The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been eye-opening. Three in four small business owners are extremely concerned about the economic effects of the virus and almost half report seeing reduced customer demand.
Now more than ever, crisis communications have become a necessity for small business owners. How you deliver important information to your customers, clients, employees and other stakeholders has never been more vital. By communicating in a proper and proactive way, you can persevere during the pandemic and rebound faster once it ends.
Develop a Crisis Communications Strategy
A crisis communication plan is a set of guidelines used to prepare a business for an emergency or an unexpected event. This plan helps to ensure that you can quickly release consistent information on all of your communications platforms. If you have not yet developed a plan, start by creating brief messaging about how your company is addressing the coronavirus crisis in relation to serving and protecting your customers, employees and other stakeholders.
Determine who your spokesperson or spokespeople will be and how and when you will deliver this information. This will help your customers stay up to date with everything regarding your business during this crisis, while also making sure all of your team members are in sync with your crisis strategy.
Update Your Chain of Command
Once you have developed a crisis communications plan, review it with your team. In a crisis of this magnitude, you need to have a comprehensive backup plan with a clear chain of command in case you cannot take part in decision making moving forward for any reason, including illness. Because you are a small business owner, the chain of command is likely short. When updating your plan, create a more scalable chain that gives employees levels of authority to take action when necessary.
Your plan should outline who will address possible store or business closures and handle media queries. It should also include procedures and policies for working remotely, contact numbers for all employees, a preferred vendor list, a holding statement and the phone numbers of your local health department and first responders.
Communicate Your Plan
Once the plan is updated, go through possible crisis scenarios to ensure everyone on your team knows their role if you need to activate it. If an employee is not available to fulfill their duties, you need to make sure other employees are cross-trained to carry out their responsibilities. Consider holding a quick, daily meeting to review any new developments. A crisis like the coronavirus pandemic is rapidly evolving and the roles of your employees could change just as quickly.
It is also crucial to clarify and outline your media policy with your team to avoid the spread of misinformation. Make crystal clear who is authorized to act as a spokesperson and let all employees know who to funnel media queries to if a reporter contacts your company.
Develop a Special Webpage
Having a webpage to house the latest updates and information in a fast-moving situation is important to avoid any confusion about your business during the coronavirus crisis. Many business owners have developed special landing pages on their websites focused on information regarding the virus and what is being done to safeguard employees and customers. If you don’t have a website, you can do the same with an easy to use DIY website builder from Web.com or let us build it for you with our custom website design services.
Information on this page should include whether any of your employees have been exposed to the virus. Do not name them but understand it is paramount to inform people whether there are any cases tied to your stores or buildings.
Other key information for the site: Contingency plans, preventative measures such as employees working remotely, new hours of operation, whether your business is open or closed and contact information for your primary media spokesperson. Add helpful links to resources such as the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), FEMA, Ready.gov, U.S. Small Business Administration and the Red Cross.
Update Your Regular Website Homepage
Whether you choose to use a special landing page or not, be sure to have the necessary information on your regular website homepage to communicate clearly what you are doing during this crisis. One way to do this is to use a headline or banner across your website with a short message that reminds customers that your online store is open for business. Now more than ever, eCommerce is an important part of your ongoing success. Remember to let customers know about any shipping concerns or possible delays.
Use Email to Stay Connected
In a crisis, sending out an email or series of emails to your customers and clients is very important. You often communicate with customers through this channel, so you will want to continue to do so during a crisis. Before sending your crisis email, check all your facts and make sure information has been updated including any changes in hours or product delays. Your email should be clear and concise, using paragraphs and subheads to make it easy to navigate the most critical information. If you need a professional business email account, Web.com can help.
Be Immediate and Timely with Social Media
Immediacy and timeliness are two of the major benefits of social media. For that reason, social media continues to be one of the most widely used ways organizations and brands of every size connect with their stakeholders, particularly during a crisis.
A simple yet effective way to communicate is to pin your message on your Facebook wall. By pinning your message, it will be out front for everyone to clearly see and, in a crisis, customers need information immediately. If your business is closed, post that message and pin it. Is your online store taking orders? Post that message as well.
Identify one person to post on your social platforms. Preferably, it should be someone who understands and is skilled with social media. That designated person should have the authority to speak for your business. Set up a clear approval process for posts. Having one person posting will eliminate any conflicting information and keep messaging consistent.
Put Marketing into Context and Show Compassion
Show compassion for the many people affected by the coronavirus. In crisis communications, you must express empathy for those who have been impacted. Now is probably not a good time to launch a new product. Instead, think of ways you can help in this time of need.
You also need to be sensitive, particularly with advertising and marketing campaigns. Whether online or through other avenues, you do not want to look tone-deaf or inappropriate because your pre-scheduled ads are off message for these uncertain times.
No matter what kind of business you own, your top priority is to communicate with your customers to keep them calm. Step back and think about what your customers want to hear from you right now. You can still market your business. Just proceed with compassion, sensitivity and common sense.
The coronavirus has affected us all and other crises may affect your business in the future. By utilizing these crisis communication tactics, you can help your customers and business persevere through the challenges of today, while keeping your business moving toward the brighter days that are just around the corner.