Fostering Internal Trust: Deploying Your Intranet in a Crisis

When a crisis hits, be it a public health crisis such as the H1N1 flu outbreak, a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake or a media/brand crisis, your employees will be thinking of little else. Productivity might suffer, but as the employer or internal communicator, your responsibility is to help assuage fears and keep people calm.

If you have a credible Intranet, your employees will hopefully be familiar with it as a dynamic and up-to-the minute source of official company-wide information. They should also be able to trust what they read on the Intranet as being factual and accurate. Thus, establishing a crisis communications page (or section) as quickly as possible after the crisis is first announced is crucial. By doing so you can eliminate the time employees spend Web surfing in search of the latest news.

They trust it when they hear it from you. You don’t need to represent yourself as an expert on the topic at hand. All you need to do is provide a one-stop shop for credible, accurate resources, and frequent updates as they become available.

Employees will be more comfortable if they know that you’re doing everything possible to stay on top of the situation, and that you’ll report to them—via the Intranet—as soon as news breaks. In addition, keep in mind that anything you write or say may find its way outside the company. So you want to be sure, always, that you get your facts straight.

To do this, early on you need to identify the most credible and reliable resources on the topic. And then you borrow. And it’s important to hit the right tone. You don’t want to overreact, but you do want to genuinely validate employees’ concerns.

Transparency is the best policy. Assure employees that you are concerned, but that your response is measured and well-considered. If you remain calm, they will as well. Just don’t be so calm as to appear blasé.

Provided all employees are safe and systems are functioning, here are the steps to take as a crisis hits. We’ve used a flu outbreak as the example, but the guidelines are appropriate for most crises.


â–¶Team meeting (immediately). As soon as possible, have your crisis management team meet to draft the initial company-wide communication. If you don’t have a crisis management team in place, you might include the heads of human resources, communications, and operations, as well as the disaster recovery manager, if you have one.

The team should bring all online resources available and make a determination as to which are the most credible, so that you can share them with employees. This is a good time to create a dedicated e-mail address for associates at all levels to contact the team with concerns, questions, or reports. For example, [email protected].


â–¶ Respond (in first 2 hours). The initial communication should come from the CEO or highest-ranking officer. Let associates know that senior management is doing everything possible to research and stay apprised of the situation and that reports to employees will be frequent. It’s important to get this information out promptly. Announce the dedicated e-mail address and that the Intranet page is forthcoming.

Once the initial company-wide e-mail is sent, try to put all future updates on the Intranet, rather than e-mailing. Too many e-mails will wind up serving more as a distraction than as an informative or reassuring communication.

Employees should feel safe in continuing to work, checking back from time to time when it suits them, rather than having their work repeatedly interrupted with new reports.


â–¶ Build the Intranet page (within first 6-8 hours). Create a Crisis HQ section (such as “Flu HQ”) on the Intranet. This can reside under Human Resources, but should be easily accessible from the homepage. If you are lucky enough to have a creative team, have them come up with a graphic icon or button you can put on the homepage. If not, see if you can borrow one from your resources—for example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has lots of graphic images on their Web site for sharing.

Start by posting the initial e-mail text. This may seem redundant, but employees should know that this is the place where all communications on this topic can be found. Post a sidebar-type section with links to web resources on the topic.


â–¶ Create an FAQ section (within first 6-8 hours). Again, you don’t have to be an expert since there are resources out there from which you are intended to borrow. Remember that if you claim something as fact that hasn’t been verified by a credible agency, your employees may later call you to task. Also remember to be realistic about the concerns—no one likes to be told, “Don’t panic.” It only makes them panic more. Your FAQs can be developed from existing information, but should also reflect decisions currently being made by management (see sidebar for an example).

Try to keep the number of questions down to about 10. Once this has been reviewed by your team, post it on the Intranet.


â–¶ Create bulletins (days and weeks following). Whenever there’s a change in the status — either from a community level (such as the CDC) or from a work (policy) level, post a new bulletin. Be sure to date these, as well as indicate on or near your homepage icon that a new bulletin has been posted.

If the bulletin is urgent (for example, if there is going to be an office closure), it’s a good idea to send out a company-wide e-mail with a headline, brief summary, and a link to the full bulletin. Otherwise, resist the urge to oversaturate inboxes as this may diminish your credibility and heighten paranoia.

If an alert level is provided by the government, it should be included in your bulletin. To avoid panic, however, make sure to communicate what each level means. A note on widgets: Many agencies, such as the CDC, provide widgets that you can borrow to post on your site. The agency provides the HTML code making them easy to post, and they’re a good way to provide employees with regular updates on the situation, or even daily tips. PRN

[Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the new PR News Crisis Management Guidebook, Volume 4.]


This article was written by Kate Rezucha, associate communications and engagement manager for Esurance. She can be reached at [email protected].

Crisis FAQs: Ensure Your Answers Are Credible

During the H1N1 scare, Esurance’s Kate Rezucha worked to ensure employees’ questions about the virus were answered on the Intranet. Here’s a sampling of questions and some recommendations for sourcing answers:

• What is this crisis? How did it occur?

• How is the company prepared to address the situation?

If you have a Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plan, reference it here.

• Does the company have a policy to cope with this situation?

If you have a policy in the Employee Handbook—such as a Communicable Disease Policy—reference it here.

• Is business travel discouraged? For how long?

• What about my family? What happens if schools close?

Your primary concern is always the well-being of your employees. However, be sure to work with an attorney on issues pertaining to leaves, etc.

• What are symptoms to watch for?

• If I have symptoms, what should I do?

Answer from both a public (CDC) and a work perspective. What are you asking employees to do in this event?