Be a Source of Reliable Information, Communicate Action and Preparedness
Whether it is Covid-19 (Coronavirus), H1N1, SARS or any other large-scale outbreak concerning your employees, customers, and community, it is important to show leadership, provide reassurance, and relay information factually and consistently during this time of unknowns.
It is your responsibility to be a calm resource in what is a tsunami of information swirling into your stakeholders’ lives at breakneck speed. If you haven’t yet communicated around your organization’s actions and preparedness, or if you wonder whether there is more you could be doing, now is the time to develop a plan and implement it.
Here are some communication tips to consider:
Stick to a reliable, unbiased source for information
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is providing guidance related to everything from travel to treatment recommendations. There may be other local sources, such as your state health department, that are more relevant to what is happening in your community.
Another site to monitor is the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation to see how other businesses are responding to the virus’ impact and obtain tools such as posters to help inform and communicate about the virus to employees and customers.
Put together a coronavirus crisis team
Your team should be structured to handle rapidly evolving situations, establish protocols, policies, and procedures should escalating action be required, and assist you in staying abreast of and communicating recent developments concerning the virus. The team should be multi-disciplinary to cover technology, human resources, operations, legal and, of course, communications.
Performing a daily check in on updates, illness reports, travel policies, new resources available, and evolving health precautions will keep the team informed and aware of what might be on the horizon so all can be as prepared as possible.
Develop a mechanism for relaying information on a consistent basis
Whether it is in the form of your intranet or an email message to internal stakeholders, posts on your website, in retail, customer email updates, and/or social media posts, no amount of communication is too much.
In today’s world, it is expected that you will regularly advise people as to changes in operations, events or activities related to your business, actions and precautions being taken, and that you will find a channel to consistently reach your stakeholders. Regular and ongoing communication will instill and maintain trust in your organization.
Listen for what information is needed and communicate what you know right now
New information will continue to come in and your processes and steps will evolve as time goes on. As a communicator, it is as important to listen as it is to share. Listen to your employees, customers, and community and respond appropriately.
For example, new cleaning procedures were adopted and shared in near real time by Southwest Airlines with its Rapid Rewards members and posted on their website to address loud worries around safe travel.
Be nimble, flexible and most of all, show your human side
The situation seems to be changing by the hour. Make sure you let employees, customers, and other stakeholders know you are concerned for their well-being and taking measures to protect them. You can’t control the level of impact of the coronavirus, but you can influence how your business responds and the perception of your organization as a result.
People are much more understanding when they see you’re aware, that you care, and that you’re taking steps to minimize potential damage. The business disruption caused by coronavirus is likely to last for months and waiting to respond until something has happened in your state, industry, or office location is simply not an option.
Keeping employees and other key audiences fully informed illustrates your organization is ready to cope as best as possible. Taking appropriate communication steps now to present your organization as being well-prepared, thoughtful, and resilient, will enhance your corporate reputation long after the coronavirus runs its course.
Holly Haseley, APR, has over 30 years of experience in crisis communications, media relations, marketing and corporate communications, with a primary focus on the healthcare industry, working with skilled nursing centers, senior living communities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and clinics throughout the United States and Canada.