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It's important to stay connected to your community, especially in a crisis

Posted on Mon 27th Apr, 2020 in: Advice, Blogs, Insight by Laura Cavanagh

I promised myself I was going to try and avoid writing a blog about coronavirus, but that’s actually quite a hard thing to do at the moment.

A few weeks ago my colleague, Lucy, wrote an incredibly insightful blog on the power of community during a crisis. It focuses on how we’ve had to quickly adapt to new ways of working in what is a fairly unsettling time, but despite all the uncertainty, staying connected to one another is key.

We’ve seen many organisations reducing, if not entirely cutting, their spend on PR and communications. It’s not an unexpected reaction, especially in a crisis, to pull back communications activities and in some instances, it is essential to pause and take stock of the situation.

That being said, there is a growing concern that businesses will remain in this state of mind for too long, missing key opportunities to remain connected with their audiences. 

At a time of uncertainty if you can offer clarity, support and transparency then this should be reason enough for you to continue engaging with your audiences.

There are also two clear negative repercussions for those brands that choose to remain silent:

  • Going quiet makes you conspicuous by your absence and in today’s world, consumers expect more.
  • There is appetite from the media for content, which means competitors could start to close the gap by being proactive.

Consumer behaviour

A recent Census Wide study has revealed that almost 3 in 5 (58%) consumers said that the way a brand behaves during Covid-19 will have a direct effect on their purchasing behaviour in the future, with nearly half (48%) saying that they would trust a brand less if there was no communication during the crisis. Also, almost half of Brits are noticing brand content because they’re reading the news more.

This clearly reflects that we not only want to feel connected to our friends and family, but also to the brands that we usually engage with. A brand being silent is noticeable in the current climate and not for the right reasons.

Earlier this month, Procter & Gamble announced that it had pressed the accelerator on media spend as it recognised that it had a service to offer consumers, so going quiet was not going to fill them with confidence and could result in their custom going to a competitor.

Undoing all the good work

With communications, success is seen by generating ongoing engagement with audiences so relationships can be built and maintained. Stopping this level of communication entirely can undo all the good work.

Editor of PR Week, John Harrington, recently published a letter outlining how reducing spend on communications during the coronavirus crisis would be hugely counterproductive. This piece was published before Government announced the lockdown extension of three weeks, but the point about the ramifications of businesses ceasing all communications as the UK starts to recover still ring true.

Don’t forget about your community

Communicating with your audience doesn’t have to mean selling to them. It can actually be a golden opportunity to build a ‘human’ connection with followers.

What’s been really amazing throughout this time is seeing how people have come together. As Lucy said in her blog, the community feeling that has been born out of what is a pretty rubbish time for everyone, is something to be proud of.

Many of us are taking comfort in togetherness and brands can certainly learn from this and adopt this approach with their own communications. After all, surely what we’re all striving for is ensuring that we all come out of this pandemic as strong, if not stronger, than before.

What can businesses do?

  • Even if business isn’t operating as usual, there are other positive communications opportunities, particularly around CSR activities. We’ve seen this with the likes of HSBC backing the Big Night In, helping to raise millions to support vulnerable people across the UK.
  • Find alternative, cost-effective ways to keep in touch. We appreciate not all businesses have big advertising budgets, but using social media platforms and your own website to host blog content could help keep communication levels up.
  • Be transparent. Telling people what you are doing during this time, how you are preparing for coming out of lockdown is also a key opportunity to engage with your audience. Actively engaging with audiences will mean you still have a large community to speak to.

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