The recent riots in the UK illustrate why companies should carefully co-ordinate their communications across all of their electronic channels during a crisis. This approach ensures that they reach customers with timely and consistent messages that keep them informed with the latest news.

That’s the word from John Ginsberg, product and marketing director at Ensight. He says that that if authorities in the UK had used a multichannel approach encompassing SMS, the Web, social media and email during the riots, they could have quickly blanketed the city with news and information for the people affected by the unrest.

Companies could learn much from where the UK authorities went wrong. Ginsberg says that with multiple channels at their disposal – including social media, the corporate Web site, email and text messaging – companies should strive to communicate with their markets using that market’s preferred  channels.

Says Ginsberg: “The multichannel approach could have allowed British emergency services to react quickly to maximise reach and exposure. Perhaps rather than trying to shut down social media, they could have used it to engage with the rioters and discourage unrest through a channel that they use every day.

“And other channels such as SMS could have helped to keep those less active on social networks up-to-date with the latest developments. There would be a very good chance of reaching most people with vital information very quickly after it was sent out to the public.”

In reality, many organisations are slow to leverage social media in a crisis and fear its impact on their brands. The reflex action from the British authorities to threaten to shut down social media channels is not that different from companies who try to ignore them in the hope that they will just go away.

But law enforcers found invaluable intelligence between the social networking chit-chat. The same will apply to companies trying to manage a stream of social network conversations about their brands in a crisis, says Ginsberg.

Like the UK authorities, many companies manage their communications in a fragmented manner, which means that they may send out inconsistent messages across the channels that they use during a crisis.

Ginsberg suggests that companies centralise the coordination of their communications to ensure that messages are sent out across all touchpoints at the same time and that all of these messages are consistent with each other and approved by the right executives.

The benefits of getting it right can be significant. Rather than communicating through journalists, companies can now communicate directly with their customers, notes Ginsberg. In addition, they can use electronic channels to keep customers abreast of the latest developments and take pressure off their call centres and physical stores during a crisis.

Ginsberg says that another lesson from the riots is that companies should plan communications strategies for crisis situations before they encounter an emergency.

Companies should set out clear processes that their communications teams must follow during a crisis, underpinned by automated systems that streamline communications. With a centralised approach to managing communications, organisations will be able to seamlessly take control of communication in a way that leaves customers feeling valued, comforted and informed, he concludes.