If all the hype around the coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s that you need a crisis communications plan in place, regardless of your industry.
In the big business world, crisis communication or crisis comm docs are quite common. It’s the foundation of all media and press content and what drives the newsletters, ads, and public statements being issued by, what feels like, every brand in the world right now. If you’ve gotten a “letter from the CEO” from any of your vendors, brands, or partners, you can bet that there’s a crisis communications doc behind a lof the messaging.
So, why do they matter for small businesses?
Because your reputation isn’t a small matter.
In fact, it’s the most important thing you have and if you don’t treat it well and have it covered, it’s no different than running around without an insurance policy on your work vehicles or workman’s comp for your employees. Every business owner knows that a big key to success is managing your exposure to risk.
Let’s work through a few hypothetical situations based on our current global situation for some not-as-common industries:
Residential Painters/HVAC Contractors/Plumbers
You, the business owner, have enacted a company-wide “Wash your hands” campaign to make sure your employees are doing their part to stop the spread of the Coronavirus/COVID-19. You trust your employees and believe that they’re doing the right thing and following your directive. You continue to go to your business events, Chamber of Commerce events, and of course arrive on site to service your client’s homes.
One of your employees has kids and his wife is a teacher. The kids come home from school and suddenly your employee starts not feeling well. But there’s a big job to do. Regardless of what your sick vacation or health insurance policies are, it’s still up to that employee to decide whether or not to stay home.
Your employee comes to work, finishes several projects up, interacts with an elderly client or two along with several families. Eventually, they decide to go home because they don’t feel well and they don’t want to get anyone else sick if they’ve come down with something (Coronavirus or not).
A few days later, you get a call. One of your client’s grandmother’s had to be rushed to the hospital with upper respiratory problems. The very concerned, panic-stricken consumer decides that this is somehow related to your employee who showed up to fix/paint/service her home the other day and gets on social media to tell everyone they know about how irresponsible you and your employees are, especially when we’re in the middle of a pandemic!
It sounds insane but it’s not. We see it all the time. Someone says something and all of sudden you’re dealing with a hoard of angry consumers thinking that your employee or business is guilty of discrimination, recklessness, etc.
In this situation, most business owners would panic. They’d try to respond to each and every comment on their Facebook page, write to their friends to try to “bury” the bad reviews with good reviews, all manner of things. And all the while their reputation suffers.
With a Crisis Communications Plan in place, this would go a lot smoother. It doesn’t stop customers from being reactionary or lobbing bad reviews at you but it does give you, the business owner, a way to control the narrative. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. Controlling the narrative in a time of crisis is the most important thing you can do.
A Crisis Communications document is something you build with your team, your partners, and anyone else who is responsible for the reputation and face of your business. In it, you walk through all of the scenarios you think you could encounter (what happens if one of my employees makes an off-color joke and it comes back to bite us? <–real scenario from one of our clients) and come up with statements and actions that you’re going to take to stop the damage. It’s like a fire escape plan for your online and in-person reputation.
How much is your business’ reputation worth?
P.S. Here’s a fun example of how businesses are speaking to their values and making public statements that require everyone to be on board. Crisis Comm docs aren’t always about disaster mitigation–they’re about conveying your values and your stance in a way that is in line with your brand and your intentions that everyone has a sense of ownership about: