Covid-19 Communications: Lessons from a Pandemic

By Emma Buchet

The situation surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic presents new challenges for everyone. Now more than ever, it is essential to know how to best communicate with your audience. 

Before diving in, it’s crucial to keep in mind that this health crisis is not an opportunity to get new followers or increase brand recognition. Instead, communications should be treated with thought, care, and empathy. 

Who is your audience, and what is your message?

Your audience is composed of people who follow your brand, such as customers, stakeholders, and investors. They have spent time on you, so you should show that you’ve spent time thinking of them in this crisis.

What your audience wants to know most is whether any changes will affect them. Let them know if you are encountering challenges, such as difficulties delivering the product or service, and keep the information up-to-date. 

You can also share what you’re doing to help. Does your brewery now make hand sanitizer? Is your clothing company making masks? A memorable example was when the United Kingdom fetish company, MedFetUK, donated all of its medical gear to the frontline workers. 

The tricky part is maintaining goodwill and trust for your brand without your messaging getting lost in all the noise. There are numerous Youtube compilations of advertisements made during the crisis that all sound the same when stitched together. While the tone is inspirational, customers can see through to the real message, which is to consume the product even when there is a crisis.

Sometimes a change of tone is necessary. If the brand usually is very serious or corporate, try to inject some humanity into your message. Brands that are humorous and light-hearted should take a more serious angle. MedFetUK is a good example of how a change of tone can help a company make a positive impression through its communications. 

Now to the science

Covid-19? Coronavirus? SARS-CoV2? Many terms are floating around that seem to represent the same thing, but have crucial differences. Look to health organizations like the CDC and the WHO, which have guidelines on what each name means. 

If you are discussing anything relating to the virus itself, only use reputable sources such as the organizations above, your local government’s advice, or well-known research institutions and universities. 

At the same time, there’s no need to go into too much detail. Nobody is expecting a startup that has nothing to do with virology to know the specifics about Covid-19. Most of the time, your goal is not to educate your audience. 

However, with every rule comes an exception. Frozen steak company, Steak-umm, made waves with a series of Tweets about the plight of millennials, tacking issues from student debt to “working service jobs they hate while barely making ends meat” (Twitter: @Steak-umm). 

How do I continue to integrate the lessons learned after the crisis has calmed down?

  • Whether it’s a natural disaster, economic crash, or even controversy in your own company, there will always be some crisis that you must face. 
  • Scientists and science communicators work hard to get their message across–through all the jargon. However, this doesn’t just apply to physicists, biologists, and chemists. Every sector has its language in which it operates. 
  • Do you know what a CRM is, or what NFC stands for? As much as Covid-19 vs. coronavirus seems confusing, the language you use in your day-to-day business operations can be just as strange for a new audience. 

The main lesson to take away from communicating about this pandemic is to make sure that your communication is, now and in the future, as robust and dependable as possible. Nobody is sure how long this crisis will continue, which is okay as long as we are doing the best we can.

About the Author

Emma is a science communicator who has worked with researchers all over the world. Her background in biology allows her to understand and translate difficult concepts while keeping their message intact. She has worked for hospitals, universities, and private companies in Ireland, France, and Japan. Emma is passionate about telling stories about the people behind the research and currently works on communication for European research projects. 

linkedin.com/in/emma-buchet/  

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