The way different governments, public and private organisations have communicated their COVID-19 plans of action have varied from brilliant to downright awful!
In this article, I set out a simple 6-point framework to help organisations with their communications and messaging to employees and customers.
Step 1. Stay true to your mission
Your company mission is a statement that defines your business's guiding principles. In times of crisis, your company's mission and core values should inform both how and what you communicate to your employees and customers.
Companies that are more in touch with their own people and understand their clients will be the ones that succeed. These are the moments when you fall back on your values to dictate what you should be doing and how you should be communicating. Prioritise what your people and customers need rather than your own bottom line.
Step 2. Use the right tone
While the tone of your communications should align with your brand and voice, it needs to fit the context.
If your brand voice is casual and breezy, you might need to take on a more serious tone when it comes to communications pertaining to COVID-19. This doesn't mean changing your brand voice entirely but adjusting it to match the subject matter.
Express emotional support and humaneness. Use a calm tone and let your authenticity shine through. Let them know that we're all in this together and that your customers and employees are your top priority.
Use your communications, whether it's by email, video calls or through social media, to align with your employee and customer concerns, how you will support them through a crisis and that you appreciate their support as well. Be positive, thoughtful and constructive.
It's important to maintain professionalism with each social media post, email or other communication.
Remember: everyone's watching. Be helpful, constructive and courteous; the way you respond to comments and direct messages is a reflection of how you treat and value employees and customers.
Step 3. Be clear and be relevant
During times of uncertainty, people are receiving mixed messages left and right. How will your business cut through the noise?
Communications need to be clear, relevant and to-the-point to resonate through a cluttered media landscape.
Focus on eliminating the barriers for customers and your employees in whatever way possible and communicate with empathy, transparency and speed.
Clarity starts with your subject line and should follow through the entire communication. What's its purpose? What do you want customers and employees to know?
To maximize impact, focus on the message you want to convey and eliminate anything that doesn't either support or align with it.
If the goal of your communication is to let people know how your business is supporting them through COVID-19, be transparent and clear as to how you're doing that. Finally, direct them to the appropriate resources you have available.
Step 4. Be transparent
Now more than ever, your staff and customers are concerned with welfare, wellness, hygiene and safety.
Anxiety levels are higher than ever and you could be convinced that just giving the good news is the best way to communicate.
The reality is that we want to be treated like adults. If there is bad news be transparent and honest and don't hide from the truth.
If you get asked a question, give an honest answer and if you don't know the answer immediately, make sure you do the research and find out the answer.
Step 5. Provide timely updates
During a time of crisis, when you communicate with customers and staff is as important as what you communicate frequently and at the appropriate time.
Information around COVID-19 is moving fast, leaving everyone wondering what they should do and when they should do it.
Companies need to be quick to communicate with all stakeholders. In times of crisis, your website should serve as a source of truth and updates. And, if you have a staff intranet or other communications channel make sure it is updated frequently.
Stay active on social media as this can be one of your most useful channels for connecting with customers and staff.
While updating your website or sending emails each day may not be realistic for some business owners, using social to keep customers informed can be a more accessible option.
Be selective with the information you circulate: We live in an era of distrust. Make sure that the information you share is credible and trustworthy.
Keep it relevant and remember step 4, keep it transparent. Ask your staff and clients what information they want from you and then deliver it.
Step 6. Be ready for anything and everything
While it's impossible to predict where we will be in the coming days or months, there are always ways to be ready for change and keep both customers and employees informed.
Remember to be adaptable and emphatic. Customers and employees are looking to the government and businesses for guidance right now. Find ways of supporting your community and ask for their support in return.
The best thing you can do is show your humanity behind your brand, and that you're in this together.
Return to Work Comms Plan Template
To help make the planning of return to work employee messaging easier we have created a free comms template.
This template is a simple table, which features columns employers can use to develop employee messaging and considers target audience, key messages, objectives, delivery methods and timings.