Communicating with kindness

By Amanda Powell-Smith

COVID-19 – such an anodyne, anonymous collection of letters but one that has thrown the world off its axis and fundamentally changed millions of lives at a bewildering speed. It has also spawned an avalanche of communication from pretty much every organisation under the sun. If you are not currently self-isolating from this deluge you soon will be.

Of course, organisations need to communicate but what, how often and to whom? And more specifically, what’s the approach for progressive businesses who want to think, act and communicate purposefully?  There are already some examples of exemplary communications – alongside others which have missed the mark. We are proud to be working with Eden Project Communities, Neighbourly, the Royal Voluntary Service and Helpforce who have all taken a rapid and proactive approach to providing support.

They recognised both the urgency of doing something but also the fundamental need to make sure it was the right thing to do, they are working with partners so the approach is more co-ordinated and had increased reach and impact, and they are focused on being both thoughtful and useful.

And it is those two words that should be driving the communication and action by progressive businesses seeking to be supportive as we face up to this unprecedented challenge. So, here’s some simple tips for how you can apply those two qualities to what you are saying and doing in response to COVID-19.

Be thoughtful

  • Think about all the audiences you want to engage but don’t forget one of the most important ones, your own employees, suppliers and clients. There have been quite a few instances already of organisations saying one thing to external audiences – “we’re here for you”, “take care, stay safe” – and acting in entirely to opposite way with their own staff
  • Being thoughtful should run through everything organisations are saying and doing. At a fundamental level, it is about walking in the shoes of the people the organisation is seeking to engage and thinking about what it can do to help them from their perspective, not its own. The decision by some supermarkets to have hours reserved for the over-75s came about from this approach
  • Think before you act – will what you want to do have the impact you want it to have? Are there any unintended consequences of doing this? Are we the best placed organisation to do this?

Be useful

  • At its most basic, if you have nothing useful to say, then don’t say anything. People are drowning in communication, if you are going to add to it all make sure there’s some value in it for the people you are reaching out to
  • If you have a good idea about how you can help, check to see if anyone else has had the same idea or is doing something related or useful to your idea. Collaborate with them or endorse and promote what they are doing rather than competing with them. This is particularly important if you are going to encourage people to volunteer or support a specific project. There are lots of different schemes and programmes springing up all the time, so signpost the ones that have momentum behind them and the infrastructure in place before you even think about starting up your own thing. The British Red Cross has a scheme in place for anyone who wants to volunteer in their local community –
  • If you decide to reach out to your audiences and offer to support them, make sure you are in a position to follow through on that and provide the support you have promised. The last thing people need is to follow up on an offer like that only to discover the help isn’t really there
  • When the situation changes, change your communications and approach. It’s been fashionable for a few years now for organisations to communicate and act like they are always Beta. Well, now pretty much the entire world is in always Beta mode, so keep an eye on what you are saying and doing, change it if the circumstances have changed, tell people you’ve changed it and explain why.

Being thoughtful and useful are qualities that should pretty much underpin communications at any time, but as principles, they probably have never been as important as they are right now.

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