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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

COLUMN: Untapped Crisis Communications Inreach

Most organizations conduct some form of  internal communications.  I prefer to refer to this as inreach.  Yes, inreach is a real word.  It is also a helpful reminder that this effort has a corollary and symbiotic relationship with outreach.    

Picture yourself as an emergency manager or crisis communicator.  You have worked your outreach hard.  Television.  Radio.  Print.  Social Media.  You want to make sure you are doing everything you can to make a positive difference.  And you wonder if you have left anything untapped in your outreach?  The answer might be found in reviewing your crisis communications inreach.   

Justification 

Every member of your team is a member of society.  Tomorrow they could be a responder; the next day they could be a survivor.  Every day they are part of the team, part of the audience, and a capable extension of the message.  Organization members, when well-nourished with information, can provide second and third order effects to any outreach program.  And even those members who do not leverage their ability to do so deserve just as much information, if not more, than external audiences.  It makes them more informed and better at their jobs.  The key to augmenting outreach with effective inreach lies in understanding the principles and the tactics necessary to be effective.    

Inreach  Guiding Principles 

Constant drumbeat.  Inreach cannot succeed on an ad hoc basis. Monthly inreach alone fails.  Weekly does not suffice.  Daily is both easily attained and essential.    

Two-Way Conversations.  If there was ever a time when it was okay to only talk at the team, those days have been long over.   The key to success is to talk with the team, to encourage feedback and dialogue. 

Labels.  I used the word “team” above because it is more inclusive than “employees.”  Which would you rather be called?  At the retail department store, Target, they refer to their employees as “team members.”  They also refer to “customers” as “guests.”  I like that.  Words matter.  Former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate eliminated the word “victims” overnight in the agency vernacular and replaced it with “survivors.”  It changed the entire mindset and approach of the organization and our relationship with communicates and individuals. 

Diversity.  Everyone talks about diversity, typically beginning with hiring.  But does everyone in the organization know exactly what the leadership are doing to achieve greater diversity?  Have team members been brought in the loop to help achieve greater diversity in hiring?  And here is the real self-check – once you have achieved greater diversity, what have you done to adapt inreach to effectively communicate with a growing diverse audience?  The public your teams support are certainly diverse.   

Transparent.  This too can become a baseless buzz word if there are not true examples of how this is put into practice.  Where’s the beef?  This is where tactics come into play. 

Inreach Implementation Tactics 

Suggestion box.   Wooden and electronic.  Protect anonymity.  You may be surprised what you learn.  Respond to submissions bi-weekly.  Great opportunity for the boss to push out key messages and updates with each response.   

Newsletter.  Every program area should be required to submit an article.  That ensures buy-in, more inclusivity, and more interesting content for the readers.  Response.  Recovery.  Mitigation.  Preparedness.    

Dashboards.  We all deal with different technology, but if you are able to develop a web-based dashboard that is the default bowser opening for everyone, it is a great place to post emerging information, administrative updates, and access to all the organization platforms and databases.  This can be even more beneficial if the dashboard can include the current status of each disaster response. 

Leadership Meeting Notes.   For that matter, all meeting notes should be made available to every member of the organization.  But the leadership ones are the most important to show transparency.  Some confidential and sensitive personnel information may need to be edited out, but let the whole team see the direction, discourse, and journey the leaders are taking. 

All Hands Emails.  Regular, reoccurring, and informative emails from the leadership go a long way.  Just make sure they add value and do not overwhelm or spam the team.   Use the bold, italics, underline, and color enough – but not too much – to get and keep attention.  Brevity and clarity are the keys.  And write these like a human and not like a bureaucrat. 

All Hands Meetings.  Different levels of the organization should meet with different frequency, the lower the element, the more frequent the meetings.  Encourage input.  Include hot topics, professional development, and recognition as much as possible.  Make the content compelling enough that folks look forward to them.   

Internal Socia Media.  There are plenty of professional internal enterprise platforms like Yammer, Talkspirit, Beekeeper, Chatter, and so many more.  Or you may have an IT team that can build something simple that meets your needs.  The platform is less important than the opportunity.  This can allow for a more unfiltered multidirectional conversation.  

External Social Media Scripts.  If you have 427 team members, you have 427 spokespersons.  Empower them to help tell the story externally by sharing social media scripts, images, and videos that those who choose to can promote on their own personal social media. At a minimum, encourage them to repost official organization social media posts. 

Influencer and Diversity Connections.  Did you know that one of your team members knows a professional baseball player?  Did you know another one speaks Tagalog.  Another way inreach can help outreach is by pulsing your members on who they know and what they know that can help promote the organization in more ways. 

Conclusion 

That’s a lot to unpack. I know. Even if you only implement one or two changes in your inreach next week, it will make a difference.  Investment in the team not only benefits the organization; it benefits the outreach to your communities. 

author avatar
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.
Dan Stoneking
Dan Stoneking
Dan is a strategic communicator. He is a writer. His expertise is born from experience, to include his role at the Pentagon upon the attacks of 9/11; as lead spokesperson for the National Guard in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina where he represented 54 states and territories; responding to the earthquake in Haiti where he helped establish the first-ever international joint information center; creating a coalition with the private sector to implement the first-ever National Business Emergency Operation Center; voluntarily deploying to Puerto Rico within hours of Hurricane Maria’s impact as the lead spokesperson, and much more. Presently, Dan is the Owner and Principal at Stoneking Strategic Communications, LLC. Previously, Dan served as the External Affairs Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 3, where he led an award-earning passionate team to improve information sharing and coordination between FEMA and the American public, to include media, private sector, as well as local, state and government officials during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts. As Director, he led his team through countless disasters, the Papal Visit (2015), the Democratic National Convention (2016), and the response to the Jan 6, 2021, attacks on our Nation’s Capital. That position followed and built upon a career in both the corporate and government arenas focused on strategic and crisis communications, to include roles at FEMA Headquarters as Director, Private Sector and Deputy and Acting Director of Public Affairs. Graduating from the University of New Hampshire, with a Bachelor’s in Interpersonal Communications, he later returned to the same campus and earned a Master of Arts in Teaching (Secondary English). Dan is a retired Army Officer and he taught High School English for two years. He is also the author of Cultivate Your Garden: Crisis Communications from 30,000 Feet to Three Feet, 2024. Dan lives in West Chester, PA with his daughters, Ivy Grace and Chloe Lane and their puppy, Fiji Isabella.

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