communications. Using emergency SMS alerts as an alternative internal communications channel is an excellent way to augment your email-based crisis communications.

With ContactMonkey’s emergency notification system for business, SMS text messages are sent directly to your employees’ mobile devices, and your employees will almost always receive a physical alert when receiving a text message.

Employee SMS communications can be quickly created and sent, especially when you use SMS text message templates. If you’re experiencing an issue where you need to get information to your employees as fast as possible, few channels can be as effective as SMS text messages.

Crisis Communication Plan Examples

Crisis communications are designed for all circumstances when you need to connect with employees quickly in order to pass along essential information. Usually, the information in question pertains to employee safety, privacy, or security.

This type of communication can also involve information that disrupts, on a large scale, the operations of a business. This includes situations such as a power outage or an IT security breach.

Here are a few of the most common crisis communication plan examples that you should be prepared for:

  • Public safety: Large-scale crises impacting the public in your region, such as COVID-19 or a neighbourhood lockdown.
  • Privacy and security: If someone’s hacked into your company’s network and confidential information is compromised, it’s important to inform your team in a timely and appropriate manner.
  • Financial emergency: When your company experiences mass layoffs, bankruptcy, and/or office closures.
  • Misconduct and illegal activity: These situations deal with wrongdoing on the part of company personnel, including fraud, malpractice, inappropriate behaviour, and any illegal activity.
  • Natural disasters: Earthquakes, wildfires, storms, and other extreme weather will require you to check in on employee safety and provide guidelines regarding how the situation will impact your business operations.
  • University security and health and safety warnings: Feature a crisis communications section within your higher education communications in the event you need to notify staff and students of an unfolding issue.

All of these scenarios, and any other situation that causes a disruption to regular business operations, warrants tailored communications.

Never beat around the bush. Address the issue head-on—this is your best shot at mitigating problems down the line and preventing the loss of valuable employees.

What is a Crisis Communications Plan or Strategy?

Your email crisis communications are an essential part of your overall crisis communication plan. Crisis communications are based on crisis management, which outlines a three-staged approach to dealing with any issues that your business may encounter. Below, we break down these three stages as well as a crisis communications plan example that you can use to guide your own efforts.

Three Stages of Crisis Management

When thinking about crisis management, you should divide your approach to address the three stages of a crisis. Each stage of a crisis requires a unique response, and internal communicators should prepare for each one differently to maximize the effectiveness of their business’s overall response.

Pre-Crisis

You should prepare your business for a crisis before it even occurs. Developing a crisis management plan should be your priority during these times. Your crisis communication strategy will include roles and responsibilities for a crisis team, pre-drafted communications and forms, and lists of established communication channels.

The pre-crisis stage should also include exercises to test your business’s crisis management plan so that you can make changes or improvements. On at least an annual basis, perform a simulated crisis situation to gauge the effectiveness of your crisis management plan. Develop your simulated crisis by researching crises that could affect your business and then create a timeline of events your team will have to navigate.

Crisis Response

When responding to a crisis, your course of action should be two-pronged. People actively search for information during a crisis situation, so your ability to respond quickly as an employer is crucial. Having established communication channels and pre-drafted responses allows your company to focus on communicating accurate information. The focus of your initial response should be:

  • Addressing safety concerns
  • Delivering accurate-as-possible information
  • Having a consistent message and voice
  • Expressing sympathies if needed

After the crisis has ended, your follow-up response should focus on repairing the reputation of your business. Remember, crisis management is about maintaining the public perception of your business; your image may suffer if your employees are left to guess about the company’s official position on the crisis. If your crisis communications strategy went as planned, your follow-up response should have the same consistent message and tone.

Post-Crisis

The post-crisis phase is a period for reviewing and revising your crisis management plan. This can include examining which communications channels were effective and which were not. By measuring the reach of your pre-drafted messages, you can refine your crisis communication plan for the next time the unexpected occurs.

Made by our friends at Venngage, the Infographic & Timeline Maker

How to Create a Crisis Communication Plan

An essential part of crisis management is creating a crisis communication plan. This is a document that delegates responsibilities in a crisis situation, provides predetermined procedures to be followed, and includes pre-drafted templates for statements. Your crisis communication plan is crucial for responding quickly to a situation and minimizing its potential impact on your business.

When you are creating your crisis communication plan, it’s helpful to ask yourself these questions:

  • What kind of crisis could my business face?
  • Who is responsible for communication?
  • Who is affected by a crisis?
  • How is crisis communication implemented?
  • How do I measure its effectiveness?

Could your business benefit from a crisis communication plan? If you are unsure about what is included in a crisis communication plan, or how to create a crisis communications plan for your business, then check out our crisis communication plan guidelines.

Here’s how to create a crisis communications plan in six steps:

1. Clearly outline your objectives

The first step in creating a crisis communications plan is clearly defining your goals. This will keep your efforts focused and make it easier to understand if you’ve succeeded in your objectives once it comes down to measuring your crisis communications.

Your objective statement can be as simple as “This plan is designed to provide guidelines for helping employees overcome challenges during a business disruption and provide clear instructions for those managing crisis communications.”

By clearly outlining your purpose, you’ll know whether you’ve stayed on track or whether improvements will need to be made in the future.

2. Determine who your plan is for

Your plan should target specific groups of people. These individuals will be the ones directly or indirectly impacted by a crisis and in need of key guidelines. It’s important to create a list of these key stakeholders and ensure that you check off everyone on your list when sending out your crisis comms.

Your key stakeholders will likely include all company employees and partners, but may potentially include clients, investors, public media, and government authorities.

Once you establish your list, include all contact information for each of these individuals in your plan appendices.

3. Determine what information needs to be delivered first and to whom

Anyone in your company might be the first to spot a crisis. But they may not be directly working with your internal comms team or know of what steps to take. Part of your crisis communications plan should include outlining the team(s) in charge of rolling out the crisis procedure and informing others of who these individuals are.

This way, regardless of who identifies the crisis first, there will be a clear point of contact for them to turn to. The designated team will then be able to tackle the crisis as soon as it’s noticed.

To ensure a smooth process, make the contact information of your designated team available well in advance of a crisis.

If you’re creating a newsletter email template, you can include a unique section listing all key contacts across your organization—from HR personnel to crisis managers. This will be especially helpful when new employees join your team and are navigating their new networks. In addition to the newsletters, consider sending dedicated new employee introduction emails to the team they will be working with.

4. Create crisis communications templates

An important part of your crisis communication plan is having pre-drafted communications prepared before a situation occurs. Your ability to effectively communicate with your employees during a crisis is vital. Employees must adhere to their business’s crisis protocol, as failure to do so can risk injury.

Having an internal communication template for crisis response allows you to save time creating internal communications so you can focus on assessing the situation and gathering accurate information. We provide a range of crisis communications template samples in the next section. These can be used and adapted within your own employee engagement software.

5. Create a plan for your social media

Social media is becoming a key channel for crisis communications.  More and more employees are turning to these outlets to get their essential news and insights, so you can use this to your advantage.

As a key component of your crisis management plan, ensure that there’s a designated member of your team (or you yourself) who’s monitoring social media sites to learn of emerging local crises as well as what others are saying about your organization as a whole. By doing some social listening you can potentially stop a crisis in its tracks or at least notice it early on, leaving more time to mitigate the impacts.

6. Ask for employee feedback and questions

No matter how well you plan, a crisis will always cause some confusion and anxiety. Your employees will have questions. Your job is to offer clear, accessible channels for staff to express their concerns, give feedback, and clarify any part of the crisis procedure.

With ContactMonkey’s crisis communications newsletter templates, you can embed Outlook surveys, anonymous comment boxes, and other interactive elements. These enable employees to quickly ask questions about any part of your crisis communications and let you ease their concerns, thereby mitigating the effects of a crisis on your teams.

If you’re struggling to come up with written content for your crisis communication plan, consider using ContactMonkey’s OpenAI ChatGPT integration. Simply write a prompt describing the kind of information you need to include, generate example text, and edit it according to your specific crisis communication needs.

Save time on your crisis communications.

Try ContactMonkey’s OpenAI ChatGPT integration.

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Communicating During a Crisis

Effective crisis communication is an essential aspect of your crisis communications strategy. Your ability to disseminate consistent and reliable information to internal and external stakeholders will be a key factor for how your business fares during a crisis. Crisis communication is an essential part of any crisis management plan.

When your business is faced with a crisis, information becomes your most important resource. How people feel about your business is dependent on what they know about the situation. Crisis communication is a set of guidelines and procedures that inform how your business disseminates information during each stage of a crisis. Staying up to date on crisis communication best practices is crucial for effective crisis management.

Crisis Management in the Age of Coronavirus

The World Health Organization has designated the coronavirus as a global pandemic. Many businesses are facing unique challenges while working to protect their employees and continue operations. Where possible, more businesses are opting for work from home strategies, which present new internal communications challenges.

As it stands, coronavirus is a threat to everyone’s health, and understanding the correct procedures to slow its spread and flatten the curve should be everyone’s top priority.

How you communicate information to your employees is crucial. No two crises are the same, and determining the severity of a crisis will inform how your organization and its members react. A crisis can have three major consequences for a business:

  • Safety risk for the public and employees
  • Financial risk for the business
  • Reputational risk for the business

Addressing safety risks will influence how you handle the other two risks. Safety risks for the public and your employees will have the biggest impact on your business’s image, which can increase the financial and reputational risk your business faces.

Let’s look at risk management through the context of the coronavirus pandemic. You need your crisis communication strategy to clearly communicate to your employees what precautions they need to take to protect their safety. If your messaging is ineffective, your employees will not have confidence in your business’s response to the situation. Not only will your business’s productivity suffer, the public’s perception of your business will be negatively impacted if you handle a crisis poorly.

Sample Pre-Drafted Crisis Communication Plan Examples

You can use pre-drafted communications for all kinds of internal communications in addition to crisis management. Email newsletter templates can take the guesswork out of designing effective internal communications. Quickly disseminate information, build your brand voice, and increase employee engagement with beautiful email communications using responsive HTML newsletter templates.

Notification system

During a crisis, your employees will be searching for information about the situation. To avoid the spread of misinformation, your crisis communications strategy should include procedures for regular information releases.

Crisis situations can make people anxious; alleviate that anxiety with scheduled email communications. By providing regular updates, you provide a reliable source of information for your employees to consult.

Being consistent builds credibility in the eyes of your employees. Scheduled emails can be a significant part of the process. Using ContactMonkey, you can analyze at what times your internal communications are being opened, and adjust your scheduled release time to maximize how many people are seeing your emails.

How to Measure the Success of Crisis Communications

No matter how much preparation you put into your crisis management plan, there will always be situations that present unique challenges for your business. Your internal communications plan is only as strong as the work you put into it. Performance-based iterations of your crisis communication strategy are important aspects of crisis management. Here are two effective ways to measure  your crisis communications:

Metrics

Determining how successful your crisis communications are can be a challenge. If you’re sending out emails to thousands of people around the world, knowing whether your information is being received and considered can be a guessing game without the proper tools.

Take the guesswork out of the process with tracking metrics provided by ContactMonkey. Determine who did and didn’t read the email and find out how many employees viewed your crisis communication and clicked on links contained within the message.

By analyzing your crisis communications using ContactMonkey, you can learn what content is effective for your employees and increase your employee engagement. Metrics are a crucial tool for revising your crisis management plan during the post-crisis phase.

If your organization has external or internal regulations around email privacy, you can use ContactMonkey’s anonymous email tracking to gather email metrics while maintaining your employees’ privacy.

Feedback

The feedback you receive from your employees is essential for optimizing your crisis management plan. One important aspect of the post-crisis phase is reviewing the success of your crisis response. Your internal communications during a crisis provide vital information to everyone in your business; what better way to measure the effectiveness of your crisis communication than getting feedback directly from your employees?

You can learn your employee’s feelings about your crisis management through various methods. Distributing a questionnaire is a common way of gathering information from large groups of people. Questionnaires can provide your business with detailed information about your employees, and can allow them to submit their thoughts and suggestions.

ContactMonkey allows internal communicators to embed survey tools in their communications, providing them with real-time feedback. Employees can respond to pulse surveys using emoji reactions, or by leaving comments. Want to see more? Book a free demo with one of our experts and try ContactMonkey yourself!

How to Use ContactMonkey for Crisis Communication

Although many employers and internal communicators have crisis management plans in place, few businesses feel prepared to deal with a crisis. Each situation presents new challenges for your business and you need to be able to adapt your plan accordingly. ContactMonkey’s internal communications tool allows businesses to assess their crisis communications and improve their effectiveness.

ContactMonkey’s template builder is perfect for creating pre-drafted crisis communications before a situation occurs. Schedule email releases to increase employee engagement and boost confidence in your internal comms. In-depth email metrics allow internal communicators to determine the reach of their emails, who is and isn’t opening them, how long they are being read, and other useful information. Receive feedback from your employees using pulse surveys, emoji-reactions, and anonymous comments.

If you need to create unique crisis communications for different locations of your business, consider using custom email lists to target your communication to only relevant employees.

Using ContactMonkey’s List Management feature, you can easily create your own custom email lists without needing IT. Email lists created with ContactMonkey can integrate with your Human Resource Information System (HRIS) like Workday and ADP, as well as Azure Active Directory, so they’ll update automatically as employees leave and join your organization.

Easily create custom email lists.

Build email lists that integrate with your HRIS.

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TL;DR: Crisis Communication

How your business is able to cope with a crisis will depend on how you prepare. A crisis communication plan is an essential part of a business’s defence against operational interruption. Your crisis communication plan should help you

  • assign roles and responsibilities for a crisis situation;
  • determine reliable channels for internal communication;
  • create pre-drafted communications;
  • collect feedback from your employees; and
  • optimize the effectiveness of your response.

Don’t wait until a crisis situation occurs to optimize your crisis management plan. Being proactive can save time and money in the future, and internal communicators should constantly be updating and testing their effectiveness of their crisis communication. Use smart tools to track email opens in Outlook and Gmail to help you make those data-driven decisions.

Useful Crisis Communication Resources:

Coronavirus: How to Keep Employees Updated During a Public Health Crisis

Crisis Communication Plan Guidelines

O’Dwyers Guide to Crisis Communication: January 2020

Track Internal Emails to Maximize their Effectiveness

Create Engaging Internal Communications for Remote Workers

Communicating During the Coronavirus

Google on the Challenges of Working from Home

Let ContactMonkey help you get the most out of your internal communications; sign up for a free demo today and try ContactMonkey’s internal communications tool for yourself!

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