It’s been a really strange week. Last week we were all about #WorkingFromHome and #BusinessAsUsual. Now we’re all about #ShutTheSites and #HealthAndSafety.
And that’s all good – after all, we shouldn’t be sending people out to do dangerous work that isn’t genuinely essential.
Bear in mind, however, that closing down your site, your distribution point or your manufacturing plant doesn’t mean ceasing to trade. Furloughing staff who can’t work because it would be a risk to them, and their families, doesn’t mean closing down your communications department and your communications with it.
If anything, your communications are even more important now than they were last week.
I’m not talking about sharing tips on handwashing or social distancing – there are professionals to do that. No – you’re professionals at something else, something that is still needed. What is it?
Business Continuity and Communications – Some Context
Let’s think back to 2008 – the beginning of the last recession.
At that time, websites were mostly brochure style with sparse news and little opportunity to demonstrate continuing presence.
As a result, when the recession really kicked in during 2009, the industry and public in general too, had lost confidence in websites. You couldn’t tell whether the company was still trading, so you didn’t trust what you read online. Brands suffered.
Some years later I was asked to advise an architects’ firm on their website and discovered that if I googled them, I found a different website, abandoned in 2008.
It had not been taken down, redirected or even marked as old, and was still showing recruitment adverts. Their new website didn’t even hit the first page of Google. I didn’t see it – I saw the old one. They had even changed the domain name they were using and hadn’t redirected the old email addresses, so any enquiries disappeared into the ether…
Come forward to 2020 – the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis
Now there are even more ways for people to find out about you.
Your website, yes, and social media. LinkedIn company pages and profiles, twitter and Instagram accounts.
More places for people to see whether you are alive – or not.
What makes these platforms so different from 2008 is that they always display the latest posts – tweets, status updates, blog posts, news. If you stop posting, people have even more reason to think that you have ceased trading.
Have you ceased trading? Or is this just a temporary blip? We all hope it is the latter, and we should be acting as if it is the latter, otherwise it could be the former and all your good will, brand loyalty and confidence could all be used up and worn out in a few weeks.
What are You doing about Business Continuity in Communications?
Some companies I see online are finding keeping communications open really difficult. There are two types of strategy they appear to prefer:
- Sharing generic information about how to #workfromhome
- Sharing COVID-19 updates written by the board.
Sometimes it’s a combination of the two.
Neither of these strategies is particularly helpful, and here’s why.
Don’t share only generic content
I’ve always stressed the importance of using social media to demonstrate your expertise.
Your audience follows you for your expertise, not for generic content. They are already following the NHS and Government sites. True, you can share #workfromhome information specific to your company, but this will dry up if you’ve furloughed 80% of your staff because they won’t be allowed to have Teams conversations with you that you can screenshot.
Anyhow, that is all old hat. What’s new?
Don’t write your own PR
Your customers can see through poorly written announcements. Even worse, they may well disbelieve them because they are written without sincerity, without nuance, and with precious little detail about their situation.
Why have you invested so much into in-house marketing professionals who are skilled at understanding and communicating to your target audience if you aren’t going to ask for, and take, their advice? Why buy a dog and bark yourself? It just makes you look stupid.
There’s more to a crisis than keeping tweeting and posting about the situation. In a crisis, people are looking for those they can trust. They are looking for certainty, reliability, continuity.
You’re probably already thinking about that, so how about sharing it?
Why Should we Keep in Touch?
You’re already thinking about the future, and no doubt having conversations internally about how to relaunch the business, how to capitalise on the opportunity of a crisis, how to keep going or keep costs down whilst you make plans.
Instead of churning out generic crisis related communications, ask yourself,
- Where will you be in 3 months’ time?
- How are you going to get there?
Remember that your customers, prospects and employees are also asking themselves these questions. They are thinking about what their problem is, who is going to solve it, or where they are going to find their next job now you’ve stopped needing them on a day-to-day basis.
It’s like having @SuButcher in my kitchen! We’ve even managed to collaborate too; 2 of us sharing the unloading of the dishwasher as well as preparing dinner 👍🏻 @UKBIMA_East #beh4coll pic.twitter.com/NNl0v6de78
— Duncan Reed (@djhreed67) March 25, 2020
- How do you take your audience (customers and prospects) with you?
- How can you take your staff with you?
- What are you doing or could you be doing, that it would be of benefit to your brand and continuity to talk about?
- How can you make your customers see this as a temporary blip and not a fatal blow?
- How can you demonstrate that you have the expertise and they would be mad not to wait for you?
These are the things you should be doing, and the things you should be talking about to your audiences both internally and externally.
You’re not dead. Don’t act like you are through want of trying. It can be fatal.
How Should we Keep in Touch?
The main audiences you need to consider are:
- Your existing customers;
- Your prospective customers and advocates;
- The wider public, and
- Your employees.
Each of them is important to your future business operations. Each need different handling. But you must make sure that what you say in public to one audience doesn’t look wrong to another audience or is contradictory. There is no such thing as ‘internal comms’ anymore.
Step 1 – The bare minimum
If you really are closing down, produce a notice that you are closing down and make sure you include a date in the title so that people know when you posted it.
Make sure you say how long for, and as that period comes to an end, post an update. If you don’t post an update you’ve probably gone out of business. Up until that time, at least you look like you are still alive.
Some blog platforms show dates of posting and list blog posts in date order, so people will know which is the latest update. Remember, however, that people might find your notice from all sorts of places including arriving direct from a Google search – put a date on it and include a list of ‘latest news’.
Include on your update a form to enter an email address to receive an update when the situation changes. You can’t expect people to keep checking back to your website – that’s very 1990s, and anyhow, they are much more likely to look elsewhere first.
If you already have a blog subscriber list, add these email addresses to that. Then make sure when things change you post your update to your blog subscribers too.
- Put up a notice;
- Give it a date and sequence;
- Include a sign-up form for updates;
- Update your notice, link back and share with your subscribers.
And don’t forget to make sure you have the codes to access your domain names, hosting, website back ends and social accounts. You might not go out of business, but your suppliers might. Its good business practice to keep your own access codes.
Sorted. If nothing else, you look like you have done your best in the circumstances.
Step 2 – an FAQ
People always have questions when they read an announcement about closures.
Are you closing your factory? What happened to my order? What if I’m an essential service? What do I do about this problem?
When people have a question, what do they do? They post a response to your update, either as a comment on the website, or on social media.
Make sure you monitor these channels and put together a set of Frequently Asked Questions you can direct people to.
- Identify likely questions and answers to your notice of closure/change;
- Monitor social media and blog post comments for other questions;
- Compile a COVID-19 FAQ branded for your company name (it’s about YOU after all);
- Share the notice, FAQ and individual answers on social media and with your mailing list.
Step 3 – How to Maintain Confidence in Your Brand
If you aren’t ceasing trading completely, or even (gasp) if you might be, review what you might do to help your customers, prospects and staff.
Perhaps you have an audience that needs to know about how the COVID-19 situation is affecting the particular sector you work in and could benefit from hearing about it or discussing it?
Perhaps you have specific expertise that you usually share at meetings and seminars that you could share online with a wider audience?
Perhaps there are parts of your business that could keep working (from home) and continue to provide a service?
If you’re looking at making changes to the business, how might you use this hiatus to test out some concepts and theories with your existing customers?
- Identify how you might be able to help each audience;
- Sort out a skeleton communication plan that allows you to do that during the lockdown;
- Keep your comms professionals on hand at all times to support, advise and action;
- Don’t forget your employees, furloughed or not, you’ll need them!
We are going to come out of this situation. The vast majority will survive the virus, and they are going to need you and your services. In the meantime, act as if you are going to need them and keep communicating.
You’re not dead yet. Don’t act like you are – and keep visible online.
Image credit – James Cridland
Lloyd Connors says
Some great thoughts and advice here Su. Thank you.