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.

Coronavirus comms for charities

Updated: 6 April (new: Charity So White report, write your own coronavirus style guide, how to communicate with furloughed staff).

Since I wrote this post on 3 March, everything has moved on. Coronavirus is dominating world news and the way we live and work has completely changed. I have been adding new useful resources as well as removing ones which are no longer relevant. I have kept the examples of charity comms for reference.

Whatever your size of organisation or purpose, you will be meeting to plan how you’ll respond internally and externally. There is lots of noise and misinformation about the spread of the virus with rumours and blame escalating. What are you doing to reassure your beneficiaries and keep your staff safe?

illustration of lots of people moving around a big space - maybe on escalators

Here are some useful links and good reads to help you manage your own charity’s response.

Writing about Covid19 for beneficiaries

Information about the virus is changing all the time. Keep an eye on official advice which is being updated on a daily basis and share / incorporate it into your comms:

Full Fact are working hard to fact-check lots of the information circulating. Are there any misleading memes or discussions circulating related to your audience or cause? It’s worth checking FF’s website to see.

Knowing what and when to communicate about coronavirus depends on what type of organisation you are.

If you are a health charity, one working with older people or one with public-access buildings, you may be sharing updates, especially if you are getting lots of helpline calls or forum discussions about risk. As there is so much misinformation circulating, this is your chance to be the go-to authority on the subject for people with specific needs and spreading good advice.

Dan Slee says that “we have all become public health communicators whether we like it or not”. In his post (The basics of communicating the coronavirus), he shares lots of useful tips about making sure your information is factual and shareable. And also notes that your comms need to go where the people are as rumour and misinformation circulate (see Enlist a team to play whack-a-mole with online rumour and How covid is playing out in Facebook groups).

Examples

Here are some examples of information charities have created for the people they represent:

Comms tips

Think accessibility – not everyone can read the text on an image. If you are sharing images with text on via social media, include a link to a web page where the same information can be read and/or repeat the text in your post. I have seen so many covid statements which are just images of text with no link (and probably no alt text). See more from @CovidAccessInfo (new account set up on 19/3).

Make information easy to find. Pin your tweets. Use hashtags (#covid19UK / #coronavirus etc). Clearly layout information so it is easy to read. Add the story to your homepage.

Tweet from Bloodwise UK. Very clear layout. Hashtags and signposting to sources of help.

Only ever link to one page which you are keeping up to date. As the situation develops you don’t want people to be seeing old advice. They may be seeing old posts or looking at old emails but at least you’ll know they can click through for current information. Avoid PDFs for the same reason.

Clearly indicate information you have added or changed. You might do this at the top of your web page or by highlighting what has been added. See this example from Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Even if you don’t have infomation you have produced yourself, at this stage it is probably a good idea to have a page about coronavirus on your website which links to the key sources of information and something about the services you offer if there are changes to them. A quick random search found lots of charity websites showing no covid results in their searches.

Website search results: says no items found

Don’t include information about the current number of cases or deaths. This instantly dates your information and shows that it is not up-to-date.

As the situation develops, you may need to use more effective and urgent ways to communicate your messages. Plan ahead now. Are you able to use video or audio or other methods to respond to a crisis comms situation? Might you need to devote your entire homepage to the story? Can you send out mass emails to your stakeholders? Are your crisis comms processes up-to-date? See this thread from Gemma Pettman sharing crisis comms planning tips.

Check your scheduled messages. For example, do you have messages scheduled which are promoting events which are likely to be cancelled? Be aware that the situation could change over the coming days / weeks.

Start planning ahead. We are now moving from the crisis planning stage into a more widespread experience of the virus. This means that your comms needs to be less about explaining the virus and how to respond to the changes we are all making. The next comms stage is describing our ‘new normal’ of operating and communicating about ill or dying colleagues, volunteers and stakeholders. See Coronavirus comms – planning ahead.

New: 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 about how language changes through a crisis and how to frame your comms is useful. 8 tips for framing covid19 – Ella Saltmarshe.

Running your organisation

Internally you will be looking at the impact of a wider spread of the virus and what this might mean for how you operate.

Here’s some of the current advice:

New: Charity So White have written a position paper sharing the ways coronavirus can impact BAME communities disproportionately. It calls on charities to consider that in their response and includes five key principles to guide them.

It’s useful to see other organisations’ internal plans if you need to write one yourself. Some have shared theirs publicly:

Reassuring staff and volunteers that you are prepared is key. Internal comms must play a vital role. What internal comms systems do you use? Do they work to reach everyone? There is some good advice in this post by Rachel Miller of All Things IC.

New: Rachel has also written this. How to communicate with furloughed colleagues.

What about your events or meetings? Many have been cancelled / postponed or changed to online. Here’s how Bond announced the cancellation of their annual conference.

Digital service delivery

What does the situation mean for the services you run and the support people in your community might need? What might you need to do more of or change?

For example, can you move face-to-face services , online? What different services could you offer to expand to support people through a scary and challenging time? Are you able to run digital events or make fun content to entertain?

Community response

Here are some examples of community and charity-run services:

Community Action Response - 5 steps

If you are a community volunteering charity, how are you keeping volunteers in touch with how they might be needed? And reassuring them about measures you’ll be taking to protect them?

Virtual working

More people are switching to virtual working as a way to reduce risk. It can be a real shift for an organisation if you are not used to working like this. Here are some useful links:

Fundraising

Fundraising is being hit hard.

The London Marathon has been postponed until October (announcement 5pm Friday 13th March). Read this thread by Russell Benson with great tips and alternative options for events fundraisers if you haven’t already. Here are a few examples from charities responding to the news in case you want some ideas.

Sarah Goddard is building a collection of resources for the fundraising sector including template appeal letters for hospices and smaller arts organisation from Mark Phillips.

Charities are launching appeals:

  • This from Kemp Hospice was released very early on.
  • Asthma UK have added a donation ask at the end of their information page.
  • Age UK Camden have put out an appeal to help them to support ‘an increasing number of anxious older people who are reaching out to us for help’.
  • FareShare – Help us get food to vulnerable people. Donate online or ‘text MEAL 10 to 70480 to give £10’.
  • New: JustGiving have shared some of the campaigns on their site.
Image from FareShare's homepage with their covid19 appeal

Other good reads / useful links

Archive:

Examples of warmer comms from week 2/3 of the outbreak:

Have you read anything else useful I should add here? Or seen examples? Let me know. I’ll add more useful links here as I find them.

Thanks to Charity Digital who published a version of this post on 10 March.

Getting started with digital strategy

Today I had my first Digital Candle call with someone from a community centre. She used the hour-long call to talk about how to start a digital strategy project.

Following the call, I sent her some links to resources and further reading to help get things started. Here they are for you too. This is a very big topic which people write books about, so this is very much a primer.

Knobs from an old telephone exchange. Lots of colours and wires

Define digital

Whether you are a large or small charity about to start a digital strategy project, it is worth clarifying exactly what you mean by digital. For some it will mean digital comms and/or fundraising. For others it will be about infrastructure and kit. For others it will be much wider – anything which is delivered digitally.

What does it mean for your organisation and crucially what does it mean for whoever is sponsoring your strategy project or whoever you need to persuade to own it (such as senior managers and trustees)? Be clear at the start.

Digital audit

When starting a strategy project, you may already have an idea about the issues you want your strategy to address. But there may be others. An audit of your processes and systems can help build up a bigger picture of where digital could help reduce inefficiencies or need investment.

Map out your organisation’s use of digital under big headings. You might do this in Word or Excel or something else. List your activity and make a note about how well these work. Include non-digital methods too and aspirational uses of digital. Talk to your colleagues and users to get a broad picture. Add in data about effectiveness if you have it.

Here are some headings to get you started:

  • external comms (eg website, social media, newsletter, forums)
  • internal comms (with staff, volunteers, trustees)
  • fundraising (eg website, contactless donations, thank you processes, databases)
  • systems (eg HR, payroll, volunteer management, purchasing, finance, CRM, online payment, document management)
  • services.

At this stage you might also do an audit of your peers and competitors in terms of their digital services and external comms. What benchmark are they setting in terms of what they provide to their stakeholders? What works and what doesn’t? Their digital services might be on a small scale such as out-of-hours contact or much bigger, such as full digital service provision.

An audit might also include a review of your infrastructure and kit. Where are the barriers to progress? Do you have an ancient database or lots which don’t talk to each other for example? Do you have enough PCs and are they installed with the right software? Can people work from home? Also, where are your digital risks? This might be cyber security, GDPR / data protection concerns or lack of IT support. This colourful diagram made sense to me as a way of showing an organisation’s infrastructure and where the risks are.

Finally, what is your digital culture like? Do your colleagues have the knowledge and skills to deliver your strategy? What is the mindset towards digital? You could run a skills audit to find out where people are at. NCVO’s building a digital workforce resource includes a template audit. Benchmark your results against the sector (via the annual Charity Digital Report). Who are the digital champions in your organisation?

Building a strategy

Developing a strategy which is practical, meaningful and actionable is the next step. What this looks like will depend on what you want it to achieve. It should always reference your organisation’s overall strategy and how digital will be used to deliver these goals.

It can be as broad or specific as you need. It could determine a direction of travel or have set goals and targets. It should include dependencies and outline where investment is needed.

It should always launch with an understanding that it will not succeed without buy-in from all involved, especially those with power to make it happen. A strategy needs to be owned and driven by someone in order for it to achieve real change.

Other useful links

Do check out Digital Candle if you haven’t already. This is a new platform from Matt Collins connecting charity leaders with digital experts who can give an hour’s phone time. Book your call or volunteer your services.

Your recommendations

What are your tips for developing a digital strategy? What made yours work? Please share in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with digital planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes.

Digital round-up – January 2020

Highlights this month: personal stories driving donations, lots of new campaigns, #BongForBrexit, #DollyPartonChallenge, the climate as a global risk.

January is such a long long month. Luckily there was lots of great charity content and good reads to get us through the dark days. Catch up here with some gems you might have missed.

Winter sunlight pouring through a window making a silouette of a sewing machine and a pot plant

How to use: Pick and choose links to read, or open in new tabs for later. Or bookmark this post. Even better, subscribe and get future round-ups direct to your inbox.

Content

Imagery from BHF campaign. Totaliser shows air quality in London exceeds WHO safe levels
Gif showing a dusty street with tumbleweed rolling through. Tweet text says Want to know the science about #BlueMonday..... There isn't any.

Comms

Digital – strategy, design, culture

Infographic showing use of Facebook by audience
Three examples of how memes could include alt text. Screenshot taken from Time article.

Fundraising

People and organisations

Climate crisis

wef top ten risks over the next ten years

And finally….

Your recommendations

What did you read, watch or launch this month? Please add your links in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with content planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. I can help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection.

——

Did you miss December’s round-up? Catch up with more good reads!

Good behaviour on social media

Sticker on a bus stop says 'Be Kind'

The third #ReclaimSocial day is fast approaching (6 February). The day is an opportunity to flood social media with positivity by sharing good news stories and celebrating heroes of positivity. Get involved if you can. The day aims to kickstart a rebalancing of the scales of hate and bad behaviour on social media.

We all have a role to play in demonstrating good behaviour every day. Both personally and from any corporate accounts we manage. Here are five examples of social media etiquette to generate a culture of positive connections (mostly relating to Twitter).

You might do all of these already. In which case, you are a hero of positivity!

Acknowledge when you have seen something

If you have paused to look at someone’s photo or thread or story – why not say something? Tell them that you have seen what they have done and what it meant to you.

You don’t have to write a pithy comment. A ‘thanks for sharing’ or ‘lovely photo’ or a thumbs up, is easy to do. We all need to feel seen.

If no one comments or interacts, we might not bother to post something similar again. What’s the point if it didn’t connect?

A like is ok but is a very passive interaction. Take 10 seconds to say something nice. Share the love.

Recognise when someone has interacted with you

I see this all the time on charity accounts. An organisation might ask a friendly open question in order to generate some user-generated content and to be fun on a Monday morning…. And then not respond to any of the responses.

So, all the people who have bothered to share a photo of their muddy run or say that they have spotted one of the campaign posters on the tube, are left hanging. Maybe they won’t interact in this positive way again? Maybe they think less of the charity?

Social media / comms teams can be spread very thinly and don’t have time to respond to large number of comments. But building connections and a community of supporters is very important.

If you don’t have time to respond to the comments, don’t ask a question.

If you do have time, acknowledge someone’s action. Being warm, open and inclusive may encourage other people to comment in future.

I think this is particularly important for member organisations and those which are looking for people to share their experiences. For example, National Trust are really good at chatting. This example from Transport for All asks people to fill in a survey about problems with dockless bikes but hasn’t responded to replies.

Say please and thank you

Remember when people used to say ‘Please RT’ in their tweets? There was evidence that posts with this in, were more frequently shared. Was it the power of the please or a polite ask that made the difference?

Do you say thank you when people RT something of yours with a comment?

Be social on social media

Back in the day, people used to share regular #FollowFriday recommendations of @people they liked on Twitter. It was a bit annoying but mostly nice. People also used to welcome new followers. Or send a welcome DM to say a personal hello (or an annoying auto one).

It might have gone out of fashion to do these things. People might also have stopped for a quick hello or a chat. It was nice. It was social.

We should still do this. Respond to questions. Join in. Say something positive. Take a look at Chloe Stables and Kristiana Wrixon who are both great at asking questions and getting responses.

Share good stuff

Interaction doesn’t have to be around a heated debate or responding to a negative piece of news or mass RIPing someone who has died.

Be generous with your knowledge and ideas. Share stuff that you love and makes you smile.

And switch off

As charities, prolifically using social media as part of our work, we may see examples of trolling or negative behaviour on a daily basis. These might appear as negative comments under our posts, hate stories directed at our organisation or projects, or trolling of staff or corporate accounts.

These actions are draining, frightening and depressing to deal with.

Sometimes it is best to just switch off. And do something else instead.

Your tips

What are your top tips for good behaviour or encouraging a culture of positivity? I’d love to hear them.

Tips about making the social media you consume, positive

Digital round-up – December 2019

Highlights this month: as well as all the Christmas campaigns, end of year round-ups, December was busy with Giving Tuesday, the election results and more.

If you were caught up in festive planning or trying to get everything done before a break, here are some of the charity highlights from December. Hope you had a good break if you got one.

red berries on a tree on a grey misty day

How to use: Pick and choose links to read, or open in new tabs for later. Or bookmark this post. Even better, subscribe and get future round-ups direct to your inbox.

Content

Animation by British Red Cross. Shows a young boy looking sad. Text above his head says 'War and conflict separate families'

Takeover of the month: For human rights day, Gisella Valle of LAWRS tookover ACEVO’s Twitter account to share insights into the work done by LAWRS to support migrant women.

Christmas content and appeals:

Calm zone's YuleSlog with Noel's top tips for getting through the holiday

Highlights of the year:

Predictions for 2020:

Post-election comms:

Comms

screenshot from Lightful's article about hashtags

Digital – strategy, design, culture

Fundraising

Screenshot from Grantmaking website showing coloured navigation blocks

People and organisations

And finally….

Your recommendations

What did you read, watch or launch? Please add your links in the comments.

Can I help you?

Get in touch if I can help you with content planning, training or strategy. I work with charities of all shapes and sizes. I can help give your comms or digital processes a healthcheck and ideas injection.

——

Did you miss November’s round-up? Catch up with more good reads!

Crisis comms – responding to a fundraising boost

A crisis comms situation doesn’t have to be as a result of an actual crisis. The same call to arms and comms skills need to be used when a story unexpectedly blows up. Knowing how and when to respond can be tricky.

This week, a Twitter thread generated a surge in donations to Epilepsy Society. Here Communications Manager Nicola Swanborough explains how an existing relationship with the family meant they were able to respond quickly and with sensitivity.

Amelia’s story

Hari's tweet: "I inherited a desk and drawers in my new job but didn’t have the key until today. When I opened it the stuff from the previous person was still inside it. Shuffling through I stumbled across the order of service for a 21yo girl, Amelia."

On Friday, Hari Miller found an order of service in her office drawer and used Twitter to share the moving story of Amelia Roberts who died at the age of 21 in 2018. In just five days, over £38k has been donated to Epilepsy Society in response.

The thread is beautifully written. It includes images of Amelia and insights into who she was as well as about her type of epilepsy which lead to her sudden death (SUDEP) at home. The sixth tweet is a link to the JustGiving page set up by her family which had then raised £80k and later, a link to how to join the Brain and Tissue Bank.

Today (Tuesday), the JustGiving total stands at almost £118k from 3400 donors. The first tweet in the thread has had more than 31k likes and 8k RTs and been replied to over 600 times. Hari and Amelia’s family have appeared on BBC Breakfast and ITV News.

The team at Epilepsy Society already had a relationship with Amelia’s family. They shared Amelia’s story and have set up a fund in Amelia’s name. But they weren’t prepared for the story to reach a new audience one year after Amelia’s death.

How to respond?

How should an organisation respond when someone’s personal story goes viral and becomes globally owned? In this case, it is Hari and Amelia’s story, not the story of an epilepsy charity.

But people are donating to Epilepsy Society because they have been moved by the story and want to do something to help. The organisation needs to be involved. They need to share their thanks, say what the money will do and use the exposure to raise awareness about epilepsy. It can be a sensitive call.

What Epilepsy Society did

Communications Manager Nicola Swanborough from Epilepsy Society explains what happened: “We first noticed that something was happening on Friday. We retweeted Hari’s thread and kept an eye on the JustGiving site. By the end of Friday, £5000 had been donated.

“We only have a small team but they pulled out all the stops to work over the weekend. They met Amelia’s family and made contact with Hari who posted the tweet.

“On Saturday when the scale of the response was still growing, we retweeted it again with a comment sharing our gratitude and thanks to everyone donating and sharing the story. Our CEO tweeted thanks too.

ES's response tweet: "This is a truly amazing and we are so grateful to Hari and all the wonderful people who have been touched by the tragic  loss of Amelia. Every donation will help us to understand more about SUDEP and how we can stop other young people losing their lives. Our heart felt thanks "

“We were very much aware that this was Hari and Amelia’s family’s story. There was a lot of media interest, particularly from the broadcasting media. We offered background support and a statement and issued a press release over the weekend.

“We also published a news story and reinstated Amelia’s story as our main homepage story. We needed to point people to somewhere they could find out more about her story and purpose of the fund.

Amelia's story is on the Epilepsy Society homepage

“The scale of the response has been exceptional. We have been trying to respond to individual messages from donors.

“We have shared our page about SUDEP as lots of people are talking about it. We know that the Roberts family are very keen to raise awareness of epilepsy, SUDEP and our research, so we are maximising opportunities for positive engagement.

“The story jumped from Twitter to Facebook early on so we have been using all our social media channels to respond to the story. We have kept our staff up-to-date through internal communications as we know that not everyone uses social media. We are planning to post a short video from our researchers thanking everyone for their support. We feel it is important for those who donated to hear about the difference their money will make.

“When it slows down we will review the way the story evolved and our response. We are very aware that we were lucky to already have a strong relationship with Amelia’s family which very much helped in ensuring that everyone was happy with public and media interest. This was a wonderfully positive, global response to a very sad story but throughout we were conscious that it is just a year since Amelia died and that this was also a very tough and personal time for her family.

“Throughout we have been grateful to them for their generosity and determination in sharing Amelia’s story in the hopes that it could save the lives of other young people in the future.

“We have a robust crisis comms plan in place at Epilepsy Society, but we could not have planned for anything on this scale.”

More about crisis comms

More about this story