Communicating in the Time of Coronavirus – Part II
The COVID-19 health crisis is changing fast. In Part I of this series, we covered several initial observations and best practices for communicating in the time of coronavirus based on our interactions with media and clients. As the latest pandemic news and updates come out daily, our clients continue to ask for guidance and how best to move through this new, fluid reality we’re all facing.
Today, I’d like to quickly share some of the insights from those conversations.
1. KEEP COMMUNICATIONS NIMBLE
To limit the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the federal government and individual states are announcing policy updates on a daily basis. These guidelines have a ripple effect on business and everyday life as we know it, so we are advising clients to continuously revisit marketing and communications decisions in real time over the next 8-12 weeks at least.
Right now, we don’t know how things will continue to unfold. Will people be so inundated by COVID-19 related news in three or four weeks that they’re begging for something fresh? Or will the public’s appetite for the latest coronavirus news continue to overwhelm everything else?
At this point the latter is more likely, but it’s important to continuously gauge the situation over the coming weeks. While “stay nimble” is sage advice at any time, at this point we’re advising clients to be prepared to adjust every decision on a dime (the new normal while communicating in the time of coronavirus).
2. UNDERSTAND CUSTOMERS’ NEW REALITY
It’s always important to understand your audience. But amid this ongoing heath crisis, the challenges they face have likely changed dramatically. Many of our clients are actively talking with friendly customers and prospects to gain deep insight into their problems. Not surprisingly, the responses vary widely.
Taking customers of just one tech client as an example: some organizations are scrambling to ensure connectivity for their workforce, others are thinking more broadly about shifting and optimizing workloads; some are looking at how to “freeze” or “lock” the network in its current state, while others are revisiting their entire annual IT plans. The point is, customers and prospects are looking for useful information that can help determine their respective responses to the crisis. Our clients are actively in the information-gathering stage so they can quickly pivot and react.
3. DON’T OVERCORRECT
Although coronavirus coverage continues to dominate media cycles, if your news, thought leadership or other story isn’t directly related to the current crisis you should think twice before framing it as though it were (or even referencing the crisis at all). While that angle is relevant today, it won’t always be – and pieces that loosely reference the current situation will not age well.
For example, many publications welcome guest bylines from experts, and they’re still looking for perspectives on a variety of topics; particularly ones that have a longer shelf life. In fact, Forbes is actively encouraging its contributors to steer clear of COVID-19 thought leadership so that guest articles remain pertinent long after current events have run their course.
4. MAKE YOUR CONTENT EDUCATIONAL AND ACTIONABLE
Even in the best of circumstances, you should strive to create content that provides readers with something they can use. That’s especially true in times of crisis or while communicating in the time of coronavirus. People under duress are naturally inclined to shorten their time horizons and focus on proximate issues and outcomes (witness the inclination to hoard).
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a strong tilt in appetite – from both media and clients– toward practical materials such as “how to” guides and/or best practices that can be immediately implemented today, or quickly as the economy gets back on track. Organizations developing contributed articles, webinars, ebooks and other marketing content should take heed and focus on simple, actionable insights.
Moreover, in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that has people focused on getting through the next few weeks or months, content that is longer-range or “visionary” is likely to be less appealing. If you have a choice between content that’s short-term actionable vs. long-term visionary, choose the short-term framing for now.
5. HELP WHERE YOU CAN
Organizations of all sizes are doing the best they can to support “normal” business operations during this pandemic, and many are going beyond that with efforts to help healthcare organizations, patients and their families, employees and others in need. From big brands like Starbucks offering free coffee to healthcare professionals, to a Seattle-area furniture factory temporarily shifting production to make facemasks for an area hospital, to celebrity chefs banding together to provide food for out-of-work restaurant workers, there are many companies and groups trying to do their part to make the crisis more bearable for those most directly impacted.
If your organization is doing something similar (even on a small scale), it doesn’t hurt to let the world know (and you may need to in order to help those in need benefit from what you’re doing). Our recommendation: use social media to spread the word (see below) and frame it as “here’s what we’re doing, and how you can help.” People are very open to the notion that we’re all in this together, and that individuals and companies are trying to do their part.
But a word of caution: do not let it appear that you’re looking for recognition or a pat on the back (for instance, by putting out a press release or pitching the media); appearing self-serving will sacrifice any goodwill.
6. EXPLORE NEW VIRTUAL MARKETING TACTICS
Unsurprisingly, we’re continuing to see major industry conferences and events across the world canceled or delayed, and even routine sales meetings moving to video conference. Organizations with field marketing teams that rely heavily on these in-person activities with customers, prospects and partners are looking for the best way to replace physical touch points. Some companies are shifting their strategy to a virtual event approach by hosting significantly more webinars and presentations to compensate. Take a page from Apple, which – rather than cancel an upcoming event – announced that its Worldwide Developer Conference was kicking off in June with an all-new online format(!)
Similarly, organizations are evaluating their arsenal of materials that can be easily shared and reviewed in virtual meetings, how to best tackle virtual demos, etc. While many of our clients are still formulating larger sustained plans, organizations are absolutely focused on generating larger pipelines of easily consumable digital content.
7. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR TONE AND FOCUS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media platforms have long been a powerful venue for information sharing, and this has been dramatically amplified by the current health crisis. It’s important for brands to continue communicating with their audiences via social channels, as constructively and helpfully as possible. The worst thing companies can do is post content that in any way could be interpreted as an attempt to take advantage of – or benefit from – coronavirus.
We’re urging clients to reassess all social content through the lens of our new reality and advise that anything COVID-related should be directly helpful, educational or supportive. We’re all in this together and social audiences appreciate brands that recognize this (witness McDonald’s, Volkswagen and others that have adjusted their logos to emphasize the importance of social distancing).
It’s also okay to switch things up and publish “moment of zen” type posts, cute puppies and other appropriate content that’ll help people relax or smile (thanks John Krasinski for SGN). I think we can all agree that a little empathy and levity goes a long way these days. Just be careful when it comes to “funny posts” – humor is subjective and if there’s any question a joke or meme might be off-color, chances are it is.
These are unprecedented times on many levels. I hope you find these insights helpful as we all search for the best way to navigate through this crisis. If you have any additional suggestions about communicating in the time of coronavirus, or any questions at all, please let us know! And, stay tuned for more recommendations and best practices from Voxus in the coming weeks.