Coronavirus comms – planning ahead

As we move into a more widespread experience of the virus, our comms will change. So far, we have been in a full-on crisis planning stage. We have been mobilising to work from home, digitising our services, getting ready to do the work which is needed, fundraising and campaigning under #EveryDayCounts.

Now, the situation will change as we hit the peak with more cases. More of us will get ill, know someone who is ill or who has died. At the same time, we will be feeling the impact of increased financial and practical pressures individually and on our organisations.

How and what we communicate on behalf of our organisations and between ourselves will change. The leadership team should be setting the tone and framework for this. Work with them to plan now what this might look like for your organisation.

Graphic of brightly coloured houses

Here are some resources and thoughts which might help you to plan for this stage. Effectively we are all working through a constant crisis situation.

External comms about your work

What you say about your organisation at this time, clearly depends on the work you are doing. But your comms need to be agile. The situation is changing rapidly. The priorities for your organisation and your audience have completely changed and will continue to do so. What are you able to predict with confidence and what scenarios are likely to be ahead?

Is your comms process working in the current situation? If not, what needs to change to streamline publishing? For example, who is deciding on and approving messaging? Where are the bottlenecks and can these be removed? Who is identifying new content you need to create to cover subjects people need to know about? Are you able to turn this round quickly but to the same quality standards?

Your audience is likely to be flat-out and also needing to switch off. So, the volume of your comms, the range of topics you are covering and the channels you may use, will be different. Streamline what you are doing as much as possible so you are sharing the same messages across the channels you are using.

Do you have time to respond to people’s comments and questions via social media? People may be lonely / bored / frightened and more likely to reach out this way, than before. Are you set up to deal with this type of ‘customer service’? Who do you priorise if you have limited time? It can be helpful to have a playlist of common responses and links which you edit as needed.

Keep one place updated as your primary information source. Many organisations now have a coronavirus section on their websites where they share resources and information about their services. Create a go-to place if you haven’t already.

What does your content mix look like? Is it appropriate to share good news, fun stories or reassuring content? People will need cheering up. Think about your tone of voice. Make sure what you are sharing is appropriate for the general mood / news.

Think about your language. How you talk about the virus and its impact on your beneficiaries and organisation will change. Write and share a mini styleguide to include standard phrases which you use, as well as ones to avoid. This post by Ella Saltmarshe about how language changes through a crisis and how to frame your comms is useful. 8 tips for framing covid19. And the NHS styleguide now has a coronavirus entry.

Beware of sharing misinformation or yesterday’s news. Things are changing rapidly. Only share current and official sources of information.

Don’t forget about accessibility during this time. Everyone needs to be able to access important information. For example, don’t share images of text, gifs of videos without text descriptions and / or links to an html version. Use subtitles on videos.

Scheduling messages may be risky at the moment. We just don’t know what is ahead.

Comms about your people

How is your comms set up to deal with bad news about colleagues, volunteers or the people you work?

For individual cases

  • How will you receive the news? Are you checking in with each other? Do you have contact details for next of kin?
  • How will you tell people the news internally? Who will do this?
  • Are there some people you might need to share the news about publicly, such as patrons, founders or trustees? If so, do you have a template for biographies or tributes? Do you have appropriate photos you can use?
  • Do you have ways that people can come together online to share their stories and memories of that person? For example, through a hashtag or in-memory board? How will you curate or share these with the person’s loved ones?
  • In the absence of funerals and with so many people working from home, not seeing each other, the usual ways of coming together to grieve are not possible. What can you do to help people mourn within your organisation?

For multiple cases

  • How will you keep track of people within your network who have died? Will you manage a list? Who will look after this? How might you need to use this now and later?

Tone of voice

What is your internal and external tone of voice talking about death? Do you use euphemisms like ‘passed away’? Or talk in a more matter of fact way? It is a good time now to work this out if you haven’t already. The NHS health writing style guide has just added an entry to clarify how they write about death and dying. They use direct language.

Internal comms

What systems do you need to put in place to help people process bad news? This can be really hard especially when everyone is working remotely. Good internal comms is key.

Regularly review whether your internal channels are working well. Is everyone engaged? Are your systems making things easier or adding more stress?

How can you add some light relief? I have seen people starting their team conference calls with a quiz or tours round their homes or with a fancy dress theme (such as a hat). Other people bring their children or pets on the calls to say hi.

Useful resources about mental health

Look after yourself and your colleagues. This thread from Matthew Sherrington about managing your team through a crisis – organising, communicating, taking care of yourself and others, is full of useful tips.

Here are some other useful links.

Useful resources about grief and bereavement

Other resources

Have you read anything else useful I should add here? Or seen examples? Or got tips. Please add in the comments or let me know.

See also: Coronavirus comms for charities.

Look after yourselves please. And wash you hands.

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