Part One: Public Affairs Digital Communications

Data coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is showing that (unsurprisingly) consumers are engaging online more than ever before. This doesn’t only create increased opportunity for companies and organizations in the digital space, it means they must be engaging digitally in order to reach their audiences. While it’s time to strike while the iron is hot and prioritize and invest in digital communications strategies, this spike in online traffic also means disinformation and misinformation are more prevalent than ever – how can you cut through the noise to rise above the falsities and become a trusted source of information for your audience?

Before we get to answering that question, let’s first take a look at why we are seeing so much disinformation online, even from those who usually do not engage with this kind of content. Studies have shown that people are more likely to buy into conspiracy theories when they feel socially isolated and powerless, or are seeking a sense of meaning to something dangerous or unpredictable – all characteristics of our current, pandemic reality. The times we are in, paired with the power of the internet, make this a prime moment for broad dissemination of conspiracy theories or false scientific claims. (More on this next week, in part two of this blog post.)

So, you need to communicate digitally, but you’re also fighting against a surge of disinformation that is confusing to your audience and leaving them skeptical of who they can trust. Here are some ways your content can rise above the fray and affirm your company or organization as a trusted source of information:

Stay in your lane and stick to the facts

Keep your communications to topics you are well-versed on or that is valuable directly to your audience. Be factual, and stick to reputable sources when citing information. Now is not the time to share personal opinions about the pandemic or take information from unregulated sources, such as YouTube.

Do your research

Research how this crisis is impacting your audience. For example, data is showing that young renters are more vulnerable to losing their income than older homeowners in larger cities, due to their status as disproportionally working in the industries that have been hardest hit by unemployment (and having less savings). If you are a property management company that operates several rental properties in an urban neighborhood that caters to young people, this information would be good to know before communicating with tenants or marketing to potential tenants, and would also help inform whether it’s in your best interest to push your local elected officials to institute policies such as rent-relief legislation.

Communicate from a place of empathy

Going hand-in-hand with doing your research, take that information and put yourself in the position your audience is in right now – how would you want to be communicated with? Look at life from the perspective of what your audience is predominantly facing, and use that lens to help craft your communications.

Think outside the box

In a crisis, your audience isn’t always just your customers or those your organization serves – your audience could also be those who disseminate information that impacts your work, policymakers, or allies who can help deliver your message. Consider the benefits of directing some of your digital communications to members of the media, elected officials or other organizations.

Get creative

Because so much digital content is being consumed these days, now is the time for your organization to get creative and step out of its comfort zone to grab peoples’ attention and build your audience for the future. Try creating a blog that regularly shares useful information, host a webinar or make an informative video (consumption of video content has increased significantly since the start of social distancing).

Focus on the good

Even though digital communications should be appropriate for the time we are in, people are craving positivity. If your organization is participating in community service, facilitating community connections, or has an inspirational story, mix that into your content calendar. It helps you connect with your audience and can help you be viewed as a leader in the community.

Keep an eye on the future

While every organization has had to pivot their communications strategies for the time being, take the time to reevaluate your long-term plans and consider this an opportunity to invest in your future. Determine what it is your company stands for, build up your audience and think about how your communications efforts now can set you up for success down the line.

Be genuine and transparent

Finally, always communicate in a way that is genuine and transparent. Now and in the future, this will help you connect with your audience and become a trusted source of information.

There is a lot that is uncertain right now, but the one thing that is clear is that we won’t be back to “normal” anytime soon. Remember to stay nimble, be ready to pivot quickly and keep focus on the eight points listed above to set your organization apart and be a trusted voice in the digital world.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog post next week, focusing on person-to-person communications.