Communication in a health crisis is a high-stakes game. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that brands want to participate in the public health conversation. This is not a bad thing, however the risks of poor communication can extend beyond reputational damage to the lives and deaths of citizens. Remember these basic 5 habits of communicating in a health crisis:
Understand and acknowledge that the story is still unfolding.
When a situation is unfolding, speaking conclusively about unknowns is damaging. Always do your research before communicating, and let the public know what is known and not known at the time.
Do not make unsubstantiated claims.
In a public health crisis, there is significant overlap between many expert parties, from government officials to doctors. Let the expert knowledge in the public sphere guide your brand. Additionally, always conduct your due diligence before communicating. This way your brand avoids sharing and spreading fake news, and also stays abreast of all developments.
Check your language closely.
Simple changes in phrasing can affect whether the public understands your communication accurately. Your brand can unintentionally make an incorrect claim because of word choice. For this reason, it’s important to check and double check all messaging and copy surrounding the crisis.
Do not incite panic.
There is enough information doing the rounds, increasing anxiety and panic amongst global populations in the COVID-19 crisis. Even factual information can be used to cause damage. Always come back to your brand tone and messaging, then create communications that continue to build your brand and support your stakeholders.
Refer the public to the right authorities.
Every brand cannot be an expert in every sector. Public health information is technical, and it is important to let the voices of authority be heard and amplified in the public sphere. This means brands have an important role to play in reminding their stakeholders of where to find accurate information and expert sources.