COVID-19 is forcing companies of all sizes to quickly assess their way of communicating with key stakeholders. And it’s made many aware that they are woefully unprepared to communicate in a crisis.

Since most small and medium sized businesses don’t have a crisis communications plan, many have resorted to tactics they use during regular businesses – emailing their entire customer base with messages of support and encouragement. While the foundation of crisis communications is to keep communicating frequently, the recent email deluge from thousands of nonessential businesses to customers has become a running joke online (thank you Tom Fishburne of Marketoonist) and has caused many of these very customers to quickly opt-out of email subscriptions.

So, if flooding email inboxes isn’t the answer, what is?

Do communicate how you’re handling your workforce and why.

Reputation has never been more important, and how you treat employees is a business decision that is likely to be even more important to your customers during the pandemic than a sale. So, it’s important to communicate not only with your employees, but also with customers about how your handling employee relations during the pandemic.

Do be proactive with communities.

Everyone is scared. Make a plan of how your company, even if it’s deemed nonessential, can contribute to the community. Actions speak louder than ads. And with social media, your philanthropic or empathetic actions will likely not go unnoticed by customers even if you don’t trumpet them.

Never has “Do the right thing” been a more important principle.

Do state the facts, no matter what.

Be transparent in all of your communications, even if you’re worried how business decisions will be perceived. Most customers will recognize the near-term challenges you are facing. And people in a time of crisis appreciate honesty more than ever.

Don’t be tone deaf.

Focus on what’s important to your customers. Use empathy in all your communications rather than trying to create selling opportunities. If your communications look identical to how they looked before the pandemic, you have a tone problem. Your tone needs to be aligned with the current zeitgeist.

Don’t Over-communicate.

If you’re a restaurant or retailer, for example, sending an email or posting on social media about an important health or safety issue, or about whether you’re continuing to pay employees during the pandemic are legitimate reasons to communicate. Customers are savvy, and will know if you’re sending an email just for the sake of sending it, or worse, clogging their inbox with unnecessary information at the worst possible time. 

Soul-search before hitting send.

Don’t try to communicate all your messages in a single communication.

It is critical to be consistent and transparent with your messages right now. For example, an update of how you’re protecting staff will be muddled if you include a coupon code about a product. Stick to one short and clear message per communication. In addition, differentiate messages to your most loyal customers and one-time customers because they’ll likely interpret the usefulness of your messages very differently.

If you are considering engaging a communications expert – even for a half-day – to help you creatively brainstorm how to make the best out of this challenging situation, here are some ways you can engage:

  • Multi-month PR relationship, including crisis plan creating and training
  • One-month engagement to review, refine and rework your organization’s crisis plan for tone, content and strategy
  • Half-day messaging and media training workshops for organization’s leaders for all outward-facing communications
  • Creative brainstorming sessions to build future organizational programs that will make the best of a bad situation in 2020 and beyond