With national conversation focused on what it will take to open back up as each state’s COVID-19 curve flattens, now is the time for business leaders to be thinking about their post-pandemic communications strategies. With this in mind, we’ve put together the following guidance for developing a post-COVID-19 communications strategy.
First, think about:
How is your industry likely to change?
Most industries will change as a result of COVID-19. What changes do you anticipate within your own industry? What will these changes mean for your business?
Understanding the pandemic’s impact on your industry is the first step in assessing what the future looks like for your individual company. And, assessing your future is, in turn, the first step in determining what messages you’ll need to communicate as we move through the pandemic.
[Side note: Industry-wide changes as a result of the pandemic present a good opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader, if you have something relevant and meaningful to add to the conversation. Offer yourself to reporters covering your industry as an expert who can comment on the pandemic’s impact.]
How is your business likely to change?
How has your business changed already – and how do you anticipate it changing in the coming days, weeks, and months? What does the way forward look like for you? If you’ve suffered business losses as a result of COVID-19, how will you and your team rebuild once life begins opening back up? Will you conduct business differently than you did pre-pandemic?
Consider these and similar questions to figure out what, precisely, it is that you’ll need to communicate with your audiences as we move towards establishing our ‘new normal’.
Next, identify each one of your audiences.
List out each one of the audiences your business communicates with regularly – employees, investors, customers, social media followers, media, etc.
What does each of these audiences need now? What are they likely to need as life moves forward, away from the era of sheltering-in-place? What are you uniquely equipped to provide each audience during this time?
Keep the answers to these questions in mind as you plan audience-specific communications strategies and messaging points.
Start developing COVID-19-related messaging points.
As states begin loosening up their restrictions, you’ll need or want to communicate with your audiences about topics like how the pandemic has impacted your business, your plans for moving forward, and what you’re doing to re-open responsibility.
Fine-tune these types of messages, and develop the language you'll use to communicate them with each of your different audiences.
As you draft your language, think about what aspect of each message will be most interesting to each audience. Your investors, for example, might be most interested in your financials – how big of a hit did your company take during this period, and what are the necessary steps to financial recovery? Your employees, on the other hand, will care first and foremost about what you’re doing to ensure their safety once they’re expected to come back into the office.
Build a plan for company announcements, events, etc. – but make flexibility a part of your plan.
One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear is the fact that nothing in life (or business) is certain. And to endure over time, through ups and significant downs, it’s essential for companies to remain nimble.
Keeping flexibility top of mind, begin making plans for when and how to resume any announcements, launches, events, etc. that were put on hold because of the pandemic. Now isn’t necessarily the time to jump back into flashy product launches or non-essential company announcements, but it is wise to put together plans for these types of initiatives so can move forward quickly as soon as the time is right.
Develop press releases, social media posts, website content – anything that isn’t likely to change too much, regardless of future COVID-19 developments. Think about general timing for each initiative or announcement, but don’t set anything in stone.
Begin some non-COVID-19 communications now – but move slowly.
The ‘initial shock’ phase of the pandemic has passed, and most of us are now in some sort of a work-from-home(-with-kids) groove. And, after a month or more of nonstop coronavirus news, we’re all ready for a distraction here and there.
Begin communicating with your audiences about non-coronavirus-focused topics now, but tread lightly, move slowly, and maintain the right tone for the day.
The virus situation continues to change day-by-day, so make sure you regularly assess the messages you’re putting out into the world to ensure that they’re appropriate for the current environment.
Listen to your audiences
A key component of effective communication is the ability to stop talking and listen.
As you begin experimenting with non-COVID messaging, take the time to listen to each of your audiences. How are they responding to what you’re saying? Are you receiving positive feedback, negative, nothing at all?
Take cues from your audiences’ responses, and adjust your messaging accordingly.
Think carefully about your word usage.
For the foreseeable future, avoid using words – like “viral”, for example – that might conjure up images of or associations with COVID-19.
Expand on your virtual communications & offerings.
The past several weeks have seen an explosion of virtual offerings, across industries. Organizations of all types have innovated, finding new, virtual ways to bring their content, events, and services to the public.
When society opens back up, there’s no need to scrap these virtual goings-on. Instead, think about how you can use the technologies you’ve relied upon to communicate during the pandemic to keep doing so.
Has your new series of YouTube how-to videos received impressive engagement, for example? Then keep the series going!
Be prepared for another outbreak.
Even if life resumes some degree of normalcy before long, much about COVID-19 remains uncertain. We don’t know yet whether the virus will escalate again once we start tiptoeing back into public, or if it will come back full-force in the fall, as some experts have suggested.
In short: be prepared for another outbreak and have a communications contingency plan in place.
Communicating through a crisis is one thing. Communicating in the aftermath of a crisis is its own beast. It can be tempting to move on from the hardships of a challenged time quickly – but, particularly in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t. Don’t forget what everyone has been through. We all need time to heal and rebuild, and your communications strategy needs to take this into account.
With honesty, empathy, and careful planning, you and your company can move smoothly and successfully through a crisis, into the post-crisis era, and out the other side again.
And, if you need help with your post-COVID-19 communications planning, reach out to us any time. We’d love to help! firstname.lastname@example.org