Internal crisis communication guide: 6 best practices you need to know

By Aimee Happ
December 15, 2020
7 min read

The year 2020 has highlighted the importance of good internal crisis communication practices. But good internal communication doesn’t just happen, and if you’re thrown into a crisis, it can be challenging to know where to begin.  

That’s why we’ve put together the following guide for internal crisis communication and emergency messaging best practices. In this guide, we’ll review:

  • What is internal crisis communication?
  • Practical tips to help your emergency messaging
  • Which internal communication tools to use to support your efforts

Let’s get started!

What is internal crisis communication?

Crisis communication is how organizations convey information to address an urgent situation. They can be either internal or external, depending on whether the information is communicated to employees or the general public. In this guide, we’ll focus on internal crisis communication, or how an organization conveys information to staff during an emergency.

For example, the global COVID-19 pandemic has required just about every organization out there to make use of internal crisis communication. Remote work and employee safety have become top of mind, and staff needs to know what is expected of them. They also need to stay “in the know” as the situation unfolds and new restrictions are added or removed.

Crises can include, but are not limited to, financial issues (such as bankruptcy or store closures), personnel (such as layoffs), organizational (such as misconduct), technological (such as an outage of a critical system), or natural (such as an earthquake or health crisis).

To help you get through a crisis, we’ve included some internal communication best practices below:

Top 6 best practices for emergency messaging

1. Make a plan

It’s considered best practice for internal communications professionals to have a crisis communication plan in place. Try to be prepared as much as possible and plan for as many eventualities as you can. While you may have to adjust some minor aspects of your plan should a crisis arise, the most obvious being messaging, you can use it as a guideline and be able to respond to the situation promptly and effectively.

Every plan should include steps to take when an unexpected event arises, from working with senior management stakeholders to communicating with employees. Assemble a crisis response team and ensure they’re involved in the planning process to cover every angle. Think things through from a business perspective and work with your crisis team to ensure that everyone agrees to the plan. After all, there’s no point in having a beautiful methodology if no one follows it!

As you develop your plan, consider who your spokesperson should be, proactive damage control strategies, and social media response guidelines for employees. You should also consider which channels you’ll use to keep employees updated, whether that be over your corporate intranet, SMS, email, or group chat software.

Your internal crisis communication plan should also include:

  • A hierarchy for information sharing (think: who tells who? Does urgent messaging come directly from the CEO? From middle managers? From you?)
  • Responsibilities of different team members
  • Common questions and answers
  • Any potential risks that you foresee
  • How to roll out updates and next steps

With a plan in hand, you and the rest of your crisis response team will feel much more prepared and confident to handle a crisis when it does occur.

But what if you’re already in the midst of a crisis? Let’s look at some more best practices to keep in mind when dealing with a developing situation.

2. Put your people first

As soon as a crisis hits, remain calm. You are prepared, you have your plan, and you know what to do. Work with your crisis team and be methodological in your approach to shaping the content and sending your communications. When in doubt, over-communicate rather than under-communicate. And always put your people first.

The number one rule of internal communication is to see your audience as people with wants, needs, and fears. By addressing those fears humanely, and calmly, you’re stepping into a position of effective crisis control.

Reassuring your employees about their concerns and questions will go far in building trust in your organization’s leadership. Although crises are scary, they’re also an opportunity to reinforce transparency, decency, confidence, and loyalty.

The fact of the matter is that people will be talking and sharing information about the crisis, whether you as an organization are joining the discussion or not. Taking charge of your crisis communications is your opportunity to shape the narrative. Take it.

3. Be clear

Sending crisis information to your employees is challenging. In your messages, be sure to be as clear, concise, and consistent as possible. It may be helpful to format your messages in the following way:

  1. Opening: give your news in a clear, firm, and objective way so that everyone will understand it.
  2. Body of message: outline your reasoning. Keep a professional tone throughout.
  3. Closing: try to close on a helpful note, offering a means of communicating back to the company and links to any additional information.

To ensure clarity, work with your crisis response team to ensure that your messaging is appropriate and easy to understand. You could also have several templates ready to further streamline this process.

4. Be the source of truth

In a crisis, communication, transparency, and information are essential. It’s best practice to take the time to provide additional links and resources with your messages to answer any other questions your employees may have. It’s also ok to admit that you don’t have all the answers.

Publish relevant content to a familiar central location, like your corporate intranet, and direct employees to it to ensure everyone receives the same information from you rather than social media or the news.

5. Decide how you want to reach your employees

There are always multiple channels that you can use to communicate with employees, whether that be over your corporate intranet, SMS, email, or group chat software, like Microsoft Teams or Slack. The same is true for crisis communications.

You may have chosen a preferred channel to communicate with employees in your crisis communication plan, and that’s great! Make sure you also continuously re-evaluate and assess if your selected channels are working for you. For a long-term crisis like COVID-19, you may notice that a channel you used for urgent employee safety updates at the beginning of the pandemic, like SMS, is no longer needed for your weekly COVID-19 updates. You may choose to switch to group chat software instead. The more agile you can be to reach your employees on the platform that works best for them, the better.

6. Evaluate your crisis communication performance

During and after a crisis, be sure to conduct a thorough analysis of your urgent messaging communication. Use metrics from your internal communications software, including employee feedback, open rates, and click-through rates, to understand how effective your internal communications were. Make changes to your current communications and emergency communications plan accordingly.

Bonus recommendation: use purpose-built internal communication software

When it comes to supporting your crisis communication efforts, you don’t need to look any further than purpose-built internal communication software.

Internal communications software will allow you to easily send, track, and report on your internal communications efforts, including emergency messaging. With this software, you can send your message across channels or choose to only connect with employees on one channel, like SMS. The choice is in your hands, and you can draft, craft, and analyze your communications all from one centralized place.

IC’s internal communication software

Our software is an internal communications platform that empowers internal communicators to improve their workplace communication by helping them send the right message to the right audience, at the right time, on the channel of their choice. There are no apps to download or training required—our Push messaging feature integrates directly with Slack, Microsoft Teams, email, and SMS.

Our intranet software platform’s multi-channel messaging capabilities also include an urgent messaging feature that allows you to communicate with employees immediately in case of an emergency. With IC, not only can you get your message sent quickly with the help of pre-populated templates and easy audience segmentation, but you can also keep track of who received your message. At the click of a button, you can send reminders to those who haven’t interacted with your message and see a detailed dashboard of all your internal communication efforts.

Like any good internal communication software, IC’s software also allows you to centralize your communications efforts in one location and facilitate employee feedback from your messaging.

Want to learn more about IC’s internal communication software or to see the new urgent messaging feature in action? Schedule a FREE, personalized demo with one of our team members today!

Not quite ready for a demo? Why not take our internal communications assessment to see how your internal comms efforts stack up? After completing the evaluation, you’ll gain access to tools, templates, and industry experts to help you align with best practices. And yes, it’s all free! So what are you waiting for? Take the assessment today!

By Aimee Happ

Aimee Happ is proud to lead the marketing team at IC and enjoys working with the dynamic and diverse team that surrounds her. She is inspired on a daily basis by the company's mission of empowering internal communicators. Aimee holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Calgary and loves to travel.