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EPISODE 12: How to Create Compassionate Content During a Crisis, Part II

by Dec 15, 2020Content Strategy, Podcast

Learn how to respond to a crisis through your content. In this episode we will cover:

  • A 3-step framework for responding to a crisis
  • Ways to assess the crisis situation
  • Ways to acknowledge the crisis
  • Ways to act with intention when a crisis happens

Last week, we discussed how to prepare your content strategy to deal with a crisis before it happens. In this episode, we’ll cover what to do when a crisis actually hits.

Content management during a crisis is tough. That’s why we developed a 3-step framework to help you Assess, Acknowledge, and Act with your content during a crisis, allowing you to create compassionate content that resonates with your audience.

Your business {and your audience} will thank you for it.

In today’s episode, we’re continuing our discussion about creating compassionate content during a crisis.

You’ll learn: 

  • Our 3-step framework for responding to a crisis
  • How to access a crisis situation
  • How to acknowledge a crisis when it happens
  • How to act with intention and accountability


If you want to learn more about managing content creation during a crisis, check out our blog post here

You can also download our free guide to Compassionate Content Marketing During A Crisis.



Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates, from the words you use to the stories you tell, so you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here, and hope you enjoy this episode.
Hi and welcome to episode 12 of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. We're continuing a series that we talked about in the last episode, so if you haven't gotten that context, definitely go back and check out the previous episode, how to create compassionate content during your crisis. That was part one. This is part two.

Yes. And in part one, we talked a lot about how to prepare for inevitable crises that emerge in our lives. And today we're going to talk a little bit more about what to do when the crisis actually happens. So the previous episode, we were all talking about what you need to get in place. Now, we're going to pretend that something has happened and talk about how you respond.
And just as a quick recap from what we talked about last time, because this is something that will affect your response, there are a few different types of crises that can happen. They can impact different versions of the groups you hang out with, different levels. You can have a very personal individual crisis that impacts you and maybe your family, or you can have something like COVID, which is a global crisis, and it impacts everyone in some way, shape or form.
And so we're going to be talking really broadly about a three-step framework that you can follow in order to respond to a crisis. And just keeping in mind that that framework may adjust and shift a little bit based on whether you're dealing with something personal, something industry-wide something in your community, your geographic area or something that is global.

Yeah. And one other note on that. We are using the language... Excuse me... Crisis, but it doesn't just refer to a crisis necessarily. It could be just a big shift. So it could be a positive shift, even. Maybe there's some big change happening in your industry, and you want to address it. And maybe you actually feel really good about that change. That can count too. It's just upheaval.
And the danger is, if we don't address it, then that's still sending a message, right? It's probably sending a message of either apathy or a lack of knowledge or a lack of connection. It's going to feel a little out of touch for many of your readers.

Yeah, absolutely. So a quick recap on what we used as a definition of crisis last episode is, that is any event that leads to an unstable situation that affects any of those groups that I just mentioned.
So what we're really looking at, as Marie said, isn't a positive or a negative thing. It's an instability that happens, and that can happen in positive or negative situations. Something as simple as a move can lead to a lot of upheaval as Marie well knows.

Oh boy. Yep. Also a house renovation. If anyone hears the sound of a circular saw, that's coming from my end.

Yes. So we're going to talk about three different steps for responding to a crisis. They're easy to remember. They all start with the letter A, and we're going to dive right into the very first step, which is to assess the situation.
Last time we talked about how there sometimes are brands, individuals, companies, who respond to a crisis with a knee jerk reaction, and that knee-jerk reaction, because it hasn't been thought through, can lead to a message that they didn't intend, and they may want to, or need to, backtrack on that message.
So we start out by assessing so that we can avoid that knee jerk reaction, and so that we can avoid accidentally creating content that doesn't truly reflect our intentions. And this is important because our content is what is going to communicate our reaction to this crisis. This is why we're talking about crises or instability on a podcast that's mostly about content. Because that's how we're communicating to people, and we don't want to be communicating content that does not reflect our actual intentions.
So this is your invitation, when something happens, to take a step back, take a breath, pause any current content that may detract from the situation. So quick and easy example there is you're running Facebook ads and a global crisis hits. Maybe pause the Facebook ads for a little bit. Even just a day or two to get your bearings on the situation. And give yourself the space to just get some information, figure out how you feel, figure out how your team feels. If you have a team, re-examine your brand's values and then start brainstorming possible actions that you could take.

Yeah. So I think it's helpful here maybe to give an example. There's one that you like to give, Jessi, being on the west coast of the US, which is an earthquake prone area. And poor Jesse has had to live through quite a number of earthquakes ever since moving out to California, but there's always the fear of the big one, right? There's even a podcast about that. So can we maybe give that as example, like what this would actually look like in that situation, Jessi?

Yeah, absolutely. And I challenge you guys at home to go ahead and think of your own hypothetical crisis. Obviously we don't want you to be doom and gloom and thinking, "Oh no, all these terrible things are going to happen." So remember it doesn't have to be negative. It could be something positive.
I'm going to use the earthquake as an example, because I'm not a California native, and so I'm constantly thinking about it. I'm super paranoid about the earthquakes.
So let's say that something did happen that let's say there was an earthquake. First thing, once I make sure I'm safe and that my family is safe and everyone is not in imminent danger, there's still an unstable situation that's been created. Maybe the power has been knocked out. Maybe I'm displaced from my home. There's a lot of different things that might've happened.
So the first thing I want to do is obviously make sure that I'm safe and that the people that I can connect with in the area are safe. The second thing I'm going to do is just pause and assess how this affects my brand and my content and what I'm putting out there. So if I ran a hyper-local business that only served the local community, any content that I had scheduled to go out is probably not going to be received during this time. People have other things on their mind. So I'm going to pause that content. I'm going to make sure that it's not going out.
I'm also going to take time to determine who the crisis is impacting. So in this case, it's a geographically isolated incident. It probably won't be felt in the same way by someone who lives in New York city, as it does for someone who lives in San Francisco. And so that might affect things if I don't run a hyper-local business. So in our current business, we serve people all over the world and the people who we serve who are local to me are going to be feeling the effects of this hypothetical crisis a lot differently than the people who follow us from Australia or from the UK.
And so just being aware of that, and thinking through, "Okay, who is hearing my message? Where are they based out of? What industries do they represent? What locations do they represent, and how is that going to affect their ability to receive content from us?" And then we can look at our brand values. Okay, what in our brand values allows us to have a pathway for moving forward? With something like a natural disaster, like an earthquake, I don't think there are any brand values that are going to be at odds with addressing the fact that a natural disaster has happened, but it's always good to run any content decisions through those brand values. So that's something that we recommend with all content, especially when it's addressing instability.
And then the last thing that you can do when you're assessing the situation is brainstorm possible actions. You're not actually taking action yet. You're thinking through possible actions. And if you are not a solopreneur, if you have other stakeholders, collaborators, people who you work with, especially community members, if it's a local disaster or something like that, reaching out to those people and seeing where you can come into alignment with your message is really, really critical to the next step that you're going to take.

Perfect segue. So thanks for going through that example, Jessi. So if you've assessed the situation, now it's time for step two, our second A. Acknowledge the crisis. So this is where you actually are putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, voice to microphone. Whatever you're doing for your content. This is where you're going to actually acknowledge that this crisis is happening.
So even if, in the example of the big one, maybe it does impact people in San Francisco differently than it impacts people in New York or London. But we have to also remember that we have a global interconnected world, and a lot of people have moved all across the world, have connections and ties all across the world.
And so we can't assume necessarily that just because somebody doesn't live where something's happening, that they're not still affected by it. The other part of this is, even if they aren't somehow personally connected, if they have empathy for that and they care about it, they're still going to want to know and they care about you, and so they're still going to want to hear from you.
So we want to acknowledge this. We don't want to shove it under the rug, pretend it's not happening. That's where we really start to have a message that's very disconnecting. And this also sets the stage for what we're going to be doing later.
So our recommendation is to, especially if it's something that you really feel strongly about, issue a statement from your brand, like, "This is our official stance." Go ahead and put it across all the channels where people usually hear from you, and that way there's consistency of messaging and there's a foundation for the content that's going to be moving forward that is more sensitive to what's actually happening.

Yeah, and I want to go back to what you said a minute ago, Marie, about... Actually earlier in the episode, when you talked about how when you are silent, that can also be perceived as a message. And that's why this step is so important.
And reflecting back on that brand values conversation, it's really important to be making a statement because otherwise people will be assuming your values and assuming where you stand sometimes. And that's not their fault. It's simply natural for us, as humans, to try and fill in the gaps if there's not information provided.
So a really good example of this is when the Black Lives Matter movement was really gaining a lot of new momentum in this past May and June of 2020, there were a lot of brands, a lot of businesses, who did issue a statement across all of their channels, and there were a lot of brands who did not.
And there were consumers who noticed. They noticed both the people who put out statements and the people who didn't put out statements, or the people who took maybe a really long time to put out a statement. And all of those actions or lack of actions created a opportunity for their audience to make a judgment call and say, "Oh, you haven't said anything, so I don't know what you believe." Or, "You did say something, so now I know exactly what you believe, and then I can make an assessment based on that."
And this goes back to one of our brand values, which is that there really is no such thing as an apolitical business. And we all exist in the context of what is happening in the world around us. So yes, an earthquake happens in California. It can affect people all the way over in London.
It is this interconnected world that allows us to start these virtual businesses that reach so many people. And one of the consequences of reaching so many people is that we feel the impacts across the board, which is not a bad thing. It's not a negative consequence, but it is a consequence. And so when it comes to acknowledging what is happening, we need to be really consistent about making sure that our audience knows that we hear and see what they may or may not be going through.

Yeah, for sure. I totally agree with all of that. And I want to just address, I think, a fear a lot of people have around, "What if I do say something?" Like you said, nothing about an earthquake is going to go against anybody's brand values if they're trying to help people donate blood or just help people survive through the day and rescue efforts and things like that. Obviously no one's going to take offense at that.
But there are certain things like... Like it or not, things got pretty fraught in the US and in Canada and other countries that were participating in the Black Lives Matter... It's obviously been a movement... But the intensity that was happening over this past summer.
And so people are like, "Well, what if I really support the Black Lives Matter movement? But if I say something, I may really cause a rift within my list, or my clients may drop me? What do I do if I suddenly get a thousand unsubscribes? Does politics have a place? Do human rights have a place within business messaging? Maybe my business is about selling vacuum cleaners. Do I really need to talk about this? Is this the right forum for it?" Ultimately you're the only person, as the voice of your brand, who can make that decision. But I can tell you from what we found that you actually only continue to attract people who are a better fit for you and your values when you do share your stance publicly. You repel the people... Yes, you do... Who disagree with you. And that is okay.
There are enough people out there who are your people that ultimately it's like, does it even make sense to really work with people, especially if you're like in a service based industry, where you really are working really deeply and intimately with people, does it make sense to have those clients who... There may be a huge disconnect for you with your values?

Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important. And going back to our brand value of, no business is apolitical, no business does exist outside of these happenings... And obviously, through our lens, we would say, yes, every business, even that vacuum cleaner business, has the ability and the responsibility to speak up for things like human rights violations. That is our stance, and that is what we believe as human beings and individuals, but also as business owners. And that is in alignment with our brand values. And it made it really easy when we acknowledged what was happening last summer, when people did speak out and say, "Oh, I don't agree with you." Or why are you talking about this in a business sense? It was very easy for us to say, "I don't think you're a good fit for us. Sorry. We're not going to change your mind clearly, but we're also not going to pander to something that is very opposed to our own belief system and what we see as our responsibility to step forward and speak about." Now-


Sorry, go ahead, Marie.

I just wanted to jump in super quick and say, there's a couple things that I read recently, and I can't where remember exactly I saw them, but two polls that were really interesting. One said that people on the whole, in the US... This may not be true for your country if you live somewhere else... But people in the United States actually trust businesses and business owners more than they trust the government.
So they're actually looking to you as an entrepreneur or as a brand, to have a voice and to take a stance. We could feel however we feel about that statistic, but it does mean that there's an expectation and a responsibility there.
The second thing is something like 60% or 62% I think of Americans really see it as the responsibility of businesses to be politically active and involved. Most people actually are looking for this. They want activism. They want engagement. Businesses are made of human beings and so is government, and so obviously the issue of human rights is made up of human beings. It's all the same thing, right? And so this is an extremely powerful opportunity you have to share your voice.

Yeah. And it really is also an opportunity for you to make sure that you are, as Marie said earlier, working with people who are in alignment with you are attracting people who are in alignment with you. I know it sounds like we're beating this one point in about acknowledging the crisis, but I think it is such an important point on so many different levels.
I remember recently having a conversation with my mom, who... We were talking about this, maybe the last 10 years or so, trend of people sharing everything online and sometimes to an extreme. And she was reciting her experience as a younger person where she lived in a world where you didn't bring religion and politics up anywhere other than the home. Those are the things you don't bring to the dinner table. That old adage.
And I was talking to her about, "Well, yeah, that makes sense, because you weren't in a place where you could instantly connect and share so many different things." Before we had all of these social platforms, for better or worse, we had these little insular bubbles that we lived in that was really hard to get out of.
And so, yes, echo chambers still exist today, but they existed in a different way back then. And I think that with the increase in global businesses and virtual businesses that are touching on so many lives all over the world, we have that increased responsibility to acknowledge what's happening all over the world. So that rant aside...

Soapbox. That's us today.

It's an important topic though. I think it's worthy of a few soapboxes. Okay. I have one more thing. One more aspect to the soapbox.

Do it.

Just to give you guys a personal example, because we've talked about a few things. We've talked about Black Lives Matter, we've talked about this hypothetical earthquake. We could talk about COVID for example, and brick and mortar businesses and how they're supporting mask mandates. And that is... Because somehow this has become a political thing, health and safety... That has become a way of activism and a way of a business showing that you can trust or not trust in them.
But what I was going to mention is as far as bringing in clients who you really feel fit you, and you're able to work with, not just based on their needs, but based on a level of integrity... The example I was going to give is I'm someone who identifies as a part of the LGBT community. I talk about this. Not often, but I do talk about it in our content. I talk about my partner. I talk about things that I've done in the community or ways that I've helped to support the community.
If I didn't talk about that, then people may not know about it, and then I may end up in a situation where I end up serving clients, having clients, who are very much not aligned with who I am as a human being. And then I find myself massively out of integrity. And I find myself in a position where I feel like I can't serve that client while also respecting myself as a human being.
And so when we're talking about upheaval and crises and all of this, a lot of it is really about empathy and compassion for whoever is experiencing the upheaval, but it's also about empathy and compassion for yourself, and making sure that you are in alignment, not just with who you're speaking to and how you're speaking to them, but also with what you're receiving back in return.

Yeah. Really powerful example. Thanks for sharing that, Jessi.
So we should probably move on to the third A, the third step of this process, which is acting intentionally. And this is after we've taken that step back to assess the situation and then be acknowledged, put out that statement. That's only the first step.
This is something that you heard a lot about in June or so. A lot of people were saying, "Okay, that's great, but X... Whatever company... Put out this really great stance about Black Lives Matter, but is it performative? Are they going to follow it up? Are there actually changes happening? Let's see the evidence. Let's make sure this isn't empty." And so it's the same thing for really anything that's happening that you want to address in this way. If you are considering it a crisis, sort of putting it in the bucket of things that are appropriate for what we're talking about here, then it probably really matters to you, or to your audience, or both.
And so that means that it's got to be more than just an empty promise. So we need to take comprehensive action once we've created a plan that truly is aligned with our brand values.
So a few things that you can do here... Track questions, comments, feedback, all of that communication and back and forth that you have with your audience that's relevant to the crisis and to your line of work, so that you can respond to those things, and again, feel like you're very in touch with your audience, as opposed to out of touch with them. Next, take a look at that content schedule that you have. Revise it as needed. You may be able to actually use the content that you had, but maybe just tweak a few words here or there, or maybe you take a step back, maybe make that big, bold CTA button a little less bold if it's something a little somber.
Just use that empathy muscle and tweak as makes sense for you. Create new content as needed, that really does reflect your audience's new needs, the tone that you're trying to strike that compliments your values.
And then ultimately, take those actions that you've promised and use your content to keep yourself accountable. So if I may continue that example you were talking about the LGBT community and how we wanted to make sure that we're honoring our clients and ourselves and our values, Jessi?
So one thing that we did when we made that decision that this is a line that we're not going to cross. We're not going to cause harm to the LGBT community. And that means we also can't serve clients who cause harm to that community.
And so we actually made it a part of our intake form, which is truly a piece of content, if you think about it. It's on our website, it's publicly available, anybody can see it. And it's saying, "These are our values. This is how we stand for diversity and equity and inclusivity. And we need to make sure that you're okay with this in your business, because if we're representing your brand as your copywriters and as your content marketers, then we all need to be in alignment on this. So can you also agree to this value statement? We're not here to judge you if you can't, but we just need to make sure that we can be on the same page on this, and it's one of the pieces that has to fall into place for us to be a good fit for each other."

Yeah, absolutely. And if they can't, then they're not a good client for us and we can part ways. And if they are, then we know right from the get go that we're working with people who we are, at least in that regard, in alignment with.
I think this acting intentionally piece is really important because so often, things happen on a small or large scale, and we'll have that initial statement, we'll have that initial acknowledgement, and then things will fall by the wayside.
And sometimes if it's something that's very brief, like say, you're moving, and that is your upheaval, and you need to acknowledge it, and then you've moved and life goes on and you don't need to continue to acknowledge the fact that you moved six months ago... It doesn't always make sense to have a lot of intentional action behind it, but sometimes it does. Sometimes it makes sense for it to become a fabric of the work that you're doing, either for a brief period of time or permanently.
COVID is a great example of that. There were a lot of businesses who, when COVID hit and shut down a lot of businesses temporarily and then ramped them up in a new way, they needed to pivot, and they needed to think about things in new ways.
And so they followed this process. First everything stopped and they assessed the situation for them and their business, whether that meant closing shop, whether that meant changing the way they did things, whether that meant reaching out to their customers and clients in a new way, there was an assessment period.
Then there was the acknowledgement period where it was like, "Okay, this is happening, and this is how we're responding to it." And then there had to be an act phase after that, because otherwise the businesses were not responding to the new normal, the new reality. And so they needed to act intentionally and follow through on those actions and share them.
And you can see some great examples on this. For example, if you go to the Airbnb website, at the time of this recording, which is in September of 2020... I was just on it last night because I'm pining for a vacation after so many months at home.

Who's not?

I know, and it's so interesting to look at their website because their verbiage has changed to meet the new needs of people, to talk about longer vacations in very clean and safe environments, to talk about the new standards of cleanliness they've created, to talk about taking trips that are closer to home instead of going further. Things that really fit the new reality.

Or those awesome virtual events they're hosting now. Like I got my mother for mother's day... We all joined on a Zoom call with a chef in Mexico City to learn how to make salsa.

That sounds like so much fun.

It was fun and delicious.

And this can apply to a lot of different industries. For example, in the education industry, programs that were run in person suddenly have to be run virtually. And how do you share that with your audience? Through content.
So making sure that you have this intentional content going out, making sure that when you restart those Facebook ads, they're not still talking about the trip that you're really all really excited to take. Making sure that everything really fits in with the new normal, whatever that new normal is, is really important. And that can stretch out for as long as it needs to, based on what sort of situation you're handling.

Exactly. And that's going to be up to you and your judgment.
Okay, so in terms of this episode, I think we're ready to wrap. So we're going to give you two pieces of homework. The first one is a bit of a thought experiment. So we want you to think about a crisis or again, just something that's causing upheaval, maybe just a major shift, that's a hypothetical, a made up situation.
And just quickly run through what you would do. How do you go through these three steps, assess the situation, acknowledge the crisis, and then act with intentionality? And that's really going to help you prepare because you'll have already gone through the motions. With something that's safe, because it's not real.

Yeah, absolutely. And then once you've done that, if you want to dig a little deeper, we do have a free Compassionate Content During a Crisis guide. It takes you through nine different things that you can do when things get a little chaotic. And this was actually created right after COVID hit, so it has a lot of that context in there of what to do when a large scale crisis hits that really impacts industries and the way that you show up with your content. And we'll drop the link to that in the show notes for you to go ahead and download it as a free resource for you.

Exactly. I have a feeling this was probably longer than our usual episodes, but it just felt very important. So thanks for sticking with us through this and hope this is helpful for you in the event that you may need it.
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 

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