From one WV small business owner to another – Communicating in a time of crisis

Stacy Raffo in Richwood, WV

BY STACY RAFFO, COMMUNITY COACHING PROGRAMS ASSOCIATE, THE HUB (AND OWNER OF WHISTLE PUNK GRILL & TAPHOUSE)

In my role with the WV Hub, I work with communities to help them achieve goals that will make a community a better place to live, work and visit. A large part of that work is focused on the development and growth of small businesses – I saw this in my own community of Richwood while we participated in The Hub’s Communities of Achievement Program, my town opened nearly two dozen businesses in two years. 

One of those small businesses is the restaurant my husband and I own and operate.

As a small business owner, these are scary, uncharted waters; we are all looking for guidance to help us navigate this situation and know what to do next. Recently, I took time to watch a Facebook live hosted by Emily Myers Duke of Pretty Creative. She explained that she has experience in crisis management from her time managing public relations for a Fortune 500 company during the 2012 Derecho, 2014 Charleston Water Crisis and everyday issues that arise in operating a small business. 

Emily explained that Transparency, Timeliness, Tempo, and Tone are the cornerstones to a good plan.

Here are my takeaways:

Transparency

  • Be honest, forthcoming and share important info your audience needs to know. Address the situation, let your customers and audience know the details they need to know during this time: are you open, do you have reduced hours or special situations (like only offering carry out, adding delivery to your retail or restaurant business), do you have limited offerings, is your staff working remotely?
  • Give the what not the how. If you are adding cleanliness standards, release a statement that your staff will be sanitizing common touchpoints more often. Don’t get into details that you might not be able to adhere to such as “all knobs and handles will be cleaned every twenty minutes with XYZ chemical.” This is too specific and may lead to issues later. I made this mistake myself over the weekend in an effort to assure our guests that we had raised our impeccable cleaning standards even higher. 
  • Be specific about what your offering and how people can help. Is your restaurant offering bonus gift card purchases? Offering longer return windows for retail? Allowing people greater flexibility to change their contract at a wedding venue?  Your followers want to understand what your business is offering at this time.
  • Be clear about your plan for operations. If you have to close and don’t know when you will reopen, just say that. Be as upfront as you can.
  • Make sure you are updating all of your platforms including Yelp, TripAdvisor, and your website.
 

Timeliness

  • As situations and mandates change, address them. Ignoring the evolving situation may make people think that you aren’t following the news or guidelines. 
  • Communicate as soon as you have made any major decision about a change in your operations, hours or offerings. People understand this is a rapidly changing situation, they want to know how you are handling it. 
  • Tell your employees BEFORE your customers. Give them the talking points you want them to use. No one wants to be the last to know about a decision that affects them, you want to make sure you and your staff are giving the same messaging. 
 

Tempo and Tone

  • Stay true to your brand, even during a crisis. Don’t change your “voice” or the way you post.
  • Read the room. If you occasionally or often offer lighthearted content, it’s ok to still do that, but be mindful of how people may be feeling. Was there a recent development locally or nationally that may have altered people’s moods? Be cognizant of the timing of your content. When timed right, lighthearted content may be helpful to help lift people’s moods and spirits.
  • DO NOT share medical advice unless you are a medical operation that regularly does so. It’s ok to link to your local or state health department or CDC, but don’t share your own opinion. 
  • Don’t use your business or organizational page to complain.  Everyone understands these are unprecedented times, but your audience doesn’t want to hear your woes. Likewise, stay away from political messaging about the situation on your business page. 
  • It’s ok to tell your audience you don’t really know what to say, it is acceptable to ask for help. Ask your followers to help you with reviews or testimonials during this time, this will be helpful when you reopen or business resumes normal operations. 
  • It’s also important to stay on brand and track with your normal content. If you veer off course and try to become a source of news when your normal content is fashion and beauty, it won’t ring true with your followers. Remember why people follow you and stick with meaningful, useful content within your normal realm. 
  • Think of ways you could be a resource and helpful to others based on your expertise. Use your regular post cadence as long as it makes sense with the current social conversation. Don’t be afraid to slow down or increase your post frequency based on when you have worthwhile content to share. 

 

These are trying times, especially for small businesses. Hopefully, these tips can help you better navigate the situation. Make sure you are staying aware and looking for resources to help your business and organization during this time.

We are adding resources for small businesses on our COVID-19 Community Resources page at The Hub. If you have an idea for a resource to share, please email it to e.pepper@wvhub.org.

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Meet Elkins: A HubCAP Community

Last fall, we kicked off our HubCAP (Communities of Achievement Program) in six communities working on the Mon Forest Towns initiative: Cowen, Elkins, Franklin, Marlinton, Petersburg and White Sulphur Springs.

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