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Effective Communications During COVID-19

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

As we head into the second year of dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on global populations all over the world, it's time to take a closer look at lessons learned. Many of you may say what lessons, and that could be a serious problem. There has been a major shift in the way we communicate with each other, with our clients, and with our priority audiences. The time is now to focus on strategic communications.

The way we communicate as a team is very different from the way it was in 2019. Most agencies or corporations have reduced the number of people that actually work in an office. Most, if not all communication is done online via Zoom, Google Meet, or another app that allows team members to conduct meetings. In case you have noticed, this change may drain staff members who are not accustomed to working from their apartments or homes while making sure their children are learning online or staring at a computer screen all day. It helps to acknowledge the challenge and consider other solutions to get the same outcomes. When conducting online meetings, it's important to have a clear agenda with a set time to start and finish with positive results. Many staff people that loved meetings so they could talk on and on about themselves or about nothing related to the topic will need to be controlled in online meetings or you will lose your audience. It takes a strong facilitator or leader to set the guidelines and to stay on task.

Many organisations are requesting help to create communication campaigns to reach communities that are being impacted the hardest by COVID-19. Why do you think that is? Well, most companies, although they may have the funds to create a campaign, may not have the experience or a relationship with the audiences they need to reach. If someone came to you for help, what would you do first to assist in reaching this goal? Let's say you need to reach those impacted the most that include, African Americans, Latinos or Spanish speakers, Asian/Pacific Islanders, the homeless community, or the LGBTQ community. What would you do first to start your campaign?

At Promotions West Public Relations, we continue to utilise tried and tested models that have worked successfully for years. It doesn't matter what community you are trying to reach because the same rules apply. The most important strategy to understand the audience you want to reach. Before starting any campaign, we research where the population lives, what are the ages in the community, who are they, how do they get their information about COVID, what are their beliefs about COVID, what information has been shared, and what are the beliefs and disbeliefs about the virus. It also helps to ascertain if community health agencies are part of the community and analyse what information has been shared if any. Communities around the world are living in fear as a result of false information about being tested for COVID or receiving vaccinations. Much of the misinformation comes from anti-vaxxers or conspiracy theorists, while other misconstrued information comes from elected officials or politicians. Once this information has been gathered, it's essential to connect with community stakeholders and key community members to get them involved. If your agency hasn't worked with this community prior to COVID, you may be seen as an imposter coming in to make money. Be very careful, try linking your involvement to a reliable and trusted person that is a part of the target audience.

Once in the community, try to remain respectful and humble at all times. One of the biggest mistakes I have experienced since the beginning of COVID-19 is watching physicians, elected officials, and even leaders talk down or at community members seeking information. This attitude will end your project. It's helpful to meet and talk to people where they are. Using big words or research terms is a turn-off to most people. Conducting community or public forums by partnering with local organisations is a great way to educate community members. Audiences want be be told the honest facts about COVID, such as:

  • What is COVID?

  • Where does it come from?

  • How is COVID spread?

  • How is it treated?

  • Is the treatment or vaccines safe?

  • What's the difference between all the vaccines?

  • How do you tell which vaccine is best?

  • Talk about the lies and misinformation that is being circulated

  • Allow people to share their fears and ask questions

Now it's time to put together a successful campaign to reach your goals. It helps to conduct focus groups, one-on-one interviews via online or phone, or online surveys. This can also be done by conducting ethnographic research or studies on the area of interest in order to gather key information about the audience, such as where people meet, their media of choice, what social media is used, etc. Stipends should be provided to participants. Whatever you may think or feel, the priority audience should be involved in this process from start to finish. Many will ask why? Well, all campaigns should be developed by having key stakeholders and community members involved in developing the campaign. The most successful campaigns have been created by ideas of those that we want to reach with the correct messaging. As you move forward, all parts of the campaign should be presented to key stakeholders with the primary purpose of getting their support and buy-in to move forward.

When working with various audiences, it's essential to understand what languages are needed to help create awareness. Once that information has been established, all educational materials should be in the preferred language of the community you want to reach. Too often materials used to educate are useless because they are in a language that may not be understood by all in your target audience.

As you move forward in planning your social media or social marketing campaign, remember to use images that match those in your priority audiences. This will also help in building trust in the chosen community. After reviewing all of the data collected from surveys and other assessments, select the best media outlets for advertising and partnership to create a strong awareness campaign. The primary difference between advertising and public relations is, advertising is telling everyone how good you are, public relations is getting others to share how good you are through the telling of stories. In other words, Word of Mouth is one of the best ways to promote messages or a brand. Imagine what it would be like to get honest information to spread like a wildfire as opposed to the global fake news that is creating unnecessary fear.

Creating community partnerships with local businesses is also another technique to promote positive messages and create awareness of the issue. Often, we have recruited community members to work with us as community ambassadors or community engagement workers that live in the communities that you are creating messages for distribution.

We also recommend using the STEPPS Framework to create viral content. Jonah Berger's framework consists of social currency, triggers, emotions, public, practical value, and stories, gives marketers a tried and tested structure to apply to any potential undertaking so that ideas can be evaluated scientifically for the best possible chance of success. Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and internationally bestselling author of Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst. For more information, check out the brief interview on YouTube.

It's also important to include qualitative and quantitative evaluation as part of your campaign. Results from the evaluation process will help you in creating your next campaign or help others to plan successful campaigns. Most importantly remember why you accepted to do this campaign and enjoy the experience.

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