Tips for Communicating in a Crisis: Choosing the Right Channel

Tracy Borreson on March 18, 2020

In a crisis, we need to communicate in a timely way; which is where digital channels win. But, we can't forget the WHAT we are trying to communicate and just think about the HOW. 

As an add-on to our last article, I thought it would be relevant to discuss the different communication channels and their pros and cons for crisis communication.

Here are some things to consider when looking at your communication options (email, phone, text)...


One of the primary benefits of email when communicating in a crisis, is the ability to provide long-form information that people can keep as a reference. One of the biggest risks with this though, is turning content that SHOULD be short-form contact into long-form contact. When we get overly explain-y on something that should be simple, we lose our audience.

You should use an email communication if:

  1. There are specific DETAILS that need to be communicated,
  2. Those details need to be easily and repeatably REFERENCED.

Something else to note for email, which you may have experienced recently, is that it is VERY popular as a crisis communication option. In a global crisis, every company you have EVER done business with sends a status email.

It's easy. It's cheap. But that doesn't mean it does the best job of getting your message across. If no one reads your email (because they have 300 from other businesses they think are the same), or they start to read your long-form email but it provides only an update and no detailed content they need to reference, the likelihood of them continuing to open your emails will be low. 

And a low open rate, when we have something important or urgent to communicate, is the exact opposite of what we are hoping to achieve.  


When it comes to text messaging, we're looking at the complete OPPOSITE of long-form. A text should be used when you can communicate an important or urgent update in just a few sentences, while giving people access to additional long-format information via a link. 

The additional benefit, is that the text can be kept, and can be used to future reference as well. 

The challenge with text messaging is that very few companies are still collecting consent for this channel. In the US in particular, it's dangerous to communicate via this channel without prior express written consent (to use the legal vernacular). In layman's terms, if someone hasn't specifically told you that your business can communicate with them via text, even in a crisis, you're walking on legal compliance egg shells. 

So, you should use text communication if:

  1. You have an important or URGENT message,
  2. Your update can be communicated SIMPLY,
  3. You have PERMISSION.

Not sure whether or not you have the right permissions? For a great breakdown on TCPA rules, check out Manatt's Quick Reference Guide.


It's also important not to forget about the phone. Specifically, I'm going to talk about automated phone calls, to keep the conversation to digital channels. 

With all the bad press about robocalls, it might not be in your consideration set. However, there's one hugely important feature of phone calls that can't be met with either email or text: and that's TONE. 

When using voice solutions, you have the ability to add value using tone and context that just isn't possible with text-based communication. As good of a writer as you think you are, a soft and caring tone of voice can convey that message tenfold. 

You should use automated phone calls if:

  1. The situation is STRESSFUL for customers,
  2. You have an IMPORTANT message you need heard.

If you read the Quick Reference Guide linked above, you will have noticed that the rules for consent apply to automated calls as well. To create some clarity, when people provide their phone number to you in the course of business (at least right now), there is an assumed expectation that number may be called. That same expectation does not necessarily exist for the use for sending text messages. This is the generally accepted difference between calls and texts in the current legal environment, but we recommend you review with your internal legal counsel :)

A Tech Partner Can Help

When you're in the midst of a crisis, it might seem like it's too late. Like you are stuck using the channels you already have. 

It's never too late for effective communication. 

The team at SPLICE has implemented custom crisis solutions within as little as 72 hours. Whether it's the annual CAT season, or totally unpredictable situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, we're here to help