This is an incredibly difficult time for you and your business. More than likely, this global crisis has also affected your customers, or your suppliers, or your clients, or even all of them.
Covid-19 has caused damage beyond more than just our health. Professional life, as we know it, has ceased for a large proportion of the UK and during times of uncertainty, it’s essential businesses are not only protecting their employees and customers, but brand reputation as well.
A key player in achieving that is the effective use of your internal and external digital PR communications.
Since the start of this crisis, we have seen a number of high-profile businesses deal with this situation badly - with their messaging resulting in them becoming the talk of national press and social media for all the wrong reasons. We don’t need to mention specific examples because there’s no doubt you will instinctively know.
Some, however, have deployed positive communications strategies that have protected and strengthened their brand during this time of uncertainty. As part of Hallam’s research, three techniques have acted as overriding points of note within these effective approaches towards retaining and enhancing a brand’s reputation. These are:
1) Clear and consistent lines of communication with colleagues, clients and suppliers
2) Going above and beyond and being helpful
3) Building digital communities and being transparent
We have elaborated on all three of these points in greater detail in this post, all of which will be invaluable to you when it comes to protecting your business’ brand during this Covid-19 crisis and beyond…
Establishing clear lines of communication
As we have alluded, your digital presence is important and so is getting your messaging right during this period.
The first port of call, if it hasn’t been already, should be your website and ensuring it is fully updated with your latest stance on Covid-19. Consider setting up a dedicated Covid-19 page as part of this – a location that supplies a regular stream of up to date information with regards to any operational changes you have made, including opening times, order timeframes and stock alterations, if appropriate.
Our advice would be that this is highlighted in the form of a clickable banner on your home page to direct your web traffic to one location.
Beyond your website, be mindful that your business’ information can be located elsewhere. Double and triple-check that all your important details on websites such as Google My Business are adapted accordingly to avoid causing any unnecessary confusion.
Don’t ignore the power of social media either. A link to your website’s dedicated COVID-19 page should be pinned to the top of your relevant channels throughout this crisis and if your Facebook Messenger account is receiving an abnormal number of enquiries, set an automatic reply that outlines your expected response time or provides helpful bite-size snippets.
Away from your customer-facing digital presence, making sure you get your internal communications right during this period is paramount. A large part of this will be ensuring your colleagues are updated just as regularly with the latest situation and are not kept in the dark.
Should your circumstances change, work with your workforce to ensure you and they are prepared. That leads us nicely on to our second strategic point.
Go above and beyond and be helpful
This is your opportunity to support not only your colleagues and current customers but also build brand trust and loyalty. Your actions during this time will be remembered beyond this crisis.
You are likely to receive a lot of questions during this period, particularly from your colleagues who will feel a great deal of uncertainty and the knock-on effect of that when it comes to mental health. A dedicated FAQ sheet should be considered and adapted as this crisis develops to help ensure they have a first port of call for any questions they may have in relation to their work.
Be helpful to your colleagues during this time, answer questions, work with them and provide options. During our research we have seen a number of examples of businesses that have been highlighted for the following:
1) Not looking after the welfare of their colleagues
2) Treated them badly and forcing them to remain working – some even as ‘non-essential’ workers
3) Not communicating effectively
We have seen a number of horror stories relating to all three of the above points and all three have inevitably led to businesses being the talk of social media for all the wrong reasons. You might not hit the headlines for doing all three of the above well, but you will have the gratitude and trust of your colleagues and customers during this period and beyond, which will count for so much more in the long run.
Working from home
You are most likely in this position now where you have ceased operating OR have transitioned to working from home, but is that something your colleagues are prepared for?
A change in routine, different work settings, and social distancing has proven tough for many, so being proactive creates clarity.
Provide digital working from home guides, encourage wellbeing tips and keep in constant dialogue – ideally through video call software, like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and Google Hangouts – to ensure your staff does not feel isolated.
Like your colleagues, clients and suppliers will have questions. Maybe they are suffering through this hardship too. Be as supportive as you can be and keep in open dialogue. They are more likely to remain working with you post-Covid-19 if you show a willingness to support them during their own struggles.
Honesty is the best policy to build a digital community
It’s been touched upon in the first two sections, but, as the saying goes, honesty is the best policy for your brand. That is the case now more than ever.
The situation with Covid-19 is changing at a daily rate and so consider how you can be transparent within all of your internal communications and ensure your colleagues know where you stand as a business. Your digital assets will play a significant role in this, as well as when it comes to building camaraderie outside of your workforce.
As part of this, the tone you adopt will be vital. Within your customer-facing communications, ensure to remain optimistic while not making light of the current crisis. Promote the necessary stay at home messages, the government guidelines and display your value to the work of the NHS – tactics that have, naturally, been vastly well-received during this period.
PR and outreach remains key
While the time for creative campaigns has been temporarily put on the backburner, there is still a lot that can be done to ensure you remain current. Your business’ voice remains key in your targeted local and trade publications that are pushing hard to discover content. Thought leadership and industry views around your experiences and your predictions for the future should be considered to ensure you remain present in your sector.
That is definitely not to say there is no room for creativity, however.
If your business has the capabilities, use this period of time to give back to the local community, a charity or someone less fortunate through imaginative activities. Take the time to speak and brainstorm with your colleagues about the different ways you can do so.
The likelihood is that someone in your business is doing something impactful within your local environment or committing to helping people in need. Take a business stance to do the same and invite your local community – again, via your digital assets – to join you in doing something positive or charitable and create a wave of positive momentum.
And finally, but definitely not least, please remember that, one day, this crisis will be a distant memory and normality will return. We’d definitely advise making sure you’re well prepared for that too by downloading and reading Hallam’s eBook: The Future of Digital Marketing and Beyond.
In the meantime, stay safe!
Tom Bestwick, PR and outreach specialist, Hallam