Communications in the time of COVID-19 is an unprecedented landscape. Brands and organizations are struggling to determine what value-added content they should share — and what will only add to the noise.
Associations face some unique challenges in continuing to provide member services in the midst of a pandemic. To help, here are four tips to guide your communications during the coronavirus crisis:
1. Communicate what you’re doing when and why
Be transparent and share details about what your association, offices, and staff are doing to protect your members, your employees, and your community from COVID-19. Maybe it’s sharing details about new office hours due to your staff going remote. Maybe it’s adding new downloadable materials or education modules to your website in lieu of scheduled programming or events. If you remain open, it could be detailing what sanitary measures your organization is taking to safeguard visitors when they come to your offices. Walk through your actions to date, and share your anticipated next steps if you know them, and if it’s appropriate.
2. Change your meeting and event strategy — and talk about why you’re making those changes
Social distancing isn’t just a personal responsibility. Businesses and associations should make adjustments that allow their members to limit travel and contact without missing out on important information and updates. For example, annual meetings can be delivered via live webinar, as a downloadable video, or even live-streamed on social media. Standing board meetings or other workgroups can connect via messaging, video chat, or presentation-sharing applications like Zoom or Go-to-Meeting.
Remember: Your members might struggle to adapt to these changes. Communicate why these changes were necessary, the expected duration of the change, and reinforce your commitment to providing them the best member experience possible — while preserving their health and safety, and yours.
3. Get ahead of the story
Be a voice of experience in the COVID-19 discussion. Identify what the media will be talking about next week or next month as it relates to your industry, and how it is being impacted by the pandemic. Bring together an internal “think tank” of leadership and subject matter experts from your organization. Then brainstorm future challenges and opportunities, and who is the best person to connect with a reporter to tell that story. (Remember: That meeting can be conducted via video conferencing!) Finally, identify reporters writing about COVID-19 in your industry publications or trade media and pitch your story idea — and your expert to speak on the topic.
4. Acknowledge that things are changing quickly, and adjustments may be necessary
There is no playbook for COVID-19. For many organizations, a similar scenario was not even in their crisis plan. Prepare your audiences to expect change. Changes to your operating hours, scheduled programming and services, or member access to staff could be impacted by external factors like government mandates, or internal factors such as diminished staffing power due to illness. In any event, establish trust in your organization by sharing with transparency when you have relevant news to share, and communicating changes clearly and quickly when they occur.
As a final note, remember that this is an uncertain time for all of us. Approach your interactions with members, colleagues and constituents with a little additional grace and patience, and lean into clear, fact-based communication instead of emotional responses if conflicts related to COVID-19 changes arise.