In a constantly evolving ocean of data, it is more important now than ever before to ensure quality information is produced and shared. Unfortunately, instant information is invariably paired with misinformation, which later impacts an individual’s ability to make objective decisions.
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During the current COVID-19 pandemic, various businesses have had to make some difficult decisions, some of which include shutting down operations temporarily. The reality of how closely interconnected different businesses from different industries are has also made itself clear with the depletion of resources such as the global supply chain of medication.
Times like this call for a composed, collected, and educated approach to crisis communications. Here are a few communication best practices for food safety professionals.
Trust Eats Transparency for Breakfast
Evaluate the sources of your information and validate them from time to time. Be sure that app developers stay compliant and take measures to ensure that bad data doesn’t skew the information you communicate.
A few food safety forums I have observed were well moderated: They included quality updates with citations from authorized bodies and members could exchange information globally. A few other forums I observed were “noisy” with an emphasis on instant data. Sharing real-time data does not equate to sharing facts.
Something else to look out for is what I have coined the “overnight expert.” For example, as food safety professionals, we may understand the science behind COVID-19, but that understanding alone does not make a food safety professional an honorary virologist. Be wary of these situations.
Create or Revisit Your Holding Statements
Holding statements are the initial statements made by an organization in a brief and factual manner to the public and/or its employees directly following an incident. Preparing, reviewing, and revising holding statements periodically demonstrates a proactive approach to managing unforeseen crises. Holding statements must not be prepared based on assumptions, nor include names of any victims.
Check In with Your Crisis Management Team
Like the HACCP team, a cross-functional crisis management team it beneficial to a food industry organization. Representation from critical departments such as human resources, legal, marketing, and public relations would allow the response team to incorporate multiple perspectives while planning to respond to a crisis. Running a mock crisis response is a great way to test the implemented response strategy and effectiveness of the holding statements.
Create a channel for information to flow, for example, from the C-suite to the marketing team responding to customers via social media. In addition, educate the employees on how to respond to questions they may receive from the press or from customers. Ideally, employees should not be sharing their own speculations and should instead defer inquiries to a designated member on the crisis management and response team.
Invest In the Right Resources
If your organization does not have the resources to build a crisis management team, consider investing in a communications consultant. A third-party expert is not only experienced in the field of crisis management, but also can anticipate the next series of events and prepare your company for it. Coupling this with predictive modeling will help you make better, more informed decisions.
When it comes to crisis communications, choosing to not respond is also a response. In some instances, this option may hurt the credibility of your organization. When crisis communication is done correctly, you reassure the end-user and show the bottom line is your company is owning it.