12 winter storm crisis communication tips

What you should be prepared to do and communicate as winter storms approach.

A working crisis communication plan and good media training skills will be essential for your organization as bad weather looms.

Before severe winter weather gets to you—if it hasn’t done so already—you should begin managing the expectations of your customers and employees. Many of you will experience power outages that could last up to two weeks. Let your customers and employees know this through effective communications today, being clear about the pain, problems, and predicaments they might face.

Do not sugarcoat the news

Tell people exactly how bad things might get. Make sure your messaging is direct and simple. Deliver the headline, a good synopsis, and then details. Write your communications the same way a reporter would write a news story. Don’t overwhelm your audience with corporate jargon, acronyms, and politically correct phrases that might be confusing.

Do not hedge your bets with optimism

You are better off to tell audiences what the worst might be and then be happy if the worst-case scenario does not come to pass. It is easier to celebrate good news than to apologize for a situation that drags on and gets worse.

Be ready to use every means of communication available

Traditional media will be overwhelmed with many stories. If you want to get their attention and get coverage as a way to reach your audiences, do these things now:

  • Be ready to post updates to your primary website starting now.
  • Use iPad and iPhone video to record each update and post it to YouTube.
  • Send emails to employees with links to your website and video.
  • Post that same video to CNN iReports.
  • Add links to Facebook and Twitter that send your audiences to your website and your video.

Invest in media training

Anyone who records a video or does an interview with the media should have gone through extensive media training prior to the crisis. Additionally, engage in role-playing and practice with them before each interview.

Be ready to Skype

In a winter storm crisis, media may ask you to do live interviews via Skype. Download Skype to your mobile devices now, so you can practice using it. Additionally, all spokespeople on a Skype interview must be properly trained in a Skype interview setting. Use my online tutorials to help you prepare your representatives.

Expect a spike in social media communication

Organizations that often have a relatively small following on social media will see a spike in social media during power outages. As audiences lose computer access, they will turn to their mobile devices. Your team must be prepared to monitor social media and reply to posts only when absolutely necessary. Too many replies to negative comments engender more negative comments, and those comments keep posting more frequently in everyone’s news feed.

Direct tweets to reporters

Increasingly, reporters respond quickly to tweets. I find that in a weather crisis you can get a reporter’s attention faster with a tweet than with an email, phone call, or text message.

Be a resource

Don’t confine your social media posts to only information about your organization. Post resource information that your audience needs, such as locations to shelters, information about emergency supplies, and any other creature comforts they need.

Don’t be left in the dark

Now is the time to review your list of emergency supplies and gather all the devices you need to power your mobile devices. Devices like Mophies can charge your phones and tablets. Make sure you have batteries and flashlights. If you can, get a generator and ample supplies of gasoline. Gather extra food, water, and blankets. Make sure you can heat your work environment.

Rest when you can

Rest and sleep well before the crisis. Work strategically in shifts during the crisis. Everyone doesn’t have to be awake all of the time. Midday naps are allowed.

Succeed through preparedness

Don’t judge your PR skills by how well you were able to wing it during and after the crisis. Victory is measured by what you did on a clear, sunny day to prepare for your darkest hour.

Update your crisis communication plan

When a given crisis is over, evaluate whether your plan worked. It should be so thorough that nothing slips through the cracks, yet easy enough to read and follow during your crisis so that it tells you everything to do with a precise timetable for achieving each task. If it doesn’t meet these criteria, evaluate it during and after your crisis, then prepare for a substantial rewrite or redesign as soon as the crisis subsides.

Watch Braud deliver these tips via video.

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