In our everyday lives, we don’t think much about the ease of firing off a text, reading the latest in the Twittersphere, or checking the balance in our account. These are all fast, easy, and practically second nature to us. Things haven’t always been this way. The days of drive-through service and writing checks seem long ago, and much has changed courtesy of the technology boom.
When Hurricane Katrina devasted the Gulf Coast in 2005, most people had cell phones. The storm rendered cell towers inoperable, so calls via cell phones were not an option. Texting was in its early stages and not yet recognized as a reliable and ubiquitous communication channel. Most phones had limited texting capability, and then it was awkward, time-consuming, and tedious at best.
Communication availability and reliability have greatly improved since those dark days. But recent disasters, including Hurricane Ida, remind us that cell phone networks’ service interruptions remain a problem. Such service interruptions mean your institution may also be without its standard ways of operating.
This article offers suggestions for using available technological tools when a crisis happens. Our real-life experience managing the enormity of communication challenges post-Katrina taught us to seek multiple ways to share information and target the groups receiving it.
We counsel clients to keep their people first and foremost in times of crisis. Is your team safe? Do they need any assistance? How would they ask for help? How will you let them know assistance is available? Meeting the needs of employees will help keep your institution operating during difficult times. Keeping them informed on status updates regarding operations is also a must. They will need regular updates to reassure them that the institution will weather whatever calamity has come its way.
Connecting with your employees can happen in several ways – email, text, phone calls, or intranet. Take the time to create a short video. Even one recorded on your phone will go a long way in calming fears and building trust. Recent research showed that employees whose company kept them informed via videos during the pandemic felt more secure in their jobs and confident in the overall recovery of their company post-COVID.
Once you are sure your employees are safe, you can focus on your customers. These two audiences may have several commonalities. But keep in mind that the messages to your internal and external audiences will be different. The growth of social media utilization can be a lifesaver in reaching your customers.
An audit of your communication function may be in order. We suggest our clients perform this in-depth look periodically and not just when a crisis looms. Spending time analyzing channels, messages, and schedules now will pay great benefits later should your institution face an emergency.
As part of this audit, consider both your employees and customers. Your responsibility to each is equally important, but each will have a different focus. Employees’ information needs will include other items than those for your customers.
As a leader in your institution, you’ll have plenty to do should a crisis occur. Delegating and advance planning will be a significant help to you. As part of your communication audit, have communication roles and responsibilities identified and that information shared with team members responsible for enacting the plan.
Break down the communication tasks into these basic categories:
Who: Who is responsible for updating the digital communication channels?
- This can be your staff communication lead, outside agency partners, or someone you assign.
- They will need regular updates on key messages and timing for updates.
Where: Where is your institution represented online?
- All social media channels should be updated and monitored. Monitor other sites for mentions of your institution as well.
- If main and branch locations are listed on Google My Business, ensure days and hours of operation are updated.
- Work with your web team or outside partner to have your website ready to activate a public-facing crisis-related page if necessary.
- Remember to keep team members updated via your intranet. They will be important ambassadors for your institution during a crisis, and they need to know how the situation will impact their jobs.
What: What is the update?
- This is the most current information you want customers and employees to know regarding the situation.
- Get approval from your legal team before releasing information.
- You do nothave to rush announcements. Make sure you allow enough time for thorough review and approvals before sharing updates.
When: When are updates made?
- Every situation is different. It is essential to have a clear and concise update describing the problem (power outage, information leak, or whatever the case may be) and update when you can. If it is a crisis that will last longer than a day, you will need additional updates.
- If you decide to put a specific time on your next update, be sure you meet it, even if you don’t have new information.
- The situation may call for updating several times. Be sure to do so in all channels and remember your website and intranet as well. Your team will watch those sites for details too.
How: This can be the trickiest part of handling a crisis and where advance planning will be a lifesaver.
- Make sure those responsible for handling your online presence have access to do so. This means they need logins and passwords for all communication channels even if they don’t regularly handle those tasks.
- You may consider investing in mobile hotspot devices to provide internet access for key team members. Plans vary in price and ability but could be a worthwhile investment in times of crisis involving loss of electricity or Wi-Fi.
The relationship of trust between customers and their financial institution is an important one and, in many cases, a long-standing one. The same can be said for employees. Both expect – and deserve – to hear from their financial institution in times of crisis and learn how the situation will impact them.
As a leader, prepare now. Solidify and protect these priceless relationships. Your future will be brighter, and you will be grateful that you did if a crisis happens.
John Deveney, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, IABC Fellow is recognized internationally for crisis and issue management across a variety of industries.
In 2006, John was honored as “Agency Executive of the Year” by PRNews after he served as the first responder managing media during hurricanes Katrina and Rita — from the evacuation of the city to a military blockade and the aftermath — for both the tourism industry for New Orleans and the Louisiana Office of Tourism. He led the only on-site communication operation and media center that managed more than $400 million in media scrutiny in war-like conditions.
In 2010, John and his team created the strategy and led the team that managed the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s response to the BP oil spill. That effort reshaped public perception and preserved Louisiana’s $9.4 billion tourism industry.
DEVENEY has been named PR News’ Firm of the Year and PRWeek’s Top 5 Boutique PR Firms in the country. John is in the PRNews’ Hall of Fame and is the only professional ever to merit the lifetime achievement recognition of being inducted into both the PRSA College of Fellows and IABC Fellows. To learn more, visit us at www.deveney.com.