Crisis Communications In The COVID-19 Era

By Alex MacLean

The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest crisis that most of us have ever faced. A few short months ago it was unimaginable that healthcare and other essential workers would soon be on the frontlines of the battle against a deadly global pandemic. It was unthinkable that business owners and their employees would soon need to shut down or become unemployed or at best need to significantly modify their business models to work remotely in the new reality. It was just as unimaginable that teachers, students and parents would need to adapt to remote learning and homeschooling. We Vermonters, and indeed people around the world, are stuck in our homes and it is unknown when our world will start to return to normal or what normal will even mean.

It’s a scary time. For business, it’s a time when being creative, being able to make snap decisions and being able to weather an unprecedented storm is of paramount importance.

The Public Relations and Strategic Communications division of our firm provides crisis communications services. We help businesses navigate crisis situations and develop and disseminate the information needed to move forward and overcome their immediate challenges. In normal times these situations tend to be somewhat unique to the particular client. Right now, every business is facing similar challenges.

How do you communicate your company’s business status, mission and focus in a world that has been turned upside down? While non-profits, businesses and public entities all have very different missions and content to communicate, there are a few basic rules of communicating during a crisis that are true for everyone.  

Pretty much everyone has thrown out screen time rules and are spending hours scrolling through news sites, social media feeds and websites looking for content. So, the number one rule is to share. Whether it is through social media, a blog or a newsletter – tell your story, share your ideas, get the facts out.

  1. Post. People are thirsty for information. On social media platforms, we typically recommend posting 3-4 times a week on Facebook and 10-14 times on Twitter. For now, throw those recommendations out. Post every day, or even twice a day on Facebook, and multiple times a day on Twitter. Create your own eye-catching content if possible, with memes, video messages, and quality pictures.
  2. Write. Create a blog for your website (if you don’t already have one) and start writing. Create a newsletter (if you don’t already have one) and start communicating with your email lists about what is happening with your business or non-profit. Share how COVID-19 is impacting you and your employees and what you are doing about it, ideas that can help others get through this and provide reasons for hope.
  3. Pitch. Share your story with reporters – either directly by phone or through press releases. If you are an organization that has information related to COVID-19, share it. Err on the side of disclosure. The public wants to know. Include a clear explanation of what your company is doing to manage the situation, keep customers/patients safe and the expected path forward.
  4. Clearly post information. Don’t make people search for what you know they want. Provide continuous updates and even if there’s nothing new to report provide the information you can. Put a temporary header on your website or create a pop up that loads immediately on the homepage, highlighting the important details and action steps you are taking. On social media “pin” a post relating to the crisis at the top of your feeds.  

These are some steps that allow your business or organization to continue to reach your audience and to continue to elevate your profile while the chaos of this moment may limit or eliminate your usual methods for doing so. These are actions that don’t cost much money and can be done remotely. It’s a way to stay active when your business may otherwise be forced into inactivity. Right now it is critical for businesses and organizations to remain in motion and fortunately with our technology we can keep moving, even when the world grinds to a halt.