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.

Charities joining in with the #GlobalClimateStrike

Today’s #GlobalClimateStrike is likely to be the biggest ever with adults showing solidarity with striking students. Millions of people are taking to the streets around the world. #ClimateStrike, #SchoolsStrike4Climate and #ClimateAction are all currently trending. According to The Guardian yesterday, a public poll found that the Climate crisis is seen as ‘most important issue’. The eight-country poll showed that people view the climate crisis as priority over migration and terrorism. But does the charity sector reflect this?

'we support the climate strike' drawing on office window. By Salford CVS

Even if it’s not your cause, this is a global day of activism about something that will have impact on us all. People will be talking about the issues. How is the sector seeing this as an opportunity to take collective action?

Striking

Charities with an environmental focus are of course shouting about it from the rooftops, encouraging staff and supporters to join in. For example:

Some other organisations are publicly saying how and why they are joining in with the march:

For many it will not be possible to join in with a strike. There is also a way to join in the #DigitalClimateStrike to show solidarity. I’ve seen a good number of agencies and individuals doing this, but no charity websites.

The examples above are primarily from organisations whose remit is connected to climate change. They will of course be joining in.

Other ways to join in

What if it is not your remit? Most organisations can’t stop their everyday work to join a strike. Most will also not want to change their homepages or social media feeds to distract from their own work.

But if on the biggest day of protest about the environment, you are not joining in with the conversation, what does that say? If you are not talking about what you are doing, maybe people will assume you are doing nothing? And in a culture when we need to build trust, connect with our audiences and collectively take action, this is important.

This is an opportunity to show that we care about the same things as our audiences / beneficiaries, especially if they are primarily young people (see this example from YoungScot).

So, use the day (and beyond) to say what you are doing for example to reduce waste or energy use. Talk about some of the changes you have made to the way you work and travel. Talk about what you plan to do (for example, VONNE announced that their annual conference will focus on climate change. And Just For Kids Law had a lunchtime session talking about climate change). Talk about the impact that climate change is, or could have, on the people you represent (see Oxfam’s #WhoTakesTheHeat series).

If the reason your organisation is not doing anything today is because climate change is not on your organisation’s radar, maybe use the day as a way to raise it internally.

It’s time for adults to listen to children say Save the Children in this powerful video.

Read more

Update: after the strike

Youth Strike 4 Climate stated that globally, 4 million people joined in with the strike. There were 5700 strikes in 185 countries. Scottish Youth Climate Strike estimated that 1 in 125 Scots joined the strike.

Here are some examples of timely and powerful comms shared during and after the event to mark the day and build momentum further:

Update: ongoing climate change action

  • Woodland Trust are inviting everyone to join the #BigClimateFightback by pledging to plant a tree by 30 November.
  • British Red Cross shared a video from IFRC called the #FacesOfClimateChange. The same video, translated into different languages, has been shared by branches in other countries.
  • Manchester Community Central are devoting their annual storytelling event to focus on local organisations addressing climate change. On day one they introduced Friends of Fallowfield Loop.
  • Friends of the Earth shared an animation, saying “If you’ve been inspired by the #GlobalClimateStrike or Greta Thunberg’s incredible speech to the UN, then don’t wait for those in power to #TakeClimateAction.”

What do you think?

Did your organisation join in? Is climate change being discussed internally? Have you seen any great examples of climate change comms?