Lessons from the front lines of COVID-19

tyler tullis
Michelle Hege
CEO

Apr 8, 2020

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Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI) recently asked Christine and I to share best practices for organizations to use when communicating with their employees, customers and communities during this unprecedented time. If you weren’t able to attend, the webinar was recorded by GSI and can be accessed on their website here.

I wanted to call out a few of the biggest takeaways from our talk, including audience engagement strategies and a handful of organizations who have done a great job rising to the moment so far:

Key Takeaways

1. First of all, recognize your power as a credible messenger. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, respondents surveyed globally indicated that their employers were the most trusted institution by 27% over government and media. 78% of respondents said they expect business to act to protect employees and the local community, and 79% expect business to adapt its operations (encouraging remote working where possible, cancelling non-essential events and business travel bans.)

The weight of this responsibility should not be overlooked by the corporate sector. I have been impressed by the speed to action by employers, in many cases ahead of government requests or public expectation.

Your employees want and expect frequent communication during this time — recognize your responsibility to deliver important information about their health and safety, but also your opportunity to demonstrate your values in the way you adapt to the moment.

2. Anticipate scenarios and prepare messaging. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. What will you do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19? If your workplace is exposed? If further state regulations are put in place? If you encounter staffing shortages or supply chain issues? Some, or all, of these scenarios may come to pass for many businesses. Consider which may be most likely for your organization and prepare general messaging and operational strategy in advance so you’re ready to react and communicate updates quickly.

  • You should also expect and prepare answers to predictable questions from employees, customers, the media and broader community, such as:
  • Is it safe to patron your business/facility?
  • What are you doing to ensure my safety?
  • What are you doing for your employees?
  • What are you doing for the community?
  • How will I experience doing business with you?
  • What is happening with your products/services during this time?
  • Where can I get more information?

3. Keep messages to all audiences up to date through the crisis. Consistency and clarity of message is critical to all your audiences: employees, vendors, customers, media and broader community. (And by the way, that should be the order in which you communicate with your audiences.) Show your respect for employees and customers by keeping them informed about changes to the business that will impact them via email, social media, eNews and — wherever possible — phone or video chat updates so they can hear and see leadership.

It’s never been more important to show empathy for the reality many of your employees and customers face. Companies that are not making this connection appear tone deaf. Your audiences are right to expect a consistent cadence of updates through all your communications channels. Revisit your content strategy to make sure any promotion of your business and products/services meet the appropriate tone of the moment. Consumers want to be helped, not sold to, during this time.

Consider your message over time:

Now — frequently keep audiences up to date with how the business is responding and anticipate potential scenarios that may come your way.

In the coming weeks — develop thought leadership content for your channels about the future of your business, your industry and your community.

In the coming months — as we ease out of social distancing, be ready to launch your “back to business” campaign that expresses gratitude to employees and customers for their support. To be ready for this moment in the summer, you’ll want to invest in preparing those campaigns now.

Take a look at organizations who are succeeding in engaging their audiences during COVID-19 in part two of the blog here.

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What you say. How you respond. It matters.

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