Do you want to build a snowman?

Like many parents, it’s a rare treat if I make it through a week without hearing a reference to Olaf, Princess Anna or wrestling my daughter out of her Elsa dress.

The film Frozen has taken everyone by storm, yet for comms pros the onset of snow and ice can only mean one thing… snow comms.

CrisisAs the UK looks set to welcome more of the white stuff this week, I thought I’d share my top tips to help guide you through what to do if you’re responsible for communicating business continuity plans (bcp).

I was tempted to write a “what communicators can learn from Frozen” article, but seeing as I struggle not to have the song Do you want to build a snowman as a daily ear-worm, I thought I’d stick with this advice instead.

Communicating through the blizzard – a focus on “snow comms”

At some point in their career, every comms professional encounters the need to advise during a crisis.

It’s known as “crisis comms” (which is a broad term covering everything from bad weather to fatalities – see my glossary for more info), and is a time when you need to think on your feet, keep calm and most importantly, ensure consistency in your work and the information being shared inside and outside your organisation.

“Snow comms” should be like snowflakes – unique each time you create them

(Tweet this).

Tip3I worked in-house as an internal communicator for a decade. Throughout that time there were various spells of bad weather and I often found myself on call and waking up in the small hours to set to work.

Tasks included creating messages for employees, arranging for employee information lines (hotlines) to be updated and dialling into various conference calls with IT, Facilities, Security, HR, CEOs etc, all from the relatively warm comfort of my home.

As a cross-functional team we decided whether to open or close offices/factories and then set the wheels in motion to ensure everyone knew the latest decisions and have ways to ask questions.

The ability to connect with employees regardless of your and their location really comes into its own when looking at crisis comms and business continuity plans (bcp).

So whether at a desk or in your lounge, making sure you have everything you need at hand is vital.

Tip: A crisis is an unplanned and often unforeseen circumstance, but following the advice in this article will help prepare you.

Further reading: Read my article about your crisis communication checklist.

What do I mean by the snowflake statement above?
Tip2To give yourself a head start when responding to a crisis or looking at bcp communications it makes sense to have a template to work from or at least an understanding of what has been said before.

It goes without saying that there will of course be certain unforeseen situations that you can do nothing to prepare for in advance.

Remember to tailor your new message for your employees and the situation, just as you would any other communication. (Tweet this)

Tip: Blanket statements which are too generic and leave employees with more questions than answers are less than ideal. Don’t be vague, confirm what you know and be honest. Hiding information does no one any favours.

Who are they?
Bear in mind your employees (aka ‘the audience’) – do you need to send separate messages e.g. to senior managers, line managers, frontline employees which includes different information for each group?

Questions to ask:

  • If your frontline employees are not online, do they know where to get info from?
  • What channels do you have in place that you can use – how do they usually hear information?
  • Do you have the necessary permissions to access all the methods you need to use?

Further reading: Read my article on how organisations are using external channels for internal crisis comms.

If you rely on frontline managers, are you providing them with everything they need. Do they need additional support and know who to contact?

Timing is everything
Remember to let employees know when they can next expect to hear information – this reduces the questions coming directly to the comms team and manages expectations.

Tip: I’ve found that saying a hotline will be updated at a certain time or email will be sent at a specific time is helpful.

Remember it’s also useful to say things like “at this point in time there is nothing further to add to previous communications, but we will update this information at X time”.

The fact that you are constantly communicating is helpful, it’s ok to say you don’t have anything extra (honestly!), just keep those lines open and keep in touch. (Tweet this)

Tip: Remember to listen as well as broadcast – are you providing ways for employees to ask questions and find out more? Is the information making sense or do you need to clarify anything? Are you using comms champions or social media? The opportunities are endless.

What are your experiences of crisis/bcp comms?

Here are my top tips:

1)    Preparation is key
Can your comms team access their email, shared drives and send messages remotely to the whole organisation when not physically in the office?

Do they have all the mobile numbers they need pre-programmed into their phones and the relevant chargers etc at home? Does everyone know how to update information lines remotely?

Tip: Don’t keep access codes and instructions solely on email. If your system is down you won’t be able to get to the information you need – have a hard copy at home with instructions to follow and lists of phone numbers.

Make sure you know what your data protection policies are to know the best place to securely store such information.

Can you prepare anything in advance – e.g. set up a conference call number for a cross-functional business continuity team or write basic statements as a starting point which you can tailor as required?

2)    Refresh your memory
What have you said before? Did you have ‘snow comms’ earlier this year? What did you say then? How do your employees expect to know information?

What worked/was a complete disaster last time you had a similar situation? Learn from mistakes and build on the successes. (Tweet this)

3)    Promote your crisis comms channels
If you have identified channels you will use solely for crisis communication, are your employees aware of them? For example if you have an employee information line, ensure you promote it all year round and encourage people to save the number in their mobiles so it is to hand if they need it.

I’ve worked in companies that produce wallet-sized cards for employees containing info like this which are distributed when employees join.

Tip: Ensure business continuity plans are included in your induction and that contractors know the processes too.

4)    Keep in touch
If you have a comms lead to respond to crisis or business continuity plans, remember to keep the rest of the comms team and your stakeholders updated about decisions and next steps.

5)    Review
Once the crisis is over have a review of how things went. What worked well, what could be improved for next time, what do you need to do differently? Ask employees for their feedback – what did they find helpful, what did they need?

Good luck to all communicators, both internal and external, who are ‘doing snow comms’ at the moment, and stay safe out there.

Want to read more?

I’ve written about crisis comms a number of times on my blog over the years. See my articles on:

What are your top tips for snow comms? You’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.


Post author: Rachel Miller @AllthingsIC.
First published on All Things IC 29 January 2015. Updated January 2017.

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