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Why You Should Put Internal Communications First During a Crisis

Michelle Garrett

May 5, 2020

As brands navigate their way through a crisis, communications teams take center stage. When organizations have to figure out what to say—and fast—they call upon their communicators to help them strategize how to respond and which audiences need to hear which messages.

While some organizations focus primarily on their external messaging, internal communications plays a pivotal role in ensuring workers receive the latest information. Keeping your workforce well-informed affects external communications, as well. If your brand strategy doesn’t include open, transparent communication with employees, you may be failing to leverage what could be your best advocates.

“Alignment and coordination of internal and external communications are critical every day, and it’s imperative during a crisis,” says Mike Myers, director of communications at Nationwide.

The best leaders keep both in mind as they strive for effective business communication.

“My thought is always that you should be communicating to your employees first before anything else goes out the door,” says Nicole Tabak, marketing and communications strategist at a global B2B technology company. “It’s so important to remember these are all humans trying to do the best they can for the company’s success.”

“In times like these, everything speeds up, and there is less time to make sure internal and external messages are consistent and aligned,” Myers added. “The only way to do that in a larger organization is to ensure solid relationships exist between those teams.”

With that in mind, here are some tips to enhance your internal communications efforts:

How to enhance your internal communications efforts

  1. Foster an atmosphere of trust
    Trust is the key factor in how these teams work together. “Having solid relationships between internal and external communication teams builds trust, and that is how high-performing teams work well together in a crisis,” says Myers. Don’t wait for a crisis to build trust between the two teams. Find ways to build those relationships continually. Best practices in internal communications advise brands to be open and honest—don’t hide information. It will come out regardless, and then you’ll appear to have been covering it up, which only hurts credibility, thereby damaging trust.
  2. Watch your tone
    “We’ve really looked at the style, tone, and frequency of our internal communications—making sure it’s simplistic but educated, sensitive but comforting, and frequent but not overly frequent,” Tabak says. “It’s a hard mix. We’re definitely learning as we go.”
  3. Listen to feedback
    What are your employees saying in response to your communications? “I think listening to feedback is vital to making sure you’re getting that mix right, and it’s a different mix for each company,” Tabak said.
  4. Keep it positive
    You need to be open, but you should also try to keep the messaging optimistic if possible. Beyond disseminating information, consider sharing messages of encouragement and support. Be human. Let your team know you’re there for them, whatever the circumstances may be.
  5. Consider change management as part of the effort
    I also believe change management is an important factor to internal communication,” Myers said. “Awareness simply isn’t enough. Making sure associates know what’s changing, when and why it’s changing and how it impacts what they do is critical to gaining buy-in and making sure everyone feels informed. Associates who feel informed and understand the why behind the change will embrace it and, in many cases, even help others get on board.”
  6. Only communicate information you’re confident in
    During the current COVID-19 crisis, false information has been circulating. Before sharing any messages internally or externally, be sure to fact check. Sharing anything that’s not true can cause confusion.
  7. Consider the method used to communicate
    Email won’t work for every communication or audience. Think about using other vehicles, including brief video messages, a livestream, or a town hall format.

Be clear in your communications and remember that you may need to repeat information multiple times to successfully convey it. People may be distracted more than usual during a crisis and may not absorb all the details on the first pass.

Prioritize Internal Communications During a Crisis

While keeping brand reputation in mind, companies need to aim to put internal communications first, then align with external crisis messaging to achieve their strategic business communications goals.