Best practices for communicating with your community in the age of COVID-19
How many emails have you received with COVID-19 in the subject line? Is anyone not talking about it on Facebook? The news is heavily focused on reports of new cases and predictions of a world in the wake of coronavirus, which dramatically changes day-to-day. It’s overwhelming – like drinking from a fire hose (and the water tastes awful). Yet, we keep opening emails, checking our social feeds, and clicking through to catch the latest breaking news.
So, how do you manage important communications in a time of information overload?
As public servants, there are a lot of people looking to you for information and guidance. Here are a few best practices to keep your messaging both on-point and sensitive to the landscape.
Messaging should be:
- Clear: To break through the noise, messages must be brief and to-the-point. Less is always more.
- Compelling Even if you have a captive audience, messages need to be relevant and shared in digestible ways. When in doubt, refer to the rule of threes.
- Connected: Messages should be relatable. Back up your messages with real-life stories to bring that connection to life.
- Continuous: Messages don’t stick if they’re not repeated regularly. Updates on the COVID-19 outbreak do not necessarily need to be repeated over and over, but your high level messages do. Compassion, perseverance, and resilience – these are the themes that deserve repetition.
Does local government need to communicate when there’s so much information available from other sources?
The short answer is YES. Your community feels closest and most connected to the government on a local level. They are looking to you to curate and distill the information that is most pertinent to them. In fact, one could argue that communicating with your people is more important than ever. It’s overwhelming and we all feel it: Does this pertain to me? Which information is most important? What should I be focused on right now?
Here are few ideas for how to package up your content so it’s different from typical media coverage and easy to digest:
- Get answers from experts: invite the community to submit questions on social media to be answered by local experts. This could be a simple post or even a video (see Dublin, Ohio’s video series). Leverage physicians, mental health specialists, fitness instructors, etc.
- Simplify and summarize: identify and summarize updates that are most relevant to your community. Maybe it’s local news about a new testing facility or it could be national news on government mandates that will affect your community. Make it easy for the people in your community to get the most relevant information in one place.
- Point them to lifestyle resources: heavy hearts need relief now and again. Help your community find resources to improve quality of life in hard times. For example, Audible is providing kids access to audiobooks for free during school closures, or actor John Krasinski created a YouTube channel (produced in his living room), Some Good News, that can make even the biggest skeptics crack a smile.
- #Actsofkindness: this hashtag is trending for good reason – people need that human connection, particularly while we’re all in isolation. For example, in Guide’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, well-known restaurateur and community champion, Brandon Chrostowski and his wife turned their home into a day care to enable parents to keep working and support their families during the coronavirus outbreak. #Actsofkindness are all over; find the stories in your community to share.
At the end of the day, whatever you communicate, do so with compassion. It’s human nature to want to solve a problem or give advice when people are struggling. Sharing stats, objective data, and need-to-know information is all fine and good, but sometimes people just need compassion and understanding. Be present and understanding, and your community will not forget it when we reemerge on the other side of this crisis.