The recent COVID-19 crisis has put a spotlight on corporate communications and elevated their importance in a way not seen in recent memory. By this point, most organizations have likely sent out at least one, if not several, emails on COVID-19 to both internal and external audiences.
That’s a good move. According to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report on COVID-19, employer communications were cited as “the most credible source of information about the coronavirus.” That ranks, by the way, higher than “government and media” and “business in general and NGOs.”
Now that your initial crisis outreach has been sent, you may be taking a deep breath and asking, “What’s next?”
Crisis communications pre-planning can be helpful for initial messaging, but as the situation evolves you’ll likely run out of prepared content. With several more weeks of social distancing or home quarantine expected, how can companies continue to communicate with internal and external audiences effectively?
Here are four factors to consider:
Since employer communications are considered the most trustworthy, it’s doubly important to make sure your sources are credible. News from respected, verified media outlets (such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and others) and updates or guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization are just a few that can be used for updates.
The fine line between prudence and speed is one communications professionals must walk during times of crisis like this. Internal announcements should be verified via the appropriate channels, whether that’s your CEO or another executive. There may be pressure on you or your team to get communications out quickly, but getting an approved message out a little slower beats speedily sending out an inconsistent, inaccurate or confusing message.
Be sure there’s consistency in both the information being shared across your organization and in the manner or tone you use to deliver it.
Make sure you nail down who needs to be kept up-to-date on outgoing messaging and you set up some kind of approval system to make sure there’s an acceptable level of alignment. Establishing a daily touchpoint with this group could be a good path forward to get a plan in place for the next several weeks.
Beyond the involvement of those already responsible for corporate communications, there may be a need to train managers or supervisors within your organization on how to respond to questions from employees so messaging stays consistent.
Another consideration is to create a COVID-19 landing page on your website. This can contain the latest updates and information for your organization and serve as a resource for employees or customers and partners.
This is no time to be squeamish about frequent communications. According to the previously cited Edelman study, employees are hungry for information from employers, including how the virus is affecting the organization’s ability to operate, as well as “advice on travel and what can be done to stop the spread of the virus.” That means what you’re sharing doesn’t have to be limited to your organization; in fact, broader information will likely be appreciated.
Consider using different channels to communicate as well. The Edelman study found employees differed in how they wanted to receive communications: 48% preferred email or newsletter; 33% wanted posts on the company’s website; and 23% favored phone or video conferences.
Corporate culture shouldn’t go out the window in a crisis. Are you a happy hour kind of office? Do you have regular lunch and learns? Communications teams, in partnership with HR and other departments, should provide resources and guidance for activities such as virtual meetings, lunches and happy hours. Setting meeting leaders up for success by sharing best practices in this area can make a huge difference in their effectiveness.
This situation opens up opportunities for employees to get to know each other better and form closer bonds. Case in point: I had no idea a woman I work with has a large dog — who also has a habit of snoring loudly in the armchair next to her desk at home. After a good laugh about the background noise, the colleague shared a photo of her work-from-home companion. This example is just one of countless across the country. Getting to know more about the lives of your bosses and colleagues by being (virtually) invited into their homes can bring teams closer together — a silver lining in an otherwise challenging environment.
As we navigate this surreal situation, I hope the points above provide some guidance on how to stay on top of COVID-19 corporate communications. More than ever before, they are critical.
If you need help drafting messages, creating a communications plan or coming up with ways to keep your company culture strong during this time, please reach out to our team at [email protected] and we’ll be in touch. We’re in this together.