How to Create FAQs That Are Useful and Effective During a Crisis

by Deputy Team, · 6 minutes
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This is a guest post by Josh Brown, a marketer at Helpjuice. Helpjuice enables you to easily create a comprehensive knowledge base that can be used to help you scale your customer support as well as collaborate better with your team.

Life would be much less stressful if crises had the courtesy to arrive with fair warning. But sadly, that’s not how they work.

At such times, quality communication is essential to help you weather the storm. Because if reliable information is unavailable or inconsistent, rumors, stress, uncertainty, and panic quickly set in.

That’s where your crisis FAQ page comes in.

Armed with a crisis FAQ page, as part of your overall emergency communications strategy, you can protect your organizations’ reputation while also keeping stakeholders level-headed and committed to your cause.

You may have written a regular FAQ page for your business already, but a crisis FAQ is a little different. Here are our top tips to help you create one when times get tough.

1. Figure out what needs to be said

The first thing you need to do is decide what content is going to go into your crisis FAQ. But this isn’t a "write it and leave it" kind of thing.

As McKinsey points out, crises occur in stages. During each stage, the types of information that people seek are constantly changing. That means you’ll need to regularly update the questions on your FAQ page to reflect the ones that people are actually asking.

That in mind, there are a couple of ways to figure out what questions people have at each stage:

  • Ask your support teams what questions customers have been asking since the start of the crisis

  • Ask your HR department what questions employees have been asking

  • Examine competitor websites and see what kinds of questions they’re answering

  • Use analytics to see the content topics your visitors are most interested in

Once you’ve got a good idea about the types of questions people want answers to, pick out the recurring themes. This is a great starting point to address the crisis you’re facing.

Some common topics to include are:

  • The context that led to the crisis

  • An outline of the crisis event

  • Who was involved in the crisis & how they were involved

  • The actions taken in response to the crisis

  • The real and potential impact of the crisis for your organization

  • Steps taken to prevent future events (if applicable)

  • Contact details for spokespeople or support

Central to getting the right message across is building a crisis management team within your organization. These are the people responsible for writing and updating your FAQ as the crisis evolves.

Deloitte found that only 42% of organizations have clearly defined roles for a crisis, which often leads to delayed action when disaster strikes.

So, build an experienced team that possesses the combined skills and competence to handle the emergency at hand. Devising a strong lineup will not only help your FAQ to stay on-point, you’ll also ensure a better roll-out of your overall crisis management strategy and minimize damage to your organization.

Keep your answers simple and organized

When things go awry, your audience's attention becomes limited. Research tells us that high levels of threat, fear, and uncertainty leads to what scientists call “cognitive freezing.”

In other words, when we’re in a crisis, our ability to process information is impaired. Long-winded, abstract answers aren’t going to help you or your team.

Instead, convey critical information to your employees and customers by keeping your messages short, simple, and written in the language they use on a daily basis.

Amid the chaos, strong organization and categorization are key too. Grouping questions by topic and defining clear headings and subheadings helps users quickly find what they’re looking for.

Remember, nobody visiting your FAQ wants to trudge through all the content. They just want an answer to a specific question. So, make it easy for them to scan your FAQ or better yet, make it searchable.

Lastly, to prevent your FAQ from bloating, it’s wise to address the concerns of different audiences in separate FAQ. For example, you may need to build an internal FAQ for your employees and an external one for your customers.

Align internal and external communications

Many organizations are so concerned with minimizing the external damage a crisis inflicts, that they neglect their internal communication strategy.

This is short-sighted because we know that if employees don’t understand what’s going on, the ensuing worry and frustration can negatively impact your work environment and productivity.

What’s more, poorly informed employees can actually accelerate the spread of misinformation outside of your organization.

According to Shel Holtz, Director of Internal Communications at Webcor, “Employees are increasingly important voices during crises. Thanks to social media, what an employee says is heard by a lot of people.”

That’s why it’s important to make use of internal knowledge management systems such as:

These types of knowledge management systems allow information to be centralized and easily accessible so that your employees can get real-time updates and guidance throughout a particular crisis. In turn, you’ll not only help employees better handle the shifting landscape and maintain productivity, but you’ll also project a better image to the world by having them as advocates for your business.

Frame your answers appropriately

The "framing effect" discovered by psychologist Daniel Kahneman, has shown that highlighting gains and benefits over losses impacts how much attention people pay to what you’re saying.

At the same time, the effect shows that emphasizing negative aspects of a crisis leads to an erosion of trust between you and your audience.

So, framing your FAQs in a positive light can help clarify your message and build rapport with your readers.

Think about emphasizing what people can do. For example, if you have to reduce the number of shits that are open, you can say that 45% of shifts are available next week rather than saying 55% of shifts are cut next week.

Focus on what you know

Positively framing has nothing to do lying or sharing misinformation.

It’s very important to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t — and especially to avoid speculating at all costs.

In many crises,like the current COVID-19 pandemic, the truth might involve facts about your business that you’d rather customers or employees not know.

Understandably, it’s common for businesses to avoid acknowledging unwelcome news or uncertainty about the future.

But research shows that skipping over such facts can actually negatively impact the amount of trust that people have in your organization.

That’s why transparency is key. Instead of trying to provide clear-cut answers that aren’t backed up by data,- make it clear that there are some things you can’t predict.

Then share the criteria for how your organization will move forward. If your business was impacted by COVID-19, for example, here’s a message you could share about your re-opening strategy: “It’s our hope to get back to full production levels before Fall, but we can’t promise anything yet. Our decisions will be based on the best advice from government and health officials”.

In summary

Handling a crisis is a tricky task for any organization.

And while how and when a crisis emerges can be unpredictable, you can control how you communicate your response..

Building a targeted FAQ page is a central part of effective crisis communication. You’ll be helping people get the information in a way that’ll maintain, and possibly even boost their trust in your organization.

And that’s a win, even when everything else seems to be going against you.

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