How do you handle crisis communication? Your words always exist in context, and that context can change how they’re received.
In person, we constantly gauge the mood of our environment. Right away, social cues tell us that a funeral probably isn’t the right place to break into dance, or that a rave would be a strange place to sit still. But when it comes to marketing communications, things aren’t so cut and dry. Online especially, you don’t know what environment your words are going to land in—nor the mindset of its occupants. This is why tuning into widespread moods—like that of the current coronavirus pandemic—and adapting your message and tone accordingly is crucial.
Easy to say, harder to do. The evidence abounds, in the media and in your inbox: Posts that seem unimaginably tone-deaf or irrelevant, like lingering email ads that’re still promoting travel (automated, surely). In the wake of any crisis, we all walk a tricky tightrope when it comes to communication, at a moment when communication is more important than ever. Whether you’re communicating on behalf of a company, a nonprofit, or yourself, your message (and how you present it) can be crucial.
Yes, we’re all separate and isolated. And that makes it impossible to “read the room” in a physical sense. Nevertheless, there are ways that you can read (and more importantly, write for) the current mood:
Recognize the moment.
It’s rare for the whole world to experience a crisis simultaneously. But right now we’re seeing it—with news outlets, social media, and our daily interpersonal conversations making it impossible to ignore our mutual experience, not to mention our questions, concerns, doubts, and curiosities. As a person in the world, recognize these moments. Then, think about how you can change your writing to be thoughtful, sensitive, and empathetic when people around the world (perhaps including you) are sharing in a turbulent time.
Keep things relevant.
In the midst of a crisis, people don’t want to hear about the new award your company won or about luxury vacations they can no longer indulge. People don’t want to be aggressively marketed to in an unstable economy, either.
In a new survey from Edelman, conducted in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, 71% of people said that if they perceive that a brand is putting profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever. To keep your messaging appropriate, make sure it’s relevant and sensitive.
Connect, don’t request.
Right now, if you’re trying to connect with people, one option is to simply stay in touch instead of asking them for things: like to buy your product or volunteer to help your mission. In the middle of a crisis, the best way to communicate is to keep things simple and honest. Check in, offer support, share news and updates, and then give people space. Let your community know what you’re doing to keep them safe during the pandemic, or share helpful guidelines for personal protection. When they’re ready to engage with you, you’ll be right there in their inbox—without having to push.
We’re in the midst of an unprecedented challenge. But by being sensitive to context in your communications, you can turn that challenge into an opportunity—to connect, inform, inspire, and overcome. If we can be of any assistance in helping you do that, especially as you navigate the delicate matter of coronavirus crisis communications, we’re here to help.