With the new reality of social distancing and isolation comes the challenge for small business owners wondering how to use your digital platforms to effectively communicate with your customers and clients. The last few weeks have been a challenging time for all small businesses – this is certainly the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced at Out-Smarts and judging by the calls we have been fielding from clients and our community asking about what they should communicate, how they should communicate and how to pivot to doing more business online, we are not alone.
So today I am sharing some of the wisdom and guidance we have been offering our customers when they ask about what and how to communicate effectively in the face of COVID-19.
What Small Businesses Should Communicate Around Covid19
Stick to the Facts -it is important to stick to the facts as they pertain to your business and customers. Determine what your community really needs to know from you right now and communicate only those important points that relate to your business. The emphasis should be on containment and mitigation procedures, new means of operating and on supporting your community.
Outline Your Processes – use your digital channels (email, blog, website are best) to tell your customers about the processes you have in place to ensure their safety and that of your staff. This should include information on social distancing measures, new hygiene practises that you have put in place as well as ways that your customers can support your efforts to keep them safe. Outline the specific steps you are taking regarding closures and when you hope to be operational. If you have new ways of doing business tell your customers about them – for example how to book a meeting with you online, link to your online store, tell them about new payment processes or delivery options.
Hours Of Operation – if you have new hours of operation, you should post them on your website and digital media too. Remember to update any directory listings such as Google My Business with this information as well.
Contact Information – if you have a new way for people to get in touch with you like a new phone number or email address tell people about that and encourage them to use these means to get in touch should they wish to do so. Post this on your website and social channels.
Provide Regular Updates – if things change as your situation evolves, communicate these changes to your customers.
How Small Businesses Should Communicate During the Pandemic
Keep Calm – we are all worried and concerned about our current situation, don’t add to that anxiety in any way. Keep your tone professional, communicate with empathy and don’t sensationalize in any way.
Be Concise and Clear – this is not the time to write wordy communications that waffle and make it hard for readers to understand so get the point and keep your communications short and sweet.
Appreciation – remind your customers how much they mean to you and your business.
Show That You Care – recognize that we’re all facing challenging times and communicate with empathy.
Avoid Using Jargon – avoid using jargon or buzzwords that might confuse readers. Stick to layperson’s words and easy to understand terms.
Don’t Capitalize – this goes without saying but do not take advantage of the situation in any way.
Avoid FULL CAPS – avoid adding to the anxiety by using too many capital letters in your text. You don’t want readers to feel like you are shouting at them.
Be optimistic not Alarmist – when posting to your social channels keep your messages as positive as possible and avoid causing needless worry or panic.
Watch Your Language – Don’t weigh in on things that have nothing to do with your business and be careful of the words you use to make sure they won’t be misconstrued. Avoid terms that bring to mind the things we are all missing – like hand in hand or get in touch.
Tone it Done – consider your tone – if your brand is edgy and irreverent you should consider toning that down a little, just for now.
Images – avoid using images of people together, shaking hands or hugging in your posts and content.
Other Important Considerations
Pause or Reframe – reevaluate marketing campaigns or initiatives that you had in the pipeline – depending on what they are it’s likely best to postpone them for now or to adapt them respectfully to the situation.
Reach Out Personally – personal email is a great way to stay in touch. Consider sending a personal email to your key connections, bearing in mind the points outlined above. Make these one to one communications and avoid sending bulk emails from your personal email. If you have a bigger list of people you want to get in touch with you should use (or get set up) with an email tool like MailChimp.
Stay Compliant – now is not the time to spam people so make sure that you take into account the laws governing privacy in your area such as the Canadian Anti Spam Legislation, CAN-SPAM Act in the US and the General Data Protection Regulation in Europe. For example – in Canada you can’t add a list of email addresses and start sending emails to people without their express permission unless they are current customers (in the last 2 years).
Keep Your Social Media up to date – pin a post to the top of your channels that communicates your key messages. Use your social platforms to keep customers up to date, informed and engaged. Consider using real-life stories to inspire and bring people together.
I hope that you find these tips valuable and that you can use them to take positive action for your business at this time. If you have any suggestions that you would like to share, please do so in the comments so that we can update this post.
We’re all facing an uphill challenge but remember that this too shall pass.
About the Author
Mhairi Petrovic CME is the founder of Out-Smarts, a digital marketing agency in Vancouver Canada that works with organisations that do good in the world to help them do better online.