Being human when you’re communicating in a crisis

I seem to have spent the last week putting together various crisis comms for our clients.  You might have to do the same thing at some point so I wanted to share what we’ve learned so far.

1. Don’t state the bleeding obvious

If you’re responding to something everyone knows about because it’s in the news, you don’t need to waste words reminding them all about it. Imagine instead that every word costs you a fiver. Out of your own pocket. After tax. Also, use language that normal people use rather than technical, medical or industry language – people related best to people who sound like people, not bots. Which brings us on to…

2. sound like a human being

Take that corporate tone of voice, sling it in the skip and flick in a lit match. Now, more than any other, is the time to sound human. You’re a human being who cares, writing to a human being who needs care.  The more human you sound, the more reassured your customers will be.

3. Reassure, reassure, reassure

People need reassurance when things go wrong.  Tell them (if it’s true) that you’ve got their back or that your support team is still working and can help (make sure you send them copies of everything that customers might see, too).  Reassure with specific content, but also through your tone of voice.

4. Ditch the puff

Now is absolutely not the time for corporate puff. Don’t waste words and your readers’ time on stuff like “Our customers’ welfare is vital to us here at AnyCo…” Absolutely no-one believes it anyway. If it really is the most important thing, don’t tell, demonstrate it.

5. Be specific

People want facts at the moment.  Tell people exactly what you’re doing, by when, how long it will take and when they’ll hear from you – be specific. And if you don’t know, say you don’t know rather than fudging.

6. Think of new, clear ways to say things

This isn’t a persnickety point of writing style, it’s to help give your message the immediacy and cut-through it needs.  For example, I started a letter to a particular group of social housing residents this morning with “We’ve got your back.” rather than “Tenant welfare is our key focus over the coming weeks”.

Above all, keep communicating, let people know what’s going on, even if it’s bad news, and you’ll get through it.