When most of us first heard about the coronavirus back in December of 2019, we really did not expect it to hit the U.S. or for it to have the impact it did in the first countries it struck: China, Iran, Italy, and Spain. Then, March happened and every aspect of our lives changed, perhaps, forever. In the U.S. alone, over 103,000 people have died, close to 2 million are confirmed affected and the reality of masks and social distancing is likely with us for a year or more.
Then, there’s the statistic that continues to rise alarmingly even as others improve: the U.S. currently has over 40 million unemployed people. In less than six months a future we could not have predicted became an unfathomable present and we lost control of most of the circumstances that impact our personal, professional, and business lives. Uncertainty has become the new normal and no one has any idea how or when it will end.
It’s probable that when this pandemic has passed, we will face the most catastrophic economy in this nation’s history. I am no economist nor am I here to discuss my thoughts on our short-term future, but as a communications strategist, I want to point out actions we’re taking in this crisis that in the short- and mid-term could cost our brands and businesses dearly. We’re living through a major disruption. The potential negative stakeholder responses that result may impact your organization’s reputation, strategic business objectives, and viability. It is critical in this crisis environment to maintain your customers’ trust and confidence. They are the lifeblood of your organization’s business and mission.
Which is why your communications cannot remain the same as before. The whole world has changed and many of us are communicating with our various audiences as if nothing has happened. We need to reconsider both our personal communications and our communications as brand ambassadors of our businesses. In this singular moment, I’d like to propose 15 BEs to consider in your corporate and personal communications to your external audience and customers:
- Be human. Give hope. People will remember how you made them feel.
- Be compassionate. Prioritize communicating empathy every opportunity you can. Your audience should feel your compassion during this difficult time. Look for growth opportunities in the changes generated by the pandemic but don’t try to profit from the pandemic.
- Be authentic. Don’t pretend everything is normal, you will be resented and avoided. Prepare your responses and address issues head on.
- Be sincere. Tell the truth about how this situation is affecting your business’ ability to serve customers.
- Be mindful. Take into account your audience’s needs and the overwhelmed state everyone is in. Avoid predictions—they can backfire.
- Be relevant. Significantly cut back your tweets and posts, etc. Stretch your message over time and ensure that you stay relevant to each audience. Avoid crowding them and shifting their goodwill against your brand.
- Be focused. Identify the concerns of your customers—what information do they need? how do they prefer to be communicated to? what should your tone be? Develop messaging and communications strategies for each audience and monitor their impact.
- Be cool. Avoid automatic messaging your audience. Draw them in with thoughtful tactics and value props that help them discover new ways to retain their current customers, grow their business, expand their brand awareness and keep their employees.
- Be tactful. Use humor with care. Many have lost loved ones or are at risk themselves. Avoid being distasteful and offensive. Tread carefully.
- Be trustworthy. Verify your content. Establish trust in your communication to set it apart from the junk polluting the Web. Avoid generalizations or statistics that change fast.
- Be consistent. Nothing about our current context is predictable so it’s important to convey stability to your customers. One way to do that is to keep your social pages and feeds updated, but only communicate when you have something useful and relevant to say.
- Be a community builder. Encouragement goes a long way in a crisis. Give shout outs to those supporting the local community or to industries that support your business. If you have emails and social accounts for your customers, thoughtfully put them to use.
- Be a resource. Share tips and insights about how your business and industry is coping or even expanding during these challenging times.
- Be strategic. Effective communications today must be more strategic and thoughtful than ever before. Follow a strategic plan, having done your research and knowing what will move your audience to action.
- Be proactive. Start today, while the cement is still wet in the new world emerging from the pandemic. This is an excellent opportunity to make changes that will determine what the next five years look like for your business.
The bottom line is that this is a new day and the old ways of communicating may not generate the results you are looking for. Today, actively engaging with your audience is essential to keeping your business alive and well and it requires an integrated communications approach that is timely and delivered through multiple channels. Most importantly, it demands an acknowledgement of the current situation and looking beyond your own objectives to a broader set of stakeholder needs. Tackled carefully, such an approach will not only protect your business and help you retain your customer base but will secure its health and viability in the long-term.