The critical role of content in crisis alerting: What you need to know 

In an age of unpredictable events and emergencies, effective crisis communication is paramount. Whether it’s a natural disaster, public safety threat, cybersecurity breach or health crisis, timely and clear communication can make all the difference between chaos and a managed response.

One of the key components of crisis communication is the content of messages in alerting systems. In this article, we look at why your message is critical in crisis alerting, the principles that govern effective content creation, and the psychological factors that influence the reception of that message in high-stress situations.

The Importance of Effective Messaging 

In a crisis, fast and accurate information is essential. Affected individuals and groups, the general public, the media and our own employees need accurate, relevant and practical information to understand the situation, assess risks and make informed decisions. It will also help to reassure those dealing with the crisis, and support crisis management. As is often the case in crisis scenarios, rumours can start and spread quickly in the context of critical incidents. Timely, accurate and honest information increases the chances of good reputation control. 

The information also needs to be adapted to the channel used, short and to the point, but still long enough for the recipient to have the key points they need to be able to make the right decision. It may include a reference to where more information can be found. 
The content of your message will be perceived on the basis of:

  • Clarity and accuracy: In a crisis, confusion and misinformation can provoke panic and hinder effective response efforts. Clear and accurate messaging ensures that recipients understand the situation and take appropriate action. 
  • Desired action: Messages should not only inform, but also direct recipients to take appropriate action by outlining specific steps they should follow. For example, in the case of a flood, this could mean preparing to evacuate; in the case of a cyber incident, it could mean not using a PC to log into the company’s IT systems. 
  • Timeliness: Crises often develop quickly. Therefore, messages need to be fast and specific. The content of the message should be concise but comprehensive, providing important information quickly without overwhelming the recipient. 
  • Reassurance: In addition to providing facts, messages should also help to reassure. Well-designed content can help reduce uncertainty and anxiety, including by describing practical solutions and demonstrating that the sender is in control of the situation. 
  • Consistency: Consistency in the message across different communication channels promotes credibility and avoids confusion. Information needs to be consistent across all platforms (websites, social media and messages/alerts). Inconsistencies in information can undermine trust in the sender. 

Principles of Effective Messaging 

Creating effective messages for crisis alerts requires adherence to certain principles that take into account the unique characteristics of crisis situations: 

  • Brevity: Crisis messages should be short and concise, focusing on the most important information. Long messages can cause the recipient’s attention to wander. Too many instructions can lead to confusion. 
  • Relevance: Content needs to be tailored to the crisis and the recipient. Irrelevant details can distract recipients and reduce the impact of the message. The message should therefore only be sent to those who are affected. If there are different messages for different geographical areas, different messages need to be sent with messages adapted to the area and recipient, rather than a combined message with different instructions. 
  • Action-oriented: The content must clearly outline what the recipients must do. Be specific and provide concrete instructions that allow recipients to take appropriate action. 
  • Transparency: Honesty and openness build trust. Hiding information or downplaying the severity of a crisis can have serious consequences for public perception and response. 
  • Language accessibility: Content should be written in plain language that can be easily understood by a diverse audience, including those with different levels of education and language skills. 
  • Multiple channels: Distribute the message through multiple communication channels to ensure greater reach. Maintain content across all channels. 
  • Visual aids: In some cases, visual aids such as maps, diagrams and infographics can improve understanding, especially when communicating evacuation routes or danger zones. Remember that not everyone will be familiar with every locations and geographical details. 

Psychological Factors Influencing Message Reception 

Understanding the psychology of how people perceive and react to crisis messages is crucial for crafting effective content: 

  • Perceived Threat: The way a crisis is presented in the message can influence the perceived level of threat. Overly alarmist language can cause unnecessary panic, while downplaying the situation can hinder preparedness. 
  • Emotional Tone: The emotional tone of the message is important. A balance between empathy and authority can help recipients feel understood while recognizing the seriousness of the situation. 
  • Confirmation Bias: Recipients might interpret messages in a way that aligns with their existing beliefs or biases. Therefore, the content should be framed in a way that minimizes misinterpretation. 
  • Cognitive Load: During a crisis, people are under stress, which can impair their cognitive abilities. Content should be simple and easy to process to reduce the cognitive load on recipients. 
  • Call to Action: Messages that include a clear call to action are more likely to prompt recipients to take the desired steps. An effective call to action can invoke a sense of urgency without inducing panic. 

Prepare Your Message Templates 

In a crisis, time is of the essence and so is the time to sit down and formulate good messages. Writing and sending good messages that address all the points above requires preparation. Although we can never know what the next crisis will be, it is possible to have prepared some standard message templates and standard text that can be used. For example, based on the company’s ROS and emergency plans, you may want to create a set of message templates for cyber incidents, floods/landslides, acute pollution and the like.

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Contributed by F24 Experts

F24 is Europe’s leading Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider for resilience. More than 5,500 customers worldwide rely on F24’s digital solutions, which support companies and organisations through all areas of resilience. Solutions cover business messaging and service notification, emergency and mass notification, incident and crisis management, as well as governance, risk and compliance.

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