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Workplace communications during a crisis

Former colleague and current Examiner.com columnist, Phil Mann, recently interviewed me for his article, “The importance of workplace communications during a crisis.” 

Key callout:

Donnelly argues that the employee audience is a crucial one that, in an ideal world, should be addressed first or at least simultaneously to the initial release of public information. He believes this is even more essential given the immediate access to information today via social media.

He continues that companies generally err when they believe they can entirely suppress employees’ social media use during a crisis, in part because of the difficulty in actually enforcing those edicts. Better, Donnelly believes, to arm employees with the best information, including how the event in question affects the employee population directly. In that context, he adds, it’s fine to discourage related Tweets or Facebook posts, but at the least those employees choosing to disregard that guideline are better armed with useful information.

As I shared with Phil during the interview, simultaneous internal and external communications during a crisis is becoming the norm because of access to “information anywhere” and social media adoption.  Thus, communications are no longer easily defined as internal or external…and yet, all communications become eternal because they live on through search engines, blogs, tweets, posts, etc.

As an aside, it’s a little ironic that Phil contacted me for perspectives on internal communications in a crisis.  Phil was the first person to warn me that 9/11 was happening because his wife heard the first plane’s impact.  I turned on my TV a few minutes before any news outlet began to cover the live event.  On that morning in New York City, we mostly focused our crisis management talents on workplace communications at Ketchum (client calls would not come until that afternoon).  I’ll never forget and will always appreciate Phil’s early alert on that day.

Back to the topic — what are your thoughts?  Is it possible to do simultaneous internal and external communications during a crisis?  Or would you prioritize internal first (and is that possible)?  Share thoughts below, please.

3 thoughts on “Workplace communications during a crisis”

  1. Nice post and I agree 100% that the internal audience has to be the first priority. There is no point in communicating with your customers if staff don’t know what is happening. How can they be expected to provide great customer service if they have not been briefed? Public companies face the biggest problems as they are obliged to inform the market of any price sensitive issue before they can communicate internally. Or at least that is how most corporate lawyers see it!

    On a slightly different tack, there are some interesting recent examples of where external communications have been the internal communications; i.e. where a piece of internal communication has deliberately been leaked as an alternative to making an official external statement. http://j0n1.com/2011/04/28/forbidden-fruit/ involving John Chambers at Cisco is one example. Another is of course the internal communications around the News of The World closure which went public very quickly indeed. I see this as a growing and unwelcome trend.

  2. Employees expect to learn information about their workplace before the public. However, as you well know, in the land of social media internal communications quickly become external. So, you'd best be prepared to go public quickly after releasing information to employees.

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