It is human nature to respond to big, bad, and potentially breaking news with a lack of conformity and widespread panic. However, when crisis communications are mitigated professionally, you can strengthen a community’s confidence by recognizing the crisis as a huge opportunity to be honest, direct, open and build trust.
It’s understandable for the team handling your communications to suddenly bombard you with questions immediately after disaster hits:
“Hey, you’re the person in charge, what’s the situation?”
“Are these roads still open?”
“Can you keep them safe?”
“Are you finding out?”
“Do you control the valves?”
“How much snowfall is anticipated overnight?”
The important thing is to let your constituents know you’re on the case and understand their concerns. If there’s anything that you haven’t been able to clarify yet, be honest about it, and reassure them you’re doing all you can to find out what’s going on.
Use Social Media to Establish an Audience and be Proactive
Share any news articles or blog posts that you create on your local government website about the occurring crisis on all your social media channels, especially Facebook and Twitter. Remember to include photos or videos.
When attempting to get constituents to register for crisis communication notifications, send a series of “Last Call” posts, tweets, and messages to create a sense of urgency. Include links to register online.
To help you manage your social media public safety campaigns, invest in a platform that will allow you to schedule social media posts and other communications in advance, via multiple platforms and channels. Start your week by spending 30 minutes scheduling your posts in advance, and then add to them as needed. As long as you are regularly generating messages to remind your constituents that your organization exists; that consistency will provide a basis for residents and community members to trust you as they see highlights from their government's public safety departments at work. People trust what is transparent and social media can be one of the most effective ways to reach a diverse group given how the majority of society utilizes mobile technology.
Remember to always include photos in your posts. Photos are more likely to gain the attention of citizens scrolling through news feeds. Whenever possible, use high quality local photos and imagery. Stock photography is a great alternative, but when possible, obtain release forms so that you can use engaging photos of real citizens in your community, at your real facilities, to promote a unique look and feel for your social media accounts. This will help your content stand out from the common stock photography and footage that people are used to seeing and tend to digest quickly.
Use video whenever possible. Just as photos are more engaging than text-only posts, videos are more engaging than photos. For example, including a video of a Public Works' truck plowing during last year’s severe snowstorm may help you promote this year’s emergency notification registration and could generate increased interest and sign-ups.
Here are a few additional factors to bear in mind that should improve your crisis communications:
Preconfigure emergency scripts you can customize later to accelerate your response without sacrificing accuracy and efficacy.
Write messages a sixth-grader can understand and digest in under 45 seconds.
If messages are coming from a specific person or department, use that same source for subsequent messages related to the event. Continuity breeds assurance.
Craft direct and detailed messages. Tell people who the message is from, what the emergency is, when/where it’s happening, what to do next, and where to get more information.
Ensure you have the ability to manage the emergency using mobile technology, as you may have to do so from an off-site location.
You can’t control when a crisis will hit, but you can control how you respond to it. Take the time to develop and test-drive an effective response plan.