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22.04.2020 |

Consider a rethink rather than covidwashing

From the communications point of view the situation around the coronavirus isn’t all negative. It’s forcing many companies to abandon old, rigid habits.

“Who’s done most to further the digitalisation of your company, the CEO or the CTO? Neither: it’s been COVID-19!” This is the kind of meme doing the rounds on LinkedIn in recent weeks. It shows that the extraordinary situation around the virus also has its positive sides. The coronavirus is breathing new life into digitalisation projects that had got bogged down, and prompting companies to rethink the way they communicate.

Becoming part of the community
In the current situation, more or less all communication is happening digitally. Despite this, stakeholders still expect to be able to interact with businesses directly. Social media are finally being used for their intended purpose: for sharing in communities.

Companies have a chance to become part of this sharing. One of the ways they can do this is via social engagement. For example, the way large retailers are offering free delivery to vulnerable people and publicly thanking their staff is getting a good reception. Companies can also score points with exciting content. Rarely has so much content been consumed as at present.

Why not try new communications channels for broadcasting this content? Podcasts are the medium of the moment, because a voice conveys more emotion than a written text. Creating proximity and closeness also goes down particularly well in times of isolation. Many artists as well as fitness and yoga studios, for example, have started to broadcast performances and courses live.

Watch out for the stumbling blocks
But not all companies have realised that they have to rethink the way they communicate in such an extraordinary situation. Merely adding a sentence on coronavirus to a post you’d planned to send out in any case, or setting yourself up as a saviour in times of need through some ill-thought-out action doesn’t make a credible impression. There’s already a term for it: covidwashing.

A good idea isn’t enough. The way you communicate it is also important. Reese Witherspoon’s fashion label Draper James, for example, has been slammed for presenting a lottery for dresses for teachers on Instagram as a “giveaway”. The post gave the false impression that all the teachers who applied for a dress would get one – and led to huge disappointment afterwards.

Stay curious after the virus
But if they show a modicum of sensitivity in their communications, companies need not fear the critical audience that inhabits digital space. In addition to credibility, what’s required most at the moment is a quick response. That’s shaking up many organisations. Communications plans where posts are decided on weeks in advance and have to be signed off by the big boss are now definitely a thing of the past.

Companies can use the next few weeks to communicate with their stakeholders more topically, on new channels, and on more equal terms. More immediate and creative communication could be the thing we take with us from the crisis.

Evelyne Oechslin finds herself communicating with the world on more channels than ever.