Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis
March 18th, 2020… The rapidly spreading coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) led to countless local and national events to be cancelled. Major events such as the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, to MLB spring training, and NBA March Madness came to a stand-still and halted the community spirit they engender. Churches, universities, libraries, and school districts rapidly followed suit. Suddenly, virtual classrooms were hurriedly created, parents had to become homeschool teachers, and homes became offices.
Even today, there continues to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding coronavirus. Will what happened in Italy happen in the United States? How long will this pandemic last? How will it impact my business?
When there’s uncertainty, people either make rash decisions (AKA taking more than their fair share of toilet paper and water) or don’t make any decisions at all.
Take a deep breath…. In… Out…
Let’s talk through one of the most important decisions your business should be making right now: communicating through the coronavirus crisis to your community about your company’s plans.
2 Camps for Coronavirus Business Communications
There are 2 camps for coronavirus business communications: those which require immediate communications with customers or vendors (urgent) and those whose business has not been impacted dramatically (non-urgent). It’s critical that you figure out which camp your business is in.
There are 2 audiences for business communications, audiences that:
- Urgently need information (i.e. staff, customers and vendors or suppliers)
- Can wait or don’t need explicit communications about what you’re doing
You should communicate with both audiences, but your immediate priority audience should be staff, customers, and vendors/suppliers. This is especially important regarding the highly volatile and troubling COVID-19 pandemic.
Companies That Require Urgent Communication
If your business primarily depends on customers and workers being physically present in your place of work, it is essential that you communicate as soon as possible with your customers, employees, and vendors about your plan regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some examples of companies that require urgent communications with employees, vendors, and customers:
- Restaurants / Cafes / Coffee Shops / Bars
- Fitness Centers / Gyms
- Businesses whose supply chain has been disrupted (how many of your goods or components are sourced from China?)
- Retail stores
- Event planning companies
- Face-to-face contact
Companies That Do Not Require Urgent Communication
Businesses and people that you work with, but don’t necessarily have to be in the same room or building with them to conduct your business, should be considered for non-urgent communications. Why? Because they only need to be kept informed about what and how your business is operating under current conditions as it may affect how you continue to work together.
For example, if your key personnel are now working from home, they may need to offer their cell phone number or clients or set up call forwarding to their cell phone.
That’s why you won’t see an email about how FocusCopy is reacting to the coronavirus pandemic. Our clients already know that we can do everything remotely and that we are able to deliver our services to them – business as usual.
Here are some examples of companies that you may consider for non-urgent communications:
- Companies that already work remotely
- Coaching or consulting businesses
Identifying What Coronavirus Means For Your Business
To communicate effectively with the community regarding your company’s plans, you should first identify what the current state of affairs means for your business.
Create a Business Communications Plan Before You Need It
Most days, I check the weather before I leave the house so I know whether to pack an umbrella – I don’t want to get caught in the rain.
If the coronavirus had your company blind-sided, let’s talk about ways you can regularly tune into the forecast of your business network to anticipate major events and be prepared for an unexpected storm.
Pay attention to your employees, vendors, customers, and customer’s customers.
One of my mentors once told me to ask every business I come in contact with, “How’s business?”. Whether it is before the close of a meeting or at the end of a quick phone call, it’s one of the best pieces of advice that he ever gave me.
Asking this one simple question will give you a regular update on the economic climate and keep you tuned in to challenges that might soon rise to the surface. When issues arise in other businesses, vendors, customers, or employees, you can anticipate the impact this might have on your business and start preparing your communication plan, well in advance.
Always Defer to Reliable Sources For Guidance
It’s so easy to get caught up in pseudo-reliable sources or believe compelling news trends that pick up in your social media feeds. However, before you put out any business communications, defer to the legitimate reliable sources of information – the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
While we could go into everything you need to think about when it comes to COVID-19, we’ll defer to resources that the CDC has put together for businesses.
Tips for Communicating Through the Coronavirus Crisis
Here are tips for communicating through the coronavirus crisis.
Keep Messaging Clear & Concise
When public health officials release new information, they aim to be consistent, accurate, clear, and concise. You should do the same thing. The last thing that you want to have happen is have a wave of customers responding with clarifying questions.
If there is any vital information that your audience needs to hear, don’t withhold it. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, then state it.
Many businesses in the service industry (restaurants, cafes, bars, etc.) have created a separate COVID-19 response page on their websites to explain how they are helping to maintain cleanliness and how they are going to serve their customers despite ever-changing demands from public health officials.
If your normal services need to be adjusted to protect your customer and your staff, consider creating a COVID-19 web page of your own, or devoting a post on your social media page explaining the change(s).
There is a balance between being serious (not joking) and remaining positive. It’s a fine line to dance, but we always err on the side of caution especially with something as serious as a pandemic. Acknowledge the challenges of the situation, and offer ways that your business can provide some solace or positive distraction.
One of our clients forwarded us this great email – full of empathy, positivity, and opportunity. It acknowledges the situation (lack of college guidance while schools are closed) and a perfect solution to make their readers not waste this extra long Spring Break.
Leave Email Blasts for Essential Communications
Leave the email blasts for essential communications. Here are some companies that sent really well put-together emails about their response to COVID-19.
Postmate has direct contact with their consumers; therefore, it makes total sense to send out an email to their customers. One thing that we really like about this email is they include everyone – customers, fleet (their “employees”), and vendor (restaurants) in one simple to read email. It’s clear and concise. Bullets are your best friend here!
Unfortunately, my inbox has been flooded with non-essential emails. These messages aren’t communicating useful information about changes in a company’s normal procedures or access to their services. Instead, they are sending out messages solely because they have hopped onto the bandwagon and think that they need to address the world news via an email blast.
To protect the following perpetrators, we haven’t included any examples. But I can almost guarantee that you have some in your inbox. Read through a few of them, and while reading these, ask yourself… Did these communicate anything valuable?
Remember, if your customers already interface with you digitally or have little in-person interactions with you, do them a big favor and spare their inbox by communicating with them using other mediums instead. Your community will respect your ability to be thoughtful and intentional about your communication.
Reinforce Safety & Priorities
While you’re communicating through the coronavirus crisis, it’s important that your reinforce safety and state your priorities. Your customers need to hear that you’re taking care of everything.
Southwest Airlines put together a great email outlining the biggest concern in the airline industry right now – cleanliness. They expressed that while they already have an extensive cleaning process, they’ve upped their game to protect their customers.
Letting your customers and employees know what your company is doing to ensure their health and safety will put the community at ease, and help business run as close to normal under unusual circumstances.
Get On It Early
It’s no shocker that things change on a daily if not weekly basis. In the span of just 2 days, Harris County shut down all bars and clubs and closed all restaurant dining rooms. In the food and beverage industry, that’s a rapid and radical change! Successful transitions into these changes relies on a company’s ability to adjust early.
When first hearing news about health and economic troubles in other parts of the world or even local companies outside of your industry, it’s only natural to want to keep hope that these misfortunes will not come your way too – that things will not get as bad here. But like the old saying goes: better safe than sorry. It’s better to prepare a plan you may never have to use, than to be forced to react last-minute without one.
Another benefit about planning an early response is that it allows you to create your own narrative rather than allowing the media, the government, or competitors to write your storyline for you.
Support Other Businesses
Bottom line… Every business has been impacted by COVID-19. In times like these, there is power in numbers. We are stronger together. Support other businesses by…
- Engaging with their brands on social media
- Sharing offers from other companies
- Partnering with a company for a joint product/service
- Referring business to those other businesses
Offer Free Value
If you have not been impacted, then I encourage you to offer free value to your followers. Don’t be afraid to give value, even if it was once behind a paywall. Here is a list of free value you can offer your followers, prospects, and customers:
- Free Facebook Group
- Access to normally paid content (see below for an example from Digital Marketer)
- Webinar training
- Instagram/Facebook/LinkedIn LIVE content
- New blogs
- Guides (see below for what Jenna Kutcher put together)
All of these options are social-distancing proof, can be extremely valuable, and help build relationship equity.
For example, DigitalMarketer just offered its DM Lab available for free. This is a subscription that has helped me as I built my career. Again, they’re building relationship equity.
And they didn’t send an email about how they are reacting to COVID-19.
Extend Grace to Your Vendors & Customers
Everyone reacts differently to stress. Some become very quick decision makers. Others lose their cool or shut down. So in all your communications – digital, written, verbal, etc. – extend grace. You don’t know what unexpected challenges others are dealing with, how they react to stress, or how they’ve been treated by others.
Thankfully, this isn’t the first pandemic of our time (last one being the 2009 H1N1 pandemic). For some of us towards the end of the millennial generation or in Generation Z, that memory may be vague. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask more experienced colleagues. This isn’t their first rodeo, so you may learn something that will help you not reinvent the wheel.
Give large amounts of grace. Be quick to forgive. And forgive often.
At the end of the day, your vendors and customers are human beings. I know I say that all the time, but we often forget that we’re working with emotional beings. They have basic needs, just like you.
Ask For Help If You Need It
Finally, ask for help if you need it. Small business communities are stronger than ever. People are willing to fight for you, but they can’t give you what you need if you don’t ask for it. Common things to ask for are:
- Copywriting for websites
- Online shops
- Process flows for product delivery
- Other revenue streams
- Social media management
- Childcare (so you can focus on your business)
Whatever it is, ask for it. If you’re having issues finding a solution, please tag FocusCopy at @FocusCopyLLC to let us know or send an email to info@FocusCopy.com. We made it our mission to be our clients’ strategic partners in all their business communications. So let’s partner together and get through this!
If your company needs help with COVID-19 messaging, we are offering 2 hours of free consultation with me – co-founder and CEO of FocusCopy. With over 4 years of copywriting, digital marketing, and entrepreneurship experience, I want to help you navigate these uncertain times. No gimmicks. No up-sells. Just pure and sincere help from a fellow business owner. Click here to schedule your consultation.