Was there ever a harder time to be a communications professional? With the corona pandemic flooding back into our lives and offices, internal comms teams, in particular, are having to think on their feet. As new developments and guidelines unfold by the hour, it’s up to them to find the right words, delivered in the right tone, often at a moment’s notice. Yet the standard rules of combat still apply: keep people informed and engaged, and make sure each message hits its mark. We offer some building blocks that will help ensure this.
Shall we get to the point?
People hate to be swamped in unnecessary details at the best of times. Those fearing for their health and jobs are especially short on patience, and wary of attempts to camouflage unpleasant news. Spare employees the backstory of the pandemic and everything that’s led up to this point; what’s important is what’s changed and what that means going forward – put this front and centre of any internal announcement.
Let others do the talking
In a crisis, it’s often left to the CEO – and he or she alone – to speak for the entire organisation. But it needn’t be a hard-and-fast rule: people just want to hear from someone who knows what they’re talking about. One of the more effective decisions taken by governments of late has been the use of scientists, epidemiologists and healthcare specialists to keep the public informed. In your case, that could mean announcements being fronted by your organisation’s finance leaders or health and safety officers. Sharing internal communication responsibilities also sends the message that there’s a team – and a plan – in place to handle the situation.
Vary your approach
A continual challenge for internal teams is how to keep their communiqués fresh and engaging amid growing “COVID fatigue”. Variety is key: rather than circulating the same weekly corona update, try varying the frequency of your announcements. Using a broad mix of media, including infographics, short videos or even cartoons, will help capture people’s attention and break the cycle of “zoom and gloom”. Just make sure to keep the tone sensitive.
Clarity at all costs
No one likes mixed messages, particularly when jobs and lives are on the line. As a communicator in a crisis, your first responsibility is to tell it like it is. You may not be able to control the information being passed down to the office or factory floor, but you can control how it’s delivered. And that means using clear, everyday language.
Corporate wording like “we are exploring the potential rationalisation of our headcount” is hard to interpret, especially for non-native speakers. “We may need to lay off staff” is a clearer, more human starting point. Clarity is subjective, though, and it can be difficult to tell how certain phrasing will be interpreted en masse. Ask colleagues in different departments to review your content, or consult a copy editor, before sending it out.
Communication is a two-way street
With little control over their external environment, employees can easily feel disempowered. Now, more so than any other time, people want the chance to talk back, to ask questions and to make themselves heard. Use your internal communications to let colleagues know what these channels are and how to use them, as well as the kind of response they can expect.
For internal or crisis communications support, contact Narrative Labs today to speak to a member of our team.