In a perfect world, things go right. Every day is sunny, sales are always made and technology never crashes. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and things often go wrong and out of our control. There’s a wide range of emergencies that can present themselves during the course of day for any business, some worse than others, and all of them can leave an immense impact if they aren’t handled appropriately. While we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it, and do our best to reduce the impact of unfavorable situations for our target audience and our company’s overall success.
For any business, designing emergency alerts that are intended for both foreseen and unforeseen potential crisis situations are important to an effective communications plan. Considering the needs of your audience, including employees and customers, and what the best approach to reach them coherently in the event of an unlikely and unfortunate event is an important aspect of constructing an efficient alert.
Every business needs emergency alerts
Often, businesses only plan for expected day-to-day operations. While planning for the unexpected may be difficult and feel like a poor use of time and money, it is just as important as planning for the expected, since the results of an emergency can be far more detrimental to a business’ bottom line. When a disruptive event arises, communicating with your impacted audience is vital. Lack of communication results in chaos, lasting negative opinions, loss of sales, and, in some instances, mental or physical damage to your customers.
If you aren’t effectively communicating to your audience in the state of an emergency, there are going to be repercussions outside of the emergency alone. When your audience is looking for more information about something related to your business, they’re going to visit your website as their first source of information to get answers. To highlight this concept, consider this example: If you have a store that is closed due to a snowstorm, communicating to people that you will not be open is necessary.
Perhaps you closed your store early, but failed to communicate to your audience at all, or maybe you sent an alert that only reached a few people due how you distributed it. If your customers show up at your store, only to see that you are closed during ordinary hours, they likely will not be pleased, and won’t be visiting your store again.
If you have an ecommerce shop, and your deliveries are impacted by weather, make sure that you reach your impacted customers to notify them. In situations where serious danger is more imminent, like inclement weather or criminal activity, emergency alerts are even more important. You can’t keep your audience in the dark when something serious is going on—especially if that puts them in danger. If you’re able to prevent a bad situation from worsening by disseminating emergency alerts on your website, you should. Preparedness and transparency are key for any business.
Social media is often the first place that people turn to voice their opinions on a negative experience, and your reputation could become damaged if people begin to discuss your failure to inform your customers of the situation at hand on review sites and social media channels. In general, people remember the bad and often forget the good, and recovery from negative publicity is a daunting task. Communicating with your audience is always important—but even more so during an unfavorable situation.
Things to consider when designing emergency alerts
When you’re developing emergency alerts for your business, think about how you can change the state of your website to connect with users when a crisis situation arises. As you begin the development process, look at a few key businesses within your business’ vertical, and see how they have reacted to emergencies in the past as a component of your research. Examine what seemed to work, and what didn’t, and how you can alter the examples you’ve identified to meet the needs of your business. This will provide a framework for what executions will be best for your business. For example, if you work in government or a similar field, take a look at how businesses impacted by the governmental shutdown in 2013 communicated with their stakeholders throughout the entire process. If you’re a university, look to other reputable colleges to see how they react during emergency situations to ensure the safety of their students.
When it comes to the design of your alerts, think about how they will appear on your website. You don’t want them mistaken for a banner advertisement or any other visual element that could easily be overlooked by users when skimming your website. The colors should be robust and stand out in comparison to what is the typical color scheme of your website. That being said, you don’t want a look that is completely different from your typical branding—it should be a fit to your brand identity, while also standing out. Determine the best way to reach your audience, whether it is via text or e-mail, but always make sure it is on your website. The homepage of your site should be the central home for your alerts, and if it makes sense to send these notifications through other platforms, do so.
When it’s time to disseminate your emergency alerts onto your website, placement is important. Your alerts can’t be hidden within the content, or separate from your website. By placing your alerts towards the top of the page, not only will it be more visible to the eye, but it is likely to be the first thing to load on your page. While a few seconds may be seemingly trivial, in the event of a severe emergency, an alert loading quickly could play a major role in safety. Emergency alerts are designed to reach people because they are providing important, must-know information—you need to execute on this importance.
When you’re determining what content to include in your alerts, focus on simplicity— making it easy to read and understand is paramount for any successful emergency alert. You don’t want to overwhelm users with too much information in the alert itself, but you also want to provide enough information so that they are aware of the situation and what their next step should be. Offering a “click here for more information” button on the alert that takes users to a page with more details is an efficient way to provide full disclosure without bombarding users with too much information at first glance.
Some emergency alert systems have various versions that are intended for different classes or levels of situations. Whether it be varying color scheme for each type of emergency or even as the emergency evolves from it first occurring to it being solved, using these lets users know they are staying updated. Your first alert could signal your audience of the situation at hand as it is happening, providing them with instructions on actions to take. The second alert would be an update providing more information about the situation, with resolution information. The third set of alerts would be used once the situation is entirely resolved. With each alert, you would provide users with a link to a separate page that would give them more information should they need it. Regardless of where your users are receiving the notification, they should be brought to the same place when they are looking for the updated set of details.
It’s impossible to reach every user if you’re developing your alerts for visibility on one type of device. Your alerts need to be responsive and easy to view on various platforms—phones, tablets, large building displays, desktops. Being scalable to every device imaginable is the only way to ensure that you are reaching almost every person impacted. Think about your audience and how they typically access information you distribute. It should be readable on all of those platforms, so that everyone is able to view the alerts you are disseminating. If you’re only reaching one group of users on the same device, you’re leaving a large portion of your audience out of the know.
Communication is key
Every business has varying foreseen and unforeseen situations to deal with. Emergencies occur everywhere, and being prepared for them is the best way you can combat the potential damage you may incur. By implementing emergency alerts into your business, you’re ensuring that you are keeping your customers informed, and communicating with them to the best of your ability in any given situation.