We’re going to go through many stages of dealing with coronavirus in the coming weeks and perhaps months, but one thing business needs to get right is communication around it.
There are still many unknowns, but that shouldn’t prevent anyone from having a plan and what might not yet have made it to the top of the agenda is how and when to communicate those plans. This is almost more important than the content of the strategy itself.
A vacuum is a terrible thing when it comes to information and it will always get filled, usually with rumour, gossip and the resulting discontent if you don’t get a grip.
Today my hairdresser stated as fact that coronavirus is a man-made disease made in a Wuhan lab to distract from 5G & my mum said her Hull neighbours told her it’s US biowarfare. This is what happens when viral conspiracies reach people that the news doesn’t and it’s terrifying.
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) March 8, 2020
Here are the steps we believe organisations should be taking now in order to manage their way through this experience with everyone who’s important to them on-side and playing their part:
Identify your audiences
There will be distinct groups you need to talk to and each will need different messages – staff, customers, suppliers, perhaps also shareholders. Each needs to know where they stand if they are to be sympathetic to your particular challenges or even be part of the solution.
Choose your triggers
What will be the points at which you have to act? Don’t prevaricate. Make any tough choices now about how things will play out if, for example, the schools are closed or transport is restricted. The options might not be palatable, but it’s crucial that you know which points will cause you to enact a certain approach to coronavirus, which then needs to be communicated in a timely way. Certainly, the last thing you want is to find the landscape shifting quickly and you scrabbling to keep up.
Be clear on your messages
Streamline those messages so that you can say very clearly what you are doing or will do. Flexibility of response will have to be factored in depending on how things go, but leave people in no doubt that you will be decisive when choices have to be made.
Pick your communication channels
What’s the best way to reach each group? Should customers be getting information in their orders, or a briefing from an account manager? Are staff best reached by email or a flyer in their pay slip if the timing works (you might very quickly lose the chance to gather them in one place)? What’s your tone on social media? Are you communicating business as usual or preparing people to adapt to some necessary changes? Do you need to make a statement on camera and share it as a video?
Be vigilant for – and actively counter – misinformation
Social media has changed the landscape for communicating in a crisis and the nature of that change keeps evolving. Now it’s not enough to share your factual information, you have to be wary of people spreading rubbish and disinformation as well. It’s like a sport for some and it does harm. Ensure you have access to the main sources of official coronavirus information and share them through your channels so that people know where to turn instead of reading what ‘Sharon on Facebook’ said she heard from her sister’s postman.
This is a very human problem that feeds into and from people’s fears and insecurities. The welfare and co-operation of the people who matter to your organisation is the prime concern. After that we all have a responsibility to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, so have clear communication that counters hysteria and doesn’t allow that vacuum to fill with dangerous fake news.
If you don’t have the expertise or resource in-house to get on top of communications around your Covid-19 response, feel free to drop us a line at Be Bold Media for anything from consultation to creating a plan and putting it into action (contact form below).