In a media climate defined by soundbites and 240-character blurbs, we’re currently facing both a healthcare crisis and an information crisis. As an organization that puts people first, we and the organizations we work with owe it to our communities to be sources of reliable, up-to-date information during what is a deeply stressful and uncertain time for people everywhere.
Here’s how we recommend crafting a COVID-19 communications plan with the safety of your supporters in mind.
Use accurate information
First and foremost, all information regarding COVID-19 should only be sourced from recognized public health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), or the World Health Organization (WHO).
Outside of these organizations, we advise against citing experts not directly involved in the crisis response — regardless of rank or title.
Understand the terminology
While many people are colloquially referring to “the coronavirus,” coronaviruses are actually a family of viruses characterized by the crownlike spikes that cover their surfaces.
These viruses can cause the common cold or more serious diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and most recently, COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019. The specific strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is named SARS-CoV-2.
Check out The Associated Press’ topical guide for more information on how to refer to and style terminology in your COVID-19 communications.
Avoid alarmist rhetoric
Do your part to assuage the fears of your constituents by adopting a calm, neutral tone when discussing the situation around COVID-19. Emotionally charged words like death, fatal, mortality, etc., should be avoided.
Avoid clickbait-y subject lines that may cause confusion or incite panic. Remember that everything you write will be read in the context of a public health crisis that has already taken hundreds of lives. For example, if you try to ask for new sustainers by using a vague subject line like “19 more,” some portion of your readers’ minds are going to jump to current events before they think about your mission.
Use messaging responsibly
Given the gravity of this situation, it is important to be thoughtful about how you write email and social copy. When writing about COVID-19, don’t be silly or irreverent — there’s a time and place for that, and it’s definitely not during a public health crisis. But don’t be maudlin, either. Instead, your message should cut through the chaotic noise surrounding this issue with clear, fact-driven copy.
On that point, it’s important to remember that the situation is rapidly unfolding. As research continues to uncover more details about the disease, what’s considered a “fact” today may be subject to change.
The best way to account for this variability is to be clear with dates and times. For example, when discussing the reach of COVID-19, you can say “As of Monday, 49 states and the District of Columbia have confirmed cases of COVID-19.”
Review automated campaigns
Think about your ongoing messages — welcome series, reengagement series, paid media campaigns, anything that is automatically triggered or already planned — and determine if anything needs to be adjusted or paused to fit the general mood and tone right now.
Reinforce expert advice
Do not ask your readers to do something that contradicts expert advice.
The CDC recommends social distancing to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and new guidelines from the White House advise the public to avoid groups of more than 10 people.
That guidance was crafted with the safety of your communities in mind. Don’t invalidate it by asking people to attend an event, or to do anything else that would contradict what is recommended by public health authorities.
Stay connected to your communities
It’s important to recognize that social isolation can quickly become real and acute. If possible, offer your supporters safe outlets to speak and be heard, like tele-town halls, Facebook threads, or story collection. This is particularly true for clients whose communities may be more vulnerable and whose support-related events are being cancelled.
Over the next few months we will all be wading into uncharted waters. Only time will tell how this situation will evolve. In the meantime, it’s important that we do our part to keep our communities safe and informed.
Need help crafting your COVID-19 communications? Get in touch with us.