Communicating During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis

March 18, 2020

We’re all navigating unchartered waters with the COVID-19 crisis. As communities manage school and business closures, work from home mandates, and worry about an economic recession, companies are grappling with how to communicate with their customers, prospects, employees and the community at large. As with any crisis, it’s imperative for organizations to communicate clearly, honestly and consistently. 

Below are some communications strategies Clearpoint Agency is recommending to its clients:

  • Communicate clearly (and often)
    • Ensure your customers know you have a preparedness plan. Outline clearly how you are mitigating any possibility of disruption. If there will be an impact on customers, clearly state when and how your customers will be affected, for how long (if possible), and how they can communicate with your team.
    • Provide regular updates on company actions, and quickly respond to key questions you are getting from customers via email and social media; provide the company’s focus, outline key initiatives, project statuses, policies with travel, and so on.
    • Make sure your crisis communications plan is updated. If you don’t have one, consult with a public relations firm for short-term advice and creation of a custom crisis communications plan for your organization.
  • Calm fears
    • Three-quarters of employees said they want their bosses to inform them of the company’s contingency plans should someone in the company test positive for coronavirus, according to a Global Strategy Group study. About 67% of employees said they worry about the economic impact, while 50% indicated that they worry about the possibility of someone they know becoming infected.
    • Employees are craving leadership to help them to stay focused and on course. Communicate often to employees through company-wide emails or conference calls. With work from home mandates in place at many companies, employees need to be consistently reassured.
    • Determine, with leaders in your organization, what information to share. Maintaining an open demeanor and being truthful will help to improve trust.
    • Customers want to know that their needs are still considered, and how they can expect things to change in interactions with the company. Make sure to share whatever plans you can.
    • Regardless of the communications platforms you use – email, phone calls, video conferencing, social media, webinars – make sure the messaging is consistent and that your entire team speaks with the same voice and uses the same facts.
  • Show empathy
    • Is language in your social media posts, and on your website, appropriate given the current circumstances?
    • Content from only a few weeks ago may be perceived differently today. Look at your social media posts, newsletter and website through a new lens to ensure you are not coming off as insensitive or too light.
    • A lot of people are hurting in the country right now.  It’s difficult to understand the specific challenges individuals might be dealing with.  Be sure you are showing empathy and concern in all communications.
  • Convey leadership
    • Ensure any information and facts you use come from trusted and knowledgeable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO). Avoid rumors and conveying something you read in an article without concrete sources.
    • Communicate with employees on policies surrounding working remotely, staying in contact virtually, and how they should be communicating with customers.
    • Are there opportunities for you to address an emerging need and changing markets? Or to focus on training or a new aspect of business you had previously not been able to address? How might you pivot during the crisis?
    • Is there a way your organization can help others? For example, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are offering faster internet at temporarily discounted prices. Can your company offer discounts, free counsel, or make a donation to vulnerable populations within your community?
  • More key tips
    • In situations such as these, it’s best to over communicate versus not communicating enough. People crave information and want to know you are thinking of their best interests.
    • Consider posting information on your website and on social media so people can easily find it and regularly be updated. Information is changing by the hour during the coronavirus crisis so a dedicated coronavirus web page with updates and/or an internal page for your employees could go a long way.
    • Consider a media training for key spokespeople at this time in case they might be called to make announcements as news develops.
    • Use this as an opportunity to show you value employees and their well-being.  If your crew is working from home, have virtual huddles or all-hands conference calls to check in and allow people to talk about their experiences and feel connected. If you sense unease, you can send out an email to all to reassure them after the fact.
    • Plan how you’ll respond if an employee or their family member(s) becomes ill.

A good rule of thumb in these situations is to communicate what you would want to hear during a crisis.  Ensure your organization is communicating openly, honestly and with the same voice.  If you do this correctly, your brand will be lauded for its efforts. If you don’t, your organization could risk losing brand leadership to those who do it right.

Crises eventually and thankfully come to an end, and it’s the companies that are visible, confident, honest, and seek to improve processes despite common challenges that tend to maintain their leadership status.