Our 7 Top Tips for Comms in A Crisis

What is the right thing to do and say in a situation like this? We’re facing unpredictable times making it difficult to know what to do for the best. Many brands will choose to halt their comms altogether rather than risk getting it wrong. But global pandemonium or not, being silent is a mistake.

Certain factors of communication remain the same no matter the situation – staying true to your values and holding your audience at the centre of your decisions. Throughout this blog, we’ll go through our top tips for communicating during a crisis.

Consumer buying behaviour has shifted  

The changes we’ve experienced have caused a change in behaviour. The current situation is one that none of us have ever lived through. As such, data and machine learning will not get you through alone. Your brand and campaigns need to focus on the human element.

Right now, customers may not be interested in buying the latest must-haves, but that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped browsing altogether. Many will be in the discovery phase, and inspirational content or images tied to your products may be the normality they’re craving. In fact, in a report conducted by Edelman, 60 percent of people have said they are turning more and more to the brands they trust during this time of crisis. VisitScotland have done this well, creating and sharing an uplifting video with a message of hope for when things return to normal.  

Use this opportunity to build relationships and raise awareness around your brand. Don’t go quiet and allow competitors to show up when you’re not. Personalisation has just become even more important to keep users engaged and create a deeper connection. If you’re yet to reach out to your audience and unsure of what to say, that’s ok. If anything, the delay will have allowed you to absorb and better understand the current situation.

Why is communication during a crisis so important?

Communicating during a crisis can be tricky to do well. When people feel anxious, they often spend more time searching for information and answers that will bring them peace of mind. During these times of need, communicating to your audience with clarity, reassurance and speed is what they want. While doing this, it’s even more important to ensure your brand’s messaging is not doing more harm than good.  

Due to the impact of COVID-19, most consumers across the world have been pushed online to complete everyday tasks including communication, social gatherings, purchases and work. As a result, there has been a lot of fake news and misinformation rapidly shared surrounding the outbreak. This is reflected in public panic like shoppers stockpiling as much toilet roll as they can fit in their trollies.  

Every brand will have the responsibility to keep someone informed whether it’s employees, investors or customers. It’s important to talk about how you’re supporting your employees, key workers, suppliers and stakeholders during the crisis. This will favour your audience too with 89 percent of people saying they want to understand exactly how a brand they use is supporting their employees and customers.

It’s important to understand who your stakeholders are and what you need to communicate with them. In some cases, they may want you to provide them with uplifting content and clarity around specific topics, or they may want an update on how you’re responding to the virus. Whatever your industry and responsibility to the wider community, it’s important to communicate in a way that stays true to your brand. To help support you, we’ve pulled together our top tips to manage communication in a crisis.

Your values haven’t changed  

Authenticity requires vulnerability, transparency and integrity. During an unsettling time, 79 percent of UK consumers want brands to show they care, expressing empathy and support for those most effected. As such, the human element of your brand has never been so important to engage with your audience in a real and genuine way. This means the content you’re creating needs to align with your values and always be relevant. You don’t need to be a news source so don’t post for the sake of posting. PR stories and articles shouldn’t be run if they don’t align with what your brand usually does and what your audience usually expects. One impressive piece of content a week is better than frequent communications that add little value.

While it’s important to maintain your brand’s personality and unique stamp, be mindful that your tone of voice and actions in sensitive situations can have a long-term impact. If you usually have a sarcastic or humorous tone of voice, consider whether this should be adjusted. Don’t put your brand reputation on the line, now is the time to be understanding and practice empathetic marketing.

Update your communication plan

The marketing communication plans you had in place for the coming weeks are probably in need of a rethink. It’s vital to consider the message you send and whether this needs to be adapted to reflect the current climate.

First and foremost, you have a responsibility to keep stakeholders informed, whether it’s your customers, employees, investors or suppliers. Two in three people have said simply hearing from a company about what it’s doing in response to the pandemic is reassuring. But keep in mind, the level of information each stakeholder needs will vary. Any statements shared on the virus should cover the steps your brand is taking to manage the situation. Communications at this stage need to be empathetic, action-oriented and avoid speculation

Bear in mind your customers’ behaviour will have changed and are likely to continue changing. Anticipating this as best you can and adjusting your communication accordingly is important. Spend more time diving into your analytics, researching trends and reading relevant articles to find out how behaviours are evolving.

Most important of all, brands can’t stay silent or ignore the pandemic. People will remember how you handle your marketing during this time. That doesn’t mean you have to put pressure on yourselves to provide advice or your thoughts around the virus if it’s not relevant to your brand. Instead, your audience may simply be looking for positive content that will distract and entertain them.

Pick the right channels of communication

Now is the time to use your digital presence to keep your audience engaged and informed. In a crisis that has affected us all on a global scale, there is no better time to build connections. Change your approach to marketing from sales to educational, engage in more social listening and proactively respond to your customers. It is important to choose the right channels of communication to help show stakeholders you’re there and will help in any way you can.

Social media

Don’t abandon your social media plans completely. Upon review, you may find that much of your content can still be shared but may need to be tweaked to represent what’s happening now. Review if your content is appropriate and informative to your audience at this time. If it isn’t going to educate, entertain or distract them then, stop, assess and adapt accordingly. 

For that reason, we advise pausing and reviewing your scheduled posts and adjust your focus to servicing customers through social. If you’re part of the eCommerce, insurance, events or travel industry, you’re likely experiencing a huge increase in messages. Being there for your audience and providing clarity on the situation is the type of content that will help your brand shine through. Prior to the temporary shutdown of cafes and restaurants, Pret a Manger, used their position in the market to bring a little joy to hardworking NHS staff. They recently posted across social media that NHS workers can enjoy free hot drinks and 50 percent off everything else at their cafes.

Joe Wicks has also been providing a whole new level of value to his audience by becoming the nation’s favourite PE teacher. Using his YouTube channel to post daily PE lessons for kids to get involved with from home, his series recently peaked with nearly one million people from around the world tuning in live to work out together! And as if that wasn’t enough, he is even donating all the profits to the NHS!

It’s important to note, social media platforms have already put restrictions in place for content and ad campaigns linked to COVID-19:

  • Twitter is prohibiting all promoted content linked to the virus. The only exceptions are approved Public Service Announcements from the government and news outlets. The platform has also banned all targeting of keywords related to COVID-19.
  • Instagram users are prevented from searching for the coronavirus unless content was made in partnership with legitimate organisations. These actions are helping limit the spread of misinformation regarding the topic. A new ‘Stay Home’ sticker for stories has also been released encouraging people to stay inside amid the crisis by sharing their at home stories.
  • Pinterest has offered an escape from virus related news. When searching the term ‘Coronavirus’ or ‘COVID-19’, users are shown a message from the site reading: “Pins about this topic often violate our community guidelines, which prohibit harmful medical misinformation. Because of this, we’ve limited search results to pins from internationally recognised health organisations. If you’re looking for medical advice, please contact a healthcare provider.

Website

For certain brands, it may be necessary to create a dedicated webpage to post relevant updates. Having all resources available in one place makes it easier for stakeholders to find the information they’re looking for. A simple pop-up or banner may be enough to let your customers know your response to COVID-19, what has changed and whether they can still purchase from you.

In light of their temporary online and offline closures, Next have updated their homepage to inform shoppers. They’ve also given the option for users to update their contact preferences to receive regular updates from the brand. With 88 percent of users expecting clear details on how they can best access a brand’s products and services, this is an important step for many brands to be taking.

Email

Email puts you directly in your audiences’ inbox. In terms of promotional emails, campaigns and newsletters, consider whether they are sensitive to the situation and if they provide real value. If promoting your goods feels insensitive right now, consider what other content you could provide your users with instead.

The best way to provide real value to your subscribers is by showing compassion for the situation. Think about your subscribers, how you can be supportive, and be a positive distraction from their current anxieties.

It’s important to deliver relevant, useful information with a sensitive tone. Temporary tattoo company Tattly provided value to their subscribers by sending them a ‘Stay-at-Home Activity Kit’ with a list of tips and resources to keep subscribers occupied.

People are craving meaningful interaction and creating a sense of community has become crucial. Email marketing is a powerful tool for building and maintaining connections with your customers. Typo are using their emails to acknowledge what their subscribers are experiencing, providing reassurance. timely and relevant updates with how the brand is responding to the crisis.

Get ahead of fake news

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. The last thing customers need is information that isn’t credible. Before communicating with your audience, it’s critical to ensure you’re not spreading fake news or scaremongering, even if it’s not intentional. If relevant to your brand, work with the media and publishers by issuing statements to avoid misinformation and rumours being shared.

Track and measure!

Every day we continue to receive new information and clarity around COVID-19. Tracking and measuring communications in real-time allows you to quickly adjust your strategy and continue making informed decisions. Using the analytical capabilities of digital marketing platforms, you can understand the outcomes of specific campaigns and whether people have engaged with your messaging.

Communications analytics provide businesses with the ability to be agile and respond to a fast-changing environment. Now is not the time for brands to pause their marketing efforts. Be on your toes, be proactive and react where and when it’s needed.

Let your audience lead you

If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask your community what they want from you and then provide them with just that! The best way to give customers the information they want is to ask them what that is and plan accordingly. This will not only keep them engaged but will also give you direction for the future and allow you to get to know your audience that little bit more.

Preparation is key

Learn from this experience and have a plan in place. If this virus has taught us anything, it’s that contingency planning and preparation is key. The intensity of the crisis is sure to lessen over time and businesses need to make the most of this learning opportunity. Revisit how you addressed your communication challenges and improve this strategy to always remain prepared. It’s important to remember, responsibilities are different depending on your brand and industry. Apply these tips in the context of the challenges you’re facing. Most importantly, keep talking, be authentic and instil trust with your audience.

If you need help with your comms during this crisis, our team of experts are on hand to steer you. Or, if you want to find out more on this topic, watch our recent webinar with PR Associate Director, Cheryl, and our Connected Agency, Wired Plus, who are experts in all things email marketing to hear their do’s and don’ts for communicating in a crisis.

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