Can we talk about Covid-19?

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

I don’t know about you, but all the news about Covid-19 is freaking me out. I’ve read facts about the virus and practical advice on how to reduce the chances of infection but the psychology of fear is real.

Two things are driving this fear. Covid-19 is a new, highly contagious coronavirus strain with no vaccine and the world has become exponentially more connected since the Ebola, SARS or MERS outbreaks in the early-to-mid 2000s.

In times of uncertainty, fear finds a home.

I often write about the importance of keeping marketing communication clear, authentic and human. In a crisis situation like, oh...I don’t know...a pandemic, communication takes on an even more important role. Companies are communicating to customers about actions and policies but during the Covid-19 crisis, they should lean heavily on effective internal communication.

Internal actions have external consequences

In a digital age with easy access to information, people need and demand transparency and accountability. While the HR director or communications director may be excellent at their job, in a crisis situation, employees and shareholders need to hear the message from the top. Senior executives and board directors should take an active role in developing an internal crisis communication plan and work with the communication team to implement it. This will demonstrate leadership, provide clarity, keep employees in the loop, and mitigate the additional knock-on effects of the crisis.

Prepare for Different Scenarios

While we don’t yet know a lot about Covid-19, what we do know is that the virus is spreading rapidly. There is a possibility that an employee will contract the virus. Planning communication around reducing the chance of infection, company policy in the case of an infection and what will be said if an employee becomes infected is crucial. This means getting the senior team and the communication team around a table and brainstorming scenarios. Transparency and authenticity are key parts of trust and, if nothing else matters at this time, trust is it.

Make it Authentic

No matter how many facts you read, the unknowns of Covid-19 and the psychology of groupthink can play on our emotions and result in irrational behaviour. Leaders need to be a voice of reason to their employees when it comes to demonstrating and understanding that their fear is real. The organization should communicate as clearly as possible its policies around working remotely and travel and precautions that should be taken to keep employees and in-person customers safe. At the same time, employees should also understand that the economy will suffer and the company will likely be impacted. It’s better to prepare everyone for what may lie ahead.

Keep it Human

The tone of the communication depends on the brand, but for such a critical time where there are many unknowns, we all want to feel a sense of connectivity. Remember that you’re talking to people with families, friends and lives outside of work. They are all concerned about what’s happening beyond formal policies. Importantly, if people feel that there is a person with their best interest at heart behind policies that they don’t like or don’t understand, there is a better chance of gaining acceptance or allowing for flexibility if the policy needs to be revised.

Motivate and Empower Employees

Crisis periods are when the core values and beliefs of a brand can be used to galvanize the internal team, keep them motivated and empower them to make on-the-ground decisions as needed.

For example, in its communication regarding Covid-19, Google emphasizes the company belief that it plays a vital role in keeping the world connected like Google?

The effect is to keep the team focused and working towards something bigger than themselves, despite the fact that their working conditions are changing. The core values and beliefs also become the basis for companies being flexible and willing to delegate responsibility if the situation requires it. This should be communicated to those who may need to make quick decisions.

Plan your dive. Dive your plan.

SCUBA divers learn to plan their dive and dive their plan. When you have a finite amount of oxygen to work with and need to think quickly, the plan is everything. Developing an internal crisis communication plan takes time but also saves valuable time in the event of a crisis. If there isn’t one, then I hope these basic tips are helpful for more effective internal communication during this time.

Stay safe out there.

I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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