10 tips for calming a fraught or uncertain situation.
1. Build good relationships before you need them
Often, the value of information is as much in who says something as what is said. So build a good relationship with your audience before you have to deliver a tough message. Explain who’s in charge. And if you’re running a pension scheme, remember that most members will not know that you are separate from their employer, so clarify this point. And look for ways to represent the members better: more diversity equals better nominations.
2. Clean your data
Your message is only as good as your data. So before there’s any stress on the system, get your data cleaner. Digitise your records and update your contacts. Collect email addresses and mobile numbers now, before you need them.
3. Give the big picture before any details
Stand back from the details. People might need to understand the ins and outs eventually, but not yet. People panic, so first reassure them about what is safe, such as their pension. When it comes to pensions, the news latches onto any change as a catastrophe. So get that big picture clear.
4. Tell the whole story, then make it personal
Start by telling the whole story in brief, so everyone can see where they fit in. Then segment the membership to give people the most relevant, personal information you can give them.
5. Speak calmly, using your audience’s language
The language changes the message. Think about the language you use and the effect it has. ‘Vote’ or ‘choose’? ‘In crisis’ or ‘under stress’? And use members’ language not industry jargon.
6. Create consistency
Everyone who is talking about what’s happening should be telling the same story using the same language. Create a guide to help them. It’s not about spin, it’s about not confusing the members.
7. Communicate regularly
A vacuum is worse than bad news. Don’t leave people waiting for you to call, it makes them nervous. Say when you’ll get in touch again and keep that promise – even if there’s no news. Tell people where you’re going, not where you’ve got to.
8. Use all the channels your audience uses
You can’t rely on, for example, just letters. The more channels you use, the more chance your message has to reach more people. Think: websites, social media, forums, events, local press, radio.
9. Embrace social media
You need to join the conversation where it is happening, and nowadays that’s often on social media. Support the people driving the online conversations. When you want to tell members something, they will help spread the word themselves.
10. Relieve the cognitive load
A member who needs independent financial advice, for example, might need more support than just pointing to a website. Some advisers can’t advise on transfers out of a DB scheme, for example, despite being ‘authorised’. Build a simple journey that takes your audience to the thing they need, and explain any nuances so they don’t have to work it out for themselves. For many, it will mean the difference between pressing on and giving up.