Crisis Communications for small organisations

Crisis Communications for small organisations

Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition: Preparing for the unexpected. Crisis Communications for small organisations


I’ll admit it: I’m a bit weird. In a number of ways but particularly in that crisis communications is one of my favourite areas of PR. I mean, obviously, it’s horrible when something awful happens and I’ve hated to see any organisations I’ve worked for or with going through difficult times but what I do love is preparing for a crisis. It seems I’m in a minority though and many people don’t enjoy this?! The hard fact is that every organisation needs to do it. Because you do not want to be facing a crisis unprepared. Figuring out who you need to contact, who will be affected, what you should be telling customers and the wider world, and how to keep parts of the organisation that absolutely cannot shut down going is not what you want to be figuring out while dealing with emergency services. But fear not, bury your head in the sand no longer because here is your guide to preparing for the unexpected. We’ve even put together a free resource you can use to get planning.


Getting started


It is more than understandable if you do dread thinking about a crisis and how your organisation would cope. But let’s start by getting the hardest part out of the way first. What is the worst thing that could happen? Yes, we need to go to that dark place and think about all the truly awful things that could happen. I mean death, destruction, dismembering the whole shebang. Don’t hold back. Remember if you don’t plan for it you can’t protect against it. But also, don’t forget the small things like lost keys, laptops and phones, sickness, and even road work. Anything that could cause your organisation to have to stop normal activities for any extended period of time or could give your customers or stakeholders a reason to take to social media to complain.

Once you have your list, try to group some of the scenarios. For example, your organisation may have these groups: premises issues (no electricity, water leak, lost keys, etc), staff issues (sickness, lateness, legal issues, complaints against them, etc), customer issues (contagious sickness outbreak, injury, death, complaints, etc).

Now going through your list and rate what would be awful and what would be inconvenient. For the majority of the inconvenience, you will be able to deal with these on a day to day basis. But it’s still worth having a plan for these. This crisis comms plan will help with that but make sure you have a business continuity plan in place. If you want help or advice in creating this please contact us, we can help or put you in touch with organisations who can help you devise and test your plan.


Preparing for the unexpected


The next thing to do is think about what you would do in these scenarios. Who will be affected? Who would you need to contact? Do you have their contact details? How will you keep everyone affected safe and what provisions for their welfare do you have? How will you contact those who are affected? Remember at this point you may not have all your usual equipment and colleagues etc. What are the critical parts of your organisation that must keep going and how do you prepare for that? What members of staff from non-critical areas of the organisation can be redeployed or drafted elsewhere to help? Or if you are a very small organisation, who could you ask to support you?


What will you say?


Now you know whom you need to contact you need to know what to say to them. We Are Comma can help with drafting some basic messages which can be tailored to the situation when a crisis occurs. At this point, though you need to bring your AA game – acknowledge the disruption or issue, apologise for any inconvenience, reassure that you’re working to fix things, and will give updates as soon as you can. Do not give too much detail. Do not speculate. Be sensitive and take control. As with all messaging think about things from the audience’s point of view. Yes, something may be an absolute disaster for you but it may not have a huge impact on your customers. Don’t downplay anything either. I admit it’s difficult to get the right balance and it does take years of experience to get messages out sensitively in a way that creates the impact you want and doesn’t have unintended consequences. My advice is to have a comms person on your emergency contact list. Even if they don’t work directly for you, just having someone you trust who can sense check what you intend to send out is very worthwhile.


Springing into action


Then have a plan for getting the message out. Make sure you can access your social media channels, that you can update your website, and be able to get to your email marketing systems. Think about images and not just words at this point. For example, a company that has to make redundancies and lets the world know about it with a photo of the chief executive smiling is asking for negative media coverage. Likewise, when organisations have to announce sad or difficult news, they may choose to change their logo to a black and white version and tone down their cheery brand. Remember not all crises will need these things but they are things to think about and have in place, just in case.

Getting the message out well can be a great thing for a brand, even if the news they are getting out is awful. If you can show you are taking control and learning from mistakes and moving on. You can even grow trust in your organisation, so don’t only view situations like this as a negative but potentially an opportunity to show the very best side of your people and who you are.


Preparing for the worst


Now think about all the negative things people – particularly journalists – could say about your organisation and operations as a result of the situations you brainstormed. Safeguarding, checks, security, planning, and every area of your organisation could be under the spotlight. It goes without saying your organisation needs to have all these contingencies in place and up to date etc. But you need to spend time thinking about what negative or difficult to answer questions you might face. Questions like “Why did this happen?” “Aren’t you supposed to be making sure X is safe?” “How can people ever trust your organisation again?”. These are not easy to face but are an important part of planning. Again, having a trusted, yet critical friend can be really helpful.


Review and revise


At this point, you should be starting to feel empowered and able to take on any issue life throws at your organisation. But that’s not the end. Make sure you have all of this safely stored but accessible by the relevant people in your organisation. But don’t let it gather dust. Regularly (once a year or when you change operations, areas of work, etc) get the plan out and go through it again. What’s changed? What needs to be updated? Depending on the size of your organisation, it may even be worth testing the plan. We Are Comma can help you with that.


Keep calm and carry on


If you do experience a crisis then you will be glad you put so much time into planning while you are dealing with trying to keep your organisation going. At that point, you’ll also have to look at other ‘moving parts’ for example how something relatively minor can become a national news story because it fits in with other topical issues of the day. And don’t forget once the crisis has passed and you’re in the recovery stage to debrief, review and evaluate.


See, that wasn’t so painful, was it? In fact, it may even have taken a load off your shoulders that you didn’t know was there.

So tell us, how many crisis scenarios have you come up with?


You can find out about We Are Comma, who we are, and the services that we offer on the website. Or to start a conversation you can email or use the contact form.


Pics courtesy of Adobe Stock and Motion Array.
Pic showing a senior team leader with her team planning strategy
Get noticed on Google

Get noticed on Google

Get noticed on Google

To get noticed on Google can be important for most businesses and organisations. With Google reviews playing a vital role. According to Blue Corona, 88 percent of consumers trust online reviews just as much as personal recommendations and 90 percent of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business.

And it’s not just prospective customers that google reviews affect, but also anyone searching for anything to do with your business, as they affect the search algorithm. In short, having more good reviews means higher google ranking and therefore results in more leads followed by more sales and eventually higher revenue.

Furthermore 85% of consumers don’t trust reviews which are more than three months old. And only 40% of people look at reviews from the last two weeks. So keeping your reviews up to date and asking customers to add new reviews regularly is important. But it doesn’t need to be onerous. Below are three top tips for getting more reviews – and therefore getting your organisation noticed on google.

1. You don’t get if you don’t ask

After every successful project, purchase or event send your customers a personal email, thanking them for using you, asking for feedback and saying you look forward to working with them again in future. Explain that all feedback is read and used to improve the services you provide. Ask them to leave you a google review and provide a direct link to make it easy for them to do so. We are Comma can help you create a direct link to send to your customers.

2. Ask, ask and ask again

Don’t be disheartened if a customer doesn’t leave a review the first time you ask. They could have forgotten to do it and a reminder will push it back up their to do list.

It is fine to ask a customer up to three times after each interaction. Create some templates which you can customise. A week after the first, thank you email – check your google reviews and if the customer hasn’t left a review use your second template email to remind them. Again, personalise the email and ask again for a google review – including the link again. Then repeat the process in two weeks’ time again.

If the customer still doesn’t leave a review then don’t worry; some people never will but it’s worth a try. And regular follow ups help to keep your organisation fresh in customers’ minds.

3. Reply to every review

After taking the time to write a review; the least you can do is reply. Whether the review you receive is the great recommendation you expected or more negative, it is important that you acknowledge it.

For every positive review, thank the customer and say you look forward to working with them again. Do this in the most personalised way you can.

For every negative review, you still need to respond – and quickly. Every review you receive should be replied to within 24 hours. But don’t respond in anger, don’t be personal and don’t give excuses. It can be helpful to have a template response which includes the following:

  • Thank the customer and quickly apologise for the experience they’ve had. You must apologise whether you agree or not; whether you feel you were in the right or wrong.
  • Try to address the issue the customer has mentioned.
  • Attempt to resolve the complaint privately – ideally via telephone, if not then email. You can read our full blog on how to respond to negative reviews here.

Google provides this advice on responding to reviews – and the importance of making sure you do.

If you receive a fake review then contact google to get it removed. However, you should still respond as if it was a genuine review but it can be helpful to say something along the lines of “we can’t find record of this project however we are keen to get the matter resolved, therefore please contact our office on Xtelephone numberX as soon as possible.”

And finally, the basis of all of this is continuing to provide great customer service. Your organisation cares about what customers think of you. And you want to provide the best service/products so getting feedback is important to help you keep getting better. So take the reviews you receive and keep improving.

What’s the best review you’ve ever had?


Pics courtesy of Adobe Stock
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4 types of content your organisation needs

4 types of content your organisation needs

4 types of content your organisation needs

You’re busy. We get it. Even when clicking on this blog you were thinking “do I have time for this?”. We know that social media can seem like just another thing on your never-ending admin list. And that pressure can take away your creativity. So here is some inspiration to get your juices flowing again. Here we share four types of content that all organisations benefit from.


1. Evergreen
This is the stuff that you create and can use again and again. It’s particularly good for when you have no time – when that unexpected ‘thing’ happens and social media really falls to the bottom of the to do list.  Spend an afternoon creating posts which you can share, adapt and recycle. Your future self will thank you.


2. Little buds
Your clients, donors, supporters, and anyone else who follows you want to hear about your latest news. It doesn’t have to be anything big but they want to know what you’re working on. What services, products and events might be of interest to them. Share it all. People often like a tease too so if you are working on something but can’t quite share the full details then just share what you can and let them know you will spill the beans as soon as you can.


3. Perennials
These can also be useful too for when you are feeling uninspired. Introduction posts, opening times, what you do and offer posts are great to pepper your content with from time to time. Just try to give them a fresh twist when you can. These are great to use when you notice you have had an influx of new followers.


4. Seasonal
Reflect what’s happening in the world but linked to your organisation. For example, you might like to share a photo of the office dog for bring your dog to work day. Just remember to make sure you are staying authentic and not just shoehorning in an awareness day, event or holiday for the sake of it. For example, if you run a cats rehoming centre then bring your dog to work day probably isn’t one to take part in.


Remember social media is all about creating community. It’s a place where your fans, clients, supporters etc can come together to get the latest news, events from you as well as keep in touch with your organisation but it should be just as much about them as you. Ask lots of questions and get discussions going.


Remember, if social media gets too much and you can’t keep up, you don’t enjoy it and it isn’t giving you the rewards you want you can contact We Are Comma for a free audit. We can suggest ways to improve. We can create content for you, give you a schedule or we can run your social media accounts. Drop us a line and see how we can help you:


So, to practise what we preach, tell us: what types of social media posts do you find most engaging? Drop us a line or comment on this post. You can also find out more about the services we offer by visiting the What We Offer page on the website.


Pics courtesy of Adobe Stock
Pic showing a group of people working on ideas for social media content

How to respond to a bad review

How to respond to a bad review

How to respond to a bad review

You probably already know the value of an online review. Satisfied customers sharing what they love about your organisation, services, and products helps attract new customers and gives them the confidence to buy or try. It’s a great way to grow your organisation. And it also helps with search engine optimisation (SEO) as Google and its ilk love to see real people taking the time to share their experiences. So the more reviews your organisation has the higher up the Google rankings you will go – without spending more on marketing. It’s a win, win. But what do you do if you get a bad review?

The first thing to say is if your organisation is doing well and you have happy customers, you’re meeting the targets you set yourself then you probably won’t get many or any bad reviews. But you may get a rogue one. And how you respond to that is going to make all the difference to your reputation – not the review itself.

Let’s imagine you run a social enterprise café. You employ young people, who have no qualifications and perhaps have struggled so far in life, to give them skills and experience in the hospitality industry while they also complete training courses at college. Your café is at the heart of your community and on the whole, your customers are happy. But one day you get a review that says:

“Rude customer service, long wait, and inedible food. I would never go here again and certainly would not recommend it. I understand that they are trying to do good things but I think the staff are not ready to be in the real world serving and making food. Great idea but don’t go there if you actually want an enjoyable lunch”.

Your heart sinks. Your mind races. Who was it? Have there been any complaints? What happened? Have the staff seen this? Are they upset? Then your fight or flight kicks in. At this point, you need to stop and take a deep breath. Don’t do anything at all yet. Responding to a bad review quickly and while you are in this mindset will not help. Instead, make yourself a drink or do a small task to distract yourself.

Then come back to the review. But start inside the café. Ask staff if they are aware of any recent complaints? At the same time, reassure staff – let them know you are happy and this is just one person who was probably having a bad day. Remind them of good reviews. Set the tone for the response – try not to take it personally; although it feels like an attack on you, your people, and your business. Reassure them that you will deal with this complaint, they don’t need to do anything.

Nobody knows of any unhappy customers so you set to work on a response. You could respond to each point, explaining why you think they are wrong and that if they had a problem they should have spoken up at the time. But you’ll probably come across as defensive and perhaps aggressive. And who would want to eat in a café with that kind of atmosphere?

Instead, here are three key things to include in your response:

  1. Apology
    Even if you don’t feel like it or don’t feel it is needed, this is not about you it’s about how the complainant feels so apologise. You don’t have to admit fault. You can say something like “I am sorry that your experience fell short of your expectations.”
  2. Email
    As quickly as you can, take this complaint out of view of everyone else. It might be a good idea to have an email address that you use just for these sorts of occasions. You can say something along the lines of: “I would value hearing more about your experience so I can investigate. Feedback always helps us improve. Perhaps you could email me at .”
  3. Reassurance
    This is your chance to defend, humble brag, and big up your team. Use this as an opportunity to talk about why many of your customers return and the good experiences they have. You might like to show your team you are proud of them, perhaps try: “I am really proud of the team we have here at Our Café. They have all overcome adversity to be here and are working hard to build better futures for themselves. Like many of us, they are still learning but I know each of them would be upset to know they had missed the mark. Each week we serve more than 200 customers who receive yummy drinks, snacks and meals, within the time frame performance mark which we set ourselves, served with great customer service. Many of our customers who return on a weekly basis tell us they do because they love the atmosphere we provide too.”

This kind of response shows other readers that reviews are listened to and acted on. That customer service matters to you. That customers matter to you.

Turning a negative into a positive


And if the complainant does take the time to email you, make sure you respond and continue in a timely, courteous manner. Try to get to the bottom of their complaint. If you need to take action, take it and let them know. Thank them for their feedback. And if you get to a good footing, you could even invite them back to try and change their mind. It is possible to turn a negative review into a positive for your organisation.

How often do you check your online reviews? Has this article helped you feel prepared for dealing with reviews in the future?

If you want help with setting up your online reviews, any aspect of your organisation’s online presence or reputation, We Are Comma can help. Email . You can also find out more about the services we offer by visiting the What We Offer page on the website.

 

Pic courtesy of Adobe Stock
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Sorry for the radio silence!

Sorry for the radio silence!

Sorry for the radio silence!

What a year! I suppose I better start by explaining why we have been so quiet over the last almost a year. Well for a start we have been growing the team; in more ways than one. I have been off on maternity leave. Last October, my second son was born. It’s been an exciting, challenging and very special time. Maternity leave when you’re running your own business is quite different to when you are an employee.

When I had my elder son, someone covered my role while I was away on maternity leave. I left them an instruction manual of my job and ensured they understood what needed to be done, when. They had contact details for my boss so any problems they could reach them. I’d emailed HR and they knew my plans about maternity leave. They would arrange my pay. On my last day of work (two days before my son was due), I said my farewells for a year and off I went. My role was covered. My boss was happy. I was about to meet my baby.

This time it was a very different matter. [Let’s not talk about being pregnant, giving birth and after care in a global pandemic!] For a start the practicalities of maternity leave are very different – arranging maternity pay is much more confusing. No simple email to HR to say when you’re off. But once I had got over that. I needed to arrange cover for my work. I had a range of trusted colleagues, whom I had worked with over the years to ask to cover writing, comms and PR for our clients as needed. This worked well and ensured continuity. Al could oversee work and do the client liaison side of things.

The good thing about working for yourself is often flexibility and during maternity leave this proved to be very true. If I was needed, I was just a phone call away. And those phone calls could happen anytime not just Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. For me this was a huge plus as I could arrange calls for when my sons were in bed or at times my husband would be around to take care of his kids.

This flexibility has also been so useful for me in coming back to work. I am now back working with We Are Comma one day a week to smooth the transition for my family. As we get used to things, I will be back working more hours but this flexibility is so valuable with young children. Unlike a job as an employee, I am not forced in fixed hours each week as soon as I return. I can take things slow but if they are going well, I can ramp my hours up quickly. Likewise, when the inevitable – with two young kids – sick days happen I can be flexible in my hours so I can care for them.

I mentioned our team has grown in more ways than one. As well as trusted colleagues joining us on the comms, PR and writing side of things, we have also had Dan join our team to strengthen and add to our web offering. Mark has also joined us a graphic designer to expand our capacities in this area. Read more about Dan, Mark and the rest of the team here.

So, what have I missed? What’s been your biggest news story of the last year?

Pic showing family on the beach during the summertime

Photos by Jayne Runacres

5 scary design mistakes to avoid

5 scary design mistakes to avoid

5 scary design mistakes to avoid

1. Poor legibility

This means text lines that are too long (use max 60–70 characters), dense blocks of words in small size and blocks with too little leading (the space between). Also, having text aligned centrally, or justified (especially in large amounts) can present problems for readers too. Note that left-aligned text is always easier to read, especially for those with visual impairment or where English is a second language. Equally, any copy should always be displayed using good contrast from the background. It doesn’t necessarily have to be dark on light but careful consideration should always be given when any text is used on a darker background. Note also, the difference between how electronic and physical print delivery displays too. Print generally requires more contrast to show any variation between shades or tints.

2. Too many fonts used or unsuitable combinations of style

Unless carefully handled, too many fonts can mean that the design has a disorganised, unprofessional look. A decent rule of thumb is to stick to two. Remember, certain fonts might have additional weights (or thicknesses) and these can be used to help add variety without the same consequence.  All too often, lazy stereotypical font choices are applied to designs, with the same display font used again and again. This reduces the impact and can, in some instances also make it harder to read. On other occasions, it’s simply that personal choice has overruled common sense. For example, a loose, light handwritten style would most likely not be the first choice for a serious financial institution.

3. Ignoring or failing to incorporate any visual hierarchy rules

Hierarchy is a key graphic design principle. It communicates with the viewer the importance of each element to those around it. Think carefully about the order that any titles, subtitles, blocks of text need to be read. Is the correct message presented? The size, weight and colour all play their part, as does the space allowed around any elements.

4. The placing of any elements within the design

With proper alignment (and this doesn’t necessarily mean total symmetry), an order or balance can be created that helps to hold a design together. If this is missing, products or material can look messy, disorganised and as we’ve mentioned before unprofessional. There will always be examples that appear to break the rules but these are usually produced by skilled practitioners and normally there’s still a (hidden) system at work. By using an underlying grid, quality control can be maintained whilst still allowing scope for creativity. Think about magazines and newspapers. These need to be produced to strict deadlines yet still manage to include layout variety.

5. Failing to communicate effectively

Even trained designers can be guilty of this. It’s easy to get caught up and create a design that loses sight of the audience that it’s intended for. Making it appeal to our tastes or preferences rather than focusing on how the item needs to be used is a mistake. Additionally, this can also lead to any criticism of the design, being taken personally rather than objectively. A decent rule of thumb is to keep things simple.


Photo by Kaboompics.com from Pexels

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