The Role of Crisis Communication in the COVID-19 pandemic

By Anushka Singh 

Over the past year, the coronavirus outbreak has created uncertainty, stress, emotional disruption, and more in the world. Businesses and organizations are struggling to provide their stakeholders with the appropriate set of resources to overcome the current crisis. During a crisis, effective communication is essential. Business leaders need to communicate with transparency and empathy consistently. Effective communication helps build trust and hope in organizations and their efforts to adapt to the challenges they face. However, seeing how the world has never seen a crisis quite like this one in the past, leaders, and communicators are struggling to design a crisis communication plan that connects with employees, communities, and other stakeholders. Leaders and communicators need to be careful about the course of action they take while creating crisis plans, making sure it is appropriate, informative, and effective.

Some worthwhile tips for creating a strong crisis plan include: 

    1. Making sure all communication efforts are consistent, clear, and continual. A crisis, especially one as long as this pandemic, limits people’s ability to cope with excessive amounts of information. Continual communication efforts reduce fear amongst stakeholder groups and guarantee that these groups have understood the organization’s key messages over time and build trust. With so much negativity in the world, leaders and communicators need to make the messaging as positive, reassuring, and hopeful as possible and remind their stakeholder groups of ways the organization has faced and overcome challenges in the past. 

    2. Helping stakeholder groups cope with the emotional disruption that comes along with this crisis. Leaders and communicators should put out frequent messages that focus on helping employees, customers, surrounding communities deal with the global pandemic. Leaders and communicators need to go beyond just focusing on how this crisis impacts the organization – but also focus on the stakeholder groups involved. Through crisis messaging, leaders and communicators should try and build a community and focus on its common social identity. For instance, creating virtual campaigns that allow for employees to interact with one another – outside of work – can encourage employee morale. Additionally, the organization should also focus on ensuring that its messaging with various stakeholder groups is one-to-one and varies between each group.

    3. Reminding stakeholder groups of the organization’s goals and missions. Leaders and communicators need to ensure that all messaging ties back to a deeper sense of purpose. Early on in the crisis, organizations need to emphasize their goals during this pandemic. Oftentimes, especially during a long-drawn crisis, stakeholder groups can lose sight of the overarching purpose of the organization before the crisis. It is important for communicators to remind stakeholders of these missions and goals and work towards achieving them during the crisis. For instance, if an organization prides itself on serving its employees, the crisis plan should involve ways in which the organization can support its employees – like providing them with wellness days, sick leave (with pay), and more. 

    The unexpected and long-lasting nature of the coronavirus outbreak has led to hesitancy and skepticism when it comes to creating a crisis plan. However, leaders and communicators must remember that everyone is in the same boat with respect to implementing a new kind of crisis plan. Organizations must set aside time, effort, and resources to formulate a well-thought-out, strategic plan which acknowledges the lows, emphasizes the highs, and frames a clear plan for the future.