Having a formal communication strategy for staff and customers used to be the domain of large organizations that had specialists in this area. Mid-sized firms decentralized with HR, marketing, and sales managing this function for their respective responsibility areas. Small businesses generally just have the owner/operator filling all these roles. No matter your organization size, today you need to have a formal communication plan for COVID-19.
To to do this, there are five core areas that need to be developed/enhanced:
- Create a steering committee for determining all messaging
- Establish baseline requirements for messaging
- Create a COVID-19 central source of truth
- Establish a messaging cadence
- Ensure multi-channel cascading and consistency
1) Create a Steering Committee
During this time having multiple points of view to determine the path forward is needed. This committee will have the final say on what and when things get communicated. As changes occur daily, responsibilities for different areas can be decentralized with those subject matter experts bringing forward requirements for communication. Everyone needs to step up and be responsible.
The functions you will want represented on this steering committee are as follows:
- Executive Leadership (President/Owner)
- Sales/Customer Service
For some organizations, the committee will be at least four individuals (or more) representing the different functions of the organization. In other organizations, the committee may be only one or two individuals; either way, when creating communication requirements, these functional areas need to be considered.
2) Establish Baseline Requirements for Messaging
The first step is determining who you will need to be communicating with. In general, you are going to have 2-4 stakeholder groups to which you will need to communicate. They are as follows:
- Customers and Community
- Board (for non profits and publicly traded organizations)
- Shareholders (public and privately held will require different tactics)
The next step is determine the information requirements for each group.
Each of these groups are going to have different needs and concerns. Brainstorm for each group what is required to answer their questions. If available, find a representative from each group and ask them what questions and concerns they have. Now more than ever, listen generously and seek to understand so that your communication can address their concerns.
Some examples of requirements:
- Supports available
- Current working conditions and requirements
- Ongoing updates
- Occupational health and safety updates
- Hours and operations
- Communication channels – How do they stay in touch? Chat, phone, weekly update emails
- Support for what they need to do - Listing of applicable government programs for your industry
- Operations requirements – How do they still do business with us?
- Product availability/pricing – Maintaining inventory online
- New payment Arrangements - Suspensions, deferral, or discounts if able to be offered)
- Hours and operations
- Communication – How do they get in touch and with who
- Status of orders and accounts
3) Create a COVID-19 Central Source of Truth
With Cloud computing, it is easy to create a shared COVID-19 drive in which all documentation for this crisis is contained. The steering committee should be the gatekeepers to the folder with access granted upon their approval. Examples of information that should be captured:
- All emails/memos/video to staff and customers
- Notes from meetings regarding COVID-19
- Planning documents
- Layoff notices
- Incident reporting regarding COVID-19
From this shared folder information can be parsed out to identified stakeholder groups as required.
In addition to the internal central source of truth, an updated page for your customers should be established on your website as a best practice example: https://www.flamanfitness.com/covid19-updates or, what we're doing at GI, which is more extensive than most update pages: https://www.graphicintuitions.com/covid19-updates/.
Finally, you may wish to have a separate private web page for staff.
4) Establish a Messaging Cadence
If you are updating daily, update daily. Considering how this crisis unfolds, that should be the current cadence for your central source of truth and a customer facing web page. Customers and suppliers can be initially contacted by email and pointed towards the page and then ongoing updates can occur weekly to customers.
As the situation unfolds staff communication may need to occur even more than daily.
5) Ensure Multi-Channel Cascading and Consistency
In this age of distraction, most businesses communicate on multiple channels. For ease, they can all become dependent on the website update page. A typical list of channels is below:
- COVID-19 Webpage (This is the central source of truth)
- Email Lists
- Facebook Corporate Pages
- LinkedIn Corporate Pages
- Google My Business Pages
- Review Sites (ie: Yelp, etc)
Establish the webpage and then point the rest of the channels toward the established page. Note you may need to updated some channels beyond pointing to your customer facing webpage, Google My Business for instance will require hour changes.
Bringing it All Together - Recommended Requirements for a COVID Communication Strategy
Beyond these five core areas, you will need a team to ensure the messaging gets out. That can be members of the committee, your internal marketing and communication team or an outsourced agency. The communication with that team needs to be transparent and immediate so they can execute as soon as possible in this ever fluid situation.
Stay well, we are in this together,
The Team at Graphic Intuitions