Every organization is scrambling to get their messages out about the novel coronavirus, or covid-19. However, many emails going out are unnecessary and not focused enough on their audience. Now, more than ever, you need to send out engaging, high-quality and appropriately-timed updates.
Here’s my take on some of the emails I’ve received about the covid-19 pandemic. Some inform my activities and perceptions and some are just white noise. A few examples:
- Relevant: Messages from places I go regularly, informing me that they’ve closed, or what they’re doing to keep me safe. My local Y closed and Goodwill is expanding their cleaning efforts and staying open (for now).
- Less relevant: Places I have absolutely no physical contact with whatsoever, who are not altering their services, but are working remotely.
Here’s the deal. Companies letting people work from home is a pretty low bar these days, even for leaders who never allowed it before. It’s kind of like washing your hands now, just expected. Sure, tell the world, but if you don’t have foot traffic, don’t waste space in everyone’s inbox. Put a note on your website and social channels and keep moving forward.
I think the reason there are so many “who cares?” emails going around, is that the eyes of the world are on coronavirus. Silence seems wrong (which is a good first instinct, by the way). So, people send out an email, even if there isn’t much to say. But dig beneath the surface and get to the heart of the matter and you’ll realize what needs to be said.
Everyone has people who have been impacted by this pandemic. That means everyone needs a plan. What makes this particular situation so challenging is people are learning the new reality for each day and crafting updates in real time. It’s a lot. But it’s time to start planning ahead and making a systematic response plan. One that includes your internal people.
Coronavirus is scary, which means people are craving leadership from you. You’re going to need to create and deliver a lot of content, so make sure you know what you need to say.
Don’t let the pressure of being in an unprecedented situation keep you from thinking this through. There’s no playbook for this pandemic, because frankly, there’s a fine line between confident and oblivious. It’s takes the right combination of addressing the situation and conducting business as usual to put people at ease. Too much communication can be just as harmful as not enough. The way you navigate these waters is by knowing your audience and listening.
Here are some questions, tips and ideas that will help you navigate your communication efforts regarding the covid-19 pandemic.
Stay informed about this pandemic.
What’s appropriate one week will look outdated in a week or even a few days. You need to keep up with the headlines, government responses, business impacts and general anxieties. If your industry makes headlines, like when Boston shut down construction sites for 2 weeks, know people are watching. If you work in construction, everyone will have questions, whether or not you anticipate that happening in your area.
Focus on what matters to your audience.
Ask yourself two key questions: Whose trust do we have? What do they need from us right now? With the effects of Coronavirus growing constantly, it would be easy to say everything all at once. But that isn’t how people absorb information and it certainly will not help them believe what you say. Focus on the people who matter to you and what they need. If you’ve thought of an issue or a scary “what if?” question, your clients have, too.
Include your team in the strategy.
Even if employees are not leading or contributing to messaging, they want to know that you’re paying attention and you have a plan. You could be doing a lot of excellent work reassuring clients behind the scenes, but if your whole staff doesn’t see it, they might assume it’s not happening. They might even start to take control and send out messages on their own, thinking no one has it covered.
Accept covid-19 fears and address them meaningfully.
Do you have experience facing the unknown? Has your company overcome unprecedented challenges before? Now is a good time for those stories. Does your company have any differentiators, advantages or secret weapons? Talk about them optimistically, but also objectively. If you use any quantitative metrics to forecast revenue, talk about them so people know where you’re getting your information.
Use Google Analytics to learn what people want to know.
I’ve noticed that a lot of digital companies were fast to put up statements on their home page. It’s a lot harder for companies that rely on people to physically show up to do the work. I understand why those companies have been slower to post statements, because frankly, it’s easy to practice social distancing if no one has to be on site. Not every business can do that.
At some point though, people will expect it. Make sure your search data is being captured on Google Analytics and watch for people searching for terms related to coronavirus. Even if spelled wrong, you can see how many people are looking for what you have to say.
Think ahead and be prepared with statements on different covid circumstances.
We’re aging in dog years right now. You can deliver content day by day if that’s what makes sense, but don’t plan day by day. Eventually, you’ll need to know what’s coming and the stress of crafting messages on a moment’s notice will take its toll.
Respect the limitations of email.
I can’t stress this enough. When emotions are high, reading comprehension drops. Email is fine for some things, but as we learn what the covid economy will be, you’ll to consider additional avenues, such as:
Town halls give people a sense of community, even when conducted virtually. It shows you care and lets you get the pulse on how people are feeling. Some people may be more concerned about the spread of coronavirus, while other people will be more focused on job security.
Also known as “Ask Me Anythings,” these chats allow people to get access to leadership. Remember that if one employee has a question, others probably do too. Not everyone will feel comfortable speaking up or asking a question, so this democratizes information.
Videos are phenomenal tools for earning confidence. Videos also force people to be engaging in concise, when they may feel entitled to write a 21-page email.
I wish coronavirus would be something we only had to deal with for a few weeks. Deep in my bones, I wish that. But the fact is no one knows when covid will peak and what will happen when life gets back to normal. The uncertainty of coronavirus is taking its toll on customers and workforces. That means leaders need to carve out more time in their increasingly busy schedules and create a plan to build confidence.
If you want help planning your covid messaging, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.