Between COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other issues that have arisen in 2020, crisis communications has become more important than ever. In the past, there were entire agencies dedicated to crisis management. 

Now, with recent events, brands have had to handle situations themselves, acting quickly to put out statements and communicate with concerned customers. As consumers demand more rapid and accountable communication from brands, crisis communications should be a part of every brand’s marketing strategy, no matter the industry. But where should you get started and how can you properly handle new situations when they arise?

Why has the nature of crisis communications changed?

Social media has completely changed the game when it comes to crisis communications, both for consumers and brands. As a consumer, you expect brands to keep up with current events and react quickly when something happens. With Instagram or Twitter, consumers can easily see which brands respond immediately, which brands have a delayed response, and which brands stay silent. 

On the brand’s side, there is a lot more pressure to respond to issues by putting out a statement or taking other action. The barrier to making a public statement has been essentially removed. Before the digital age, you used to have to call a press conference or issue a statement through a media outlet. Now, social media makes the dissemination of this information near instantaneous. In the past, brands could typically get away with declining to comment on an issue. While this is still an option, they may face backlash if consumers are expecting them to speak out. Even if a brand waits a few days to put out a message, consumers may feel like they are behind.

How should my brand handle a crisis situation?

The first thing a brand needs to do is to be prepared. Before anything happens, it’s essential that you identify your brand’s mission and values. That way, when a situation does arise, you’ll be able to determine if you need to get involved. If the issue aligns with your brand’s mission or is relevant to your values, it’s time to act on your crisis communications plan. But, if the issue is irrelevant to what your brand stands for, you probably don’t need to worry about it.

When something happens that does directly affect or involve your brand, the best thing you can do is to be transparent. You can’t hide bad news forever, so it’s much better to be honest with customers about whatever is happening instead of trying to cover it up. If you attempt to hide an issue but it later comes out, you may lose your customers’ trust and loyalty. 

Another important aspect of crisis communications is to act quickly and communicate often. Whether the issue is something as small as technical difficulties on the website, or something as major as COVID-19, consumers want updates. If they don’t hear from you, they’re going to get frustrated, and have even more questions.

While it is clearly important to take action quickly, you also need to be sure that you actually understand an issue before you say something. Especially when it’s a sensitive subject like Black Lives Matter, or something where there’s a lot of misinformation like COVID-19, it’s essential that you take time to listen and educate yourself. If you say the wrong thing or communicate false information, it could do more harm than good and create even more confusion. 

Black Lives Matter: A case study in crisis communications

There may be times when your brand doesn’t need to get involved in an issue. But some things, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, are relevant to every brand. When it comes to issues like this, consumers expect all brands to take action. 

In a recent survey of 1,000 Americans, more than half said that they will not buy from a brand in the future if they feel that the brand reacted poorly to the Black Lives Matter movement. That number is even higher for women and younger generations. This goes to show how, if you do not have a good crisis communications plan, it could seriously hurt your brand going forward.

So what do consumers want to see from brands when it comes to these issues? A survey found that 73% of people want brands to not only put out a message but also to take measurable action to create change. That means that if you just put out a statement of solidarity, you may not be doing enough. Consumers expect you to be actively supporting other organizations by making donations, or even change policies if applicable to your business. 

As a brand, you can also empower your consumers to help in their own way. Whether that is by buying a product where a small percentage goes to charity or providing ways they can educate themselves or their own networks. Individuals want to make a difference, but many aren’t sure how to do that. Consumers appreciate when a brand gives them direct links to more information, petitions to sign, or organizations to donate to. If you make it as easy as possible for people to get involved, they are more likely to do so.

2020 has seen multiple large-scale issues that impact every brand, and has brought a greater urgency to the need for crisis communications as part of your overall marketing strategy. Such situations can be stressful to handle, but as long as you act in a way that aligns with your brand’s mission and values, and maintain transparency with your customers, you will be prepared to respond to anything that comes your way.