Community, Communications, and COVID-19It seems to me that in the United States, the COVID-19 virus spread faster than accurate information about the COVID-19 virus. However, starting about two weeks ago, I began to receive emails from American companies that addressed the possibility that this new virus would affect how they did business.

By last week, the emails were coming at a dozen an hour. 

The main theme is “We’re having everyone wash their hands more often, we’ve got hand sanitizer everywhere, we’re disinfecting surfaces even more often than we already did.” Other companies have adopted a work at home policy for people whose jobs can be done remotely.  Beneath the words is the intent: we’re not sure what to do, we’re not ignoring this, we want to do the right thing as soon as we can figure out what that is.

What are companies doing?

What’s uplifting amidst all the uncertainty is that a number of companies are taking additional steps to protect their employees’ livelihood as well as their health.

According to my inbox:

High-tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google will pay hourly workers and contractors who cannot do their jobs from home or who have to stay home sick.

Chain restaurant Taco Bell will pay employees for their scheduled hours if they are required to stay at home or their restaurant is closed. The ubiquitous Starbucks has expanded its catastrophe pay program to compensate employees for up to 14 days of self-quarantine at home.

Restaurant meal delivery service GrubHub is deferring commission fees for independent restaurants. GrubHub has also set up a relief fund so customers can “donate the change” to support drivers and restaurants.

Kiva, a non-profit that facilitates zero-interest loans in the most impoverished areas of the world, has expanded loan eligibility to support small businesses in the United States. They’ve also raised the maximum loan cap from $10,000 to $15,000 and extended a grace period for new borrowers to up to 6 months.

Fundraising platform GoFundMe has set up a centralized hub to promote COVID-19 relief campaigns. 

Even the Audubon Society wants to help, emailing out a link to a virtual care package of their favorite videos, photo albums, and articles “about the birds we all love.”

Content teams are on the front lines

The best of these emails do not read like faceless, robotic corporate communications. Rather, they read like they have been thoughtfully crafted to speak from one person to another. 

In a time of emergency, you can bet your customers are reading their emails, haunting their social media feeds, watching the news. They are actively seeking information.

When your communications are consistent with your company terminology, style, voice, and tone, you send a reassuring message to your customers. The world may be in meltdown mode but your company is taking action, building goodwill, and projecting stability.

If, instead, your words change from channel to channel, if your communications are full of errors, if you parrotted what your competitors said without regard to your own company mission or tone, if you sent an email but have no other information across your digital presence, then your attempt to communicate it may have the opposite effect than you intend.

Coming together as a community

Digital content teams have an unprecedented opportunity to reach customers where we are — email, social media, websites, YouTube. The ability to communicate quickly and at scale during an emergency can make the difference not just to the bottom line but to the health of the employees, customers, and community in general.

Regina Lynn Preciado