This week’s column is a continuation of the last two columns that highlighted different aspects surrounding how African organizations should strategically plan and execute their communication’s strategy in the time of a crisis.
A crisis can occur at any time. The recent bombings in Kenya and the continuing coverage of the missing girls in the Boko Haram kidnapping in Nigeria show that a crisis is often unexpected but must always be prepared for to avoid long term reputational damage.
In last week’s column I discussed who African organizations should select to be their spokespeople during a time of crisis communications. This week’s column will be a summary of the crucial elements to be considered in deciding what to say during a crisis as the perception of your audience and consequently your reputation depends on it.
Your reputation rests on the perception of your statements and messages by your target audience. Your audience’s perception is formed in a number of different ways including:
We all know that first impressions are often the lasting impression and the speed at which your organization responds to a crisis is crucial. The timing of the first response to a crisis sets the foundation for the continued perception of the organization. This is why having a crisis communication plan in place ready to execute as soon as a crisis hits is imperative.
The speed of the first communication is an indicator into how prepared you are as an organization. Demonstrating preparedness immediately conveys the perception of efficiency so when you include messaging that appropriate action is being taken, your audience is more likely to believe you.
Distribution of Factual Information
Your audience wants the facts, so your organization needs to gather the facts, double and triple check them for accuracy, and repeat them loudly and consistently across all platforms ranging from a tweet to a press release. All spokespeople should have access to these facts and should also share and repeat them in the same way. Being fully prepared will help swiftly gather and distribute at least the preliminary facts.
The Trust Factor
It is essential to establish trust and credibility with your target audience. The following list is four top-line factors in creating trust and credibility throughout your crisis communication. Your organizations written and verbal messages should follow these points:
a) Empathy: Empathy should be conveyed immediately. It is well documented that organizations that are perceived as empathetic are more positively perceived by their audience. Spokespersons should validate and acknowledge fear, sorrow, pain if these are genuine emotions.
b) Expertise: It is important to strategically emphasize your organizations credentials and experts/leaders and or executives within the organization. The idea is to demonstrate competence as an organization.
It is also important to have an established relationship with part or all of the audience before the crisis. Nurturing engagement with your target audiences as part of your standard business practice will create loyalists who will become crucial ambassadors during times of crisis.
c) Honesty and openness: Convey all the relevant information. If the spokesperson is unable or legally prohibited to convey specific information, it helps to explain why, e.g. “We are still confirming the location”, “The military will provide these details shortly” and “We are still currently gathering all the facts.” Language should be plain, clear and concise as this conveys openness, honesty and transparency.
d) Commitment and dedication: African organizations should immediately announce what their objective is in the crisis and should commit to reaching that objective. Dedication is demonstrated by sharing the challenges and issues being experienced during the crisis. Dedication means keeping your audience fully informed even after the media have moved on to other news items.
As noted earlier, the biggest mistake an African organization or government can make in a crisis is to allow its leadership to appear out of touch and unconcerned. Audiences can accept mistakes and missteps if you are transparent about it. An organization can convey empathy, sorrow and sympathy without admitting any legal liability, and this will go a long way in protecting your reputation.
Claudine Moore (@ClaudineMoore) is the founder of C Moore Media (@CMooreMedia) headquartered in New York City with a robust African division. Claudine is also a columnist with top media outlets including CNN and specializes in African topics and news. Claudine spends a significant amount of her time traveling across Africa for both business and pleasure.
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