Crisis Communication as an Opportunity to Lead

by | Mar 25, 2020 | Strategy

There’s a worldwide problem. Small business owners everywhere are wondering what they should say and do.  And what not to say and do.  And – should you say anything at all?

Small business owner, you should speak up and share with your customers, prospects, social media followers, email subscribers, and stakeholders.

But before you start talking, you want to consider a framework that serves your customer (and your business).  From a position of leadership, you can put your crisis communication through the filter of six clarifying questions.

Here’s why to speak up and how to do it well.

Speak up because people need leadership.

During times of crisis, there is a swirl of information and a flood of emotions.  To process the onslaught, the unconscious mind seeks out the stabilizing force of familiarity.  This can come in the form of messages, tone, and people.

You can provide a message that stabilizes and helps people move from crazed to calm.  You can take information that is confusing and offer clarity.  You can be that person for your followers and customers.

It’s safe to say, other businesses in your space are not sending out helpful and caring communication to their customers.  Or they are slow to do it.  Or they are missing the mark. Or they’ve forgotten to look at scheduled posts and promotions to adjust or delete given the current climate.

Communicating poorly (or not at all) damages a brand.

To emerge strong from this crisis, you need to lead now.

  • Lead in your category.

During times of crisis, just like any time, remain in your brand space.  If you are a real estate agent, talk about homes and financing as it relates to the current crisis.  If you provide business services, give advice about the changes your clients must make as a result of COVID19.

Your business’s values help you know the tone to say what needs to be said right now.  In that regard, customers will still know it’s you.  If expertise is a value of your business and you’ve always communicated in as an authority, continue sharing content with that tone.

  • Lead through responsiveness and change. If you’ve been thinking of changing or adding a social media channel, there’s no better time. If you’d like to increase or change the cadence of your communications, why not now. If your email list has been ignored, warm it up again.

Consider this your permission to do something new. 

  • Be a leader and a follower. It’s called a crisis for a reason – it is a period of time that is difficult.  So, if you’re stepping up to lead your business and your customers (yeah, you!), please make sure you are also a follower.  To lead well, you must learn from others and have a place to go with your questions, concerns, and emotions.

You can’t pour into others from an empty vessel.  Take care of yourself. 

Here’s how leaders can communicate well during crisis.

To strike the right tone, you want to put your messages through a review process before you post messages for public consumption.  Messages need an extra dose of care during a time of crisis.

Remember the journalistic questions you learned high school English class?  According to Dominique Glanville of Heights Strategic and Lauren Kwedar Cockerell of Kwedar PR , the way to clarify your message is through the filter of why, what, how, where, when, and who will clarify your message. 

  1. Why are you communicating your message? As in, what’s the point?  Sally Hogshead says in her book Fascinate, “If you are not adding value, you are taking up space – and that actually hurts a brand.”

So why does your message matter now and why does your message matter to your audience? If you can’t clearly establish that, perhaps the message you have in mind is not the right one. Continue to work on the angle and goal of the message.


  1. What do you need to communicate? What role do you play in the lives of your customer? There’s a joke floating around on social media right now in the wake of coronavirus. A couple is “sheltering-in-place” in their living room, the wife is on her laptop reading email.  She says to her husband, “Apparently some business we gave our email address to years ago is saying they care about us during COVID-19.”


That is not to say you shouldn’t care!  But you should remember who you are in their lives.  Care as it pertains to your brand, your products and services, and your customers. This will resonate better in your readers’ minds.


  1. How will you communicate with the right tone of voice? Stay true to your business’s values.  If the values of empathy, clarity, calm, kindness are not a primary value, now is the time to dial up your brand’s softer side.  If light-heartedness, humor, fun, and a young-at-heart attitude is a value, your messaging will come off as “tone deaf”.  It is best to dial those values down for the time being.


  1. Where will you share your message? Consider all the available places:  email, social channels, window signage, banner on your homepage, media, and more.  Ask yourself whether messages should be adjusted given the readership and platform of each channel.


While you’re crafting your messages, remember your different audiences.  For instance, a nonprofit should provide a different message to donors, volunteers, and the general public.  When you segment your audiences, perhaps one segment lends itself to a different channel.  For instance, a younger segment may respond to a message posted on a social channel or a professional segment should receive email and a Linkedin post.


  1. When will you communicate your message? Think about frequency of messages.  In the case of COVID-19, the initial shock is behind us, but now we must provide continual messaging as the pandemic persists and affects daily life.  When we transition back to business-as-usual, realize that your customers need assurance.
  1. Who will do the communicating? If writing is not your strength, consider delegating this task to a copy writer or a staff person with this in their skillset.  If giving interviews is outside your comfort zone, get coaching or appoint a designated spokesperson.

Speaking of staff, if you have staff but no communications/public relations policies, now is the time to institute that.  Since everyone these days is active on social media, you as the business owner should make clear who represents the business.  Employees can share links but should refrain from making statements on behalf of the company.

By following these points, you will refine your messages.  Your customers will receive the support and answers they need during the crisis.  They will have a positive interaction with your brand during a difficult time.  And they will remember you favorably when business as usual resumes.

To establish your short-term communication strategy during this crisis, please reach out to me for a complimentary 30-minute video conference with me.  I am on your side and want to see your business succeed.