Honesty still is the best policy.
Business brand, community campaign or personal circle, we all have to think about how we communicate the pandemic to our audience. There has been such a deluge of COVID-19 information over the past few months that it might be hard to stay positive.
But it’s possible.
You may have thought about how your messaging is influencing behavior change in your setup but not given much thought about its impact in the future. Here are some tips I find helpful for communicating the pandemic in my social impact campaigns.
- Respond with speed
There is no vacuum in communication. The advent of social media ensures that there are no gaps in information. Any individual with a smartphone can dictate the narrative within seconds when news breaks. Rather than allow any random influence on the message, move quickly to gather the facts about the situation and its potential impact and respond decisively to avoid a reputational smear.
I believe that business, whether big or small, must move quickly to inform the public (not just clients) of the crisis and provide information about the situation and what they’re doing to protect or support the public.
- Don’t just Empathize, Be Authentic
The Pandemic affects us on a deeply personal level as it affects industries and global trade. A human touch is therefore key in every interaction that aims to make a lasting positive impact.
Being authentic is more than empathy. It is a strategic application of emotional intelligence.
In times like this people don’t want to hear official statements, they need personal exchanges with real people and preferably those with the knowledge and expertise to assure them that things are under control. Bad news sells and more so in this pandemic where everyone desperately wants to monitor the figures until the curve flattens.
If you decide to prioritize reporting COVID-19 deaths and confirmed cases over the recovery statistics, at least you can deliver that message expressing empathy.
- Provide the Facts with Emotion
We have witnessed the upsurge of people offering health advice and home remedies. These messages are emotional, claiming to be inspired by personal experience or that of someone close. While most of them are well intended, they spread more anxiety and fear. This illustrates the capacity of communication when it is conversational and uses a reassuring tone.
A positive message acknowledges that the viewer may be anxious about COVID-19 and addresses the emotion first, then follows with recommendations and best practices. Social media companies like Facebook show us how effective this approach is in the way they added COVID-19 information to their platforms.
- Create a Positive Spin with Honesty
There is an awful lot of text around with attention grabbing headlines, most of them negative news. The pursuit for better engagement leads us to focus on headlines that grab attention. If you can prioritize providing a positive spin during a time of uncertainty, expect that you will stand out from the masses. I do not suggest that we pretend that all around us things are not falling apart when everyone else is reporting that. In a time of crisis your audience call upon you to provide information that is true and trustworthy.
I must be honest that honesty isn’t always the best policy.
Sometimes honesty doesn’t particularly payoff, but it is what is needed to maintain integrity in a lasting manner. It is a balancing act for any communication that aims for social impact.
- Use Videos for Impact
Where there is a lot of news there are also opportunities to grab the attention of your target demographic. This attention grabbing gives you a condensed period to stand out among other attention-grabbers. In this situation I find that visual trumps all else, outperforming written and still picture messages.
Video can take apart the standard social distancing illustration and demonstrate what you can’t see with just an image.
When using video, prioritize quality over quantity. The focus is on putting out great content that is focused on in-depth narrative. Video helps in establishing social proof by connecting with audience where they are. Local health officers can work with church leaders and social media influencers to deliver messages to people in places they already frequent online.
I find the safety tips and ambassadors modelling the #safehandschallenge of W.H.O. very enlightening. The organisation keeps its content fresh by providing a variety of videos in addition to informational straight-to-camera interviews with experts.
Whether or not COVID-19 leaves soon or hangs around, the world will be on a learning curve for a long time. A dose of humanity delivered through positive communication is a guaranteed coping mechanism for individuals and business entities.