Preparing for Crisis Communications During a Pandemic

The reality of serving the highest-risk people during this COVID-19 pandemic is that even if none of your residents become ill, you will likely be implementing changes to visitation policies, staff screening, events and community activities. As such, it is imperative to have plans in place for how you’ll communicate with residents, their families, the media and the public.

1. Identify your audiences.

Your first step is to define any audiences that you may need to communicate with during this time. Employees, board members, residents and their families are the most obvious groups, but you may also need to communicate with the general public.

It’s important to document each potential audience and define how communications might need to be tailored for each. You may not have the same message for each of these audiences, so you’ll want to be prepared to respond to each of them in the most effective manner.

2. Identify your chain of command and key roles.

Several key roles should be identified, even before the need to respond to a crisis ever arises. Once you have the appropriate roles and parties identified, make sure they’re codified into a written document.

We recommend that you identify these key roles:

  • Your spokesperson

When it concerns communications with the media, it’s important to select one individual to serve as the dedicated spokesperson for your community. This person is typically an executive-level representative.

  • Your back-up spokesperson

The selected spokesperson may become unavailable, so it’s a good idea to have a backup person in place. This person should be kept abreast of all communications and plans, so that he or she would be able to unexpectedly assume the role of primary spokesperson (with no learning curve) if the need arose.

  • Your point person for statement creation

Statements and quotes from your community’s leadership will be needed for any crisis communications strategy. Decide who will author and/or provide these statements, whether your legal team will need time to review, and who can authorize the release of your statements.

  • Your point person for message dissemination and amplification

How your statements and communications reach each specific audience is a critical piece of your overall communications strategy. Determine the person who will contact media outlets, craft email and print communiques, and post your messages to your social media channels. It also may be a good idea to allocate funds to run a sponsored campaign through social media channels, such as Facebook, so that you can more intentionally reach your audience with your message.

3. Locate and confirm all email and social media account information.

To effectively execute your dissemination strategy, you will need to be able to quickly access each of your community’s email and social media accounts. Be sure to identify each of your channels and confirm that logins, passwords and contacts are up to date. Here is a quick checklist that may help:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn and all professional contacts
  • YouTube
  • Email service provider (ESP) such as MailChimp, ConstantContact, etc.
    • Take a moment to confirm you have an updated list of contacts, segmented by audiences as appropriate and applicable (i.e., residents, staff, priority or 10% depositors, wait list members, prospects, adult children/family members, partner firms, etc.).

Make sure up-to-date user names and passwords are kept in a safe, secure location that can be accessed by multiple people. This way, if your director of marketing is the primary person with access, and he or she is unavailable, your ability to communicate effectively is not hindered. If you are unable to communicate during a crisis situation through your online social media accounts, your reputation could be severely damaged.

4. Identify your communication channels and match them to the appropriate audience.

During a crisis, what channels will you use to provide updates? These channels may include your social media pages, your website, local news reporters, your community smartphone app or newsletters, among other channels. Which audience reads each channel? Do you need to establish another channel to reach a different audience?

5. Create a local media list.

Start a relationship with your local newspaper, radio station and/or television station, so that those contacts are prepared to receive and amplify your community’s communications when you need them to do so. Calling and providing your statements directly to reporters helps ensure that your responses are represented in the conversation.

Accomplishing these steps will put you on the right path for effectively managing your crisis communication, although the tough part begins when the crisis emerges. Consider partnering with an experienced crisis communications professional or firm to provide crisis communication services for your community. This unique division of corporate communications is high stakes, and it is all too easy for someone who is not well versed in crisis communication to make one misstep that derails your reputation.

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our special edition webinar related to challenges the Senior Living field faces in the wake of COVID-19, and the solutions we recommend so that you can continue to tactfully and successfully market your community. To learn more about how to effectively prepare for a crisis, please contact Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013.

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