Crisis Management Communications During the Pandemic

Last year’s crisis offered valuable lessons to all businesses

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During any recession or crisis, every business relies upon well-established connections, a thorough understanding of prospect pains and desires, and good communication with customers. But the global pandemic has changed the latter significantly.

Overnight, offline communication methods became less effective. In line with this, company budgets shifted; according to experts, every second company in the world was forced to change its communication priorities, with 56% of businesses transforming their external communications, and online and digital becoming the principal channels of delivery.

Today, crisis management communications have become the most in-demand skill. Let’s look at the way different startups dealt with this issue last year, at the height of the global pandemic.

It’s all online

First things first, there were no strategic comms transformations: yes, offline went into deep hibernation, but it didn’t die. That being said, all companies wishing to sell goods or services had to actively master the internet, which became the focus of activity for people sheltered at home. During the pandemic, social media (76%) and online media (56%) became the leading communication channels.

This is especially important for primary interaction with clients: email newsletters continue to work, but in PandaDoc and Zoom’s experience, messenger apps have become much more effective. Telegram messenger became one of the new communication channels for businesses. According to official data, at the start of 2020, the messenger service had 400 million users.

Support and attention

A crisis is never a time to cut down on communication: the startups that “fall silent” at the first sign of difficulty are lost to their audience. However, it’s also vital to remember that communication during a crisis is not so much about sales as it is about enhancing user loyalty. An audience needs support and information for a brand to be held in a positive light.

Netflix pushed this theme even further, using its Instagram to launch and broadcast a weekly show called Wanna Talk About It? in April of 2020. The show was designed to help the platform’s users survive the lockdown. Together with experts, actors from Netflix movies and shows came together to advise viewers how to preserve their mental health, overcome stress, tackle insomnia, and deal with other pandemic-related difficulties.

Meanwhile, the world’s most popular online dating site Tinder put some thought into issues surrounding safety. In April 2020, levels of correspondence via the platform rose by 27%.

EasyJet recommended that its customers stay at home and refrain from flights in every one of its messages, even if they were still scheduled. The company shared a newsletter from its CEO, featuring information about the launch of the ‘Disruption Help Hub’, along with advice on how to obtain ticket refunds. The newsletter also showcased pilots and flight attendants volunteering at hospitals and highlighted the airline’s donations of food and other goods to charity organizations.

Aegean Airlines focused on providing its clients with moral support and positive reinforcement. Its messages centered around the need for caution and why we should collectively care for each other, in addition to details of border openings and upcoming flight opportunities.

Before the pandemic, Lamoda was just a regular online clothing store. However, in the wake of COVID-19 — while the majority of competitors were still bringing their sales online — the platform became a real lifesaver for those seeking out an immediate wardrobe update. Lamoda used every chance to convince its users to stay at home. The company even added groceries to its offering, including things like buckwheat (very popular with Russians), and offered delivery. Its advertising campaign put an emphasis on care: instead of promoting new fashion collections, users were offered sanitizers, gloves, masks, and protection gear. Such products quickly caught on, along with no-contact delivery — which, by the third week of lockdown, 70% of users were chosen.

Personal offers

Personalized communication is especially important for startups that sell online. It’s not enough to simply open an online store; a company needs to make use of all communication channels, such as messengers, chatbots, and email newsletters. The key is to analyze the history of purchases and views, study your clients’ preferences, and create offers that seem personal to them.

For example, after gyms were closed, Nike embraced the new needs of its target audience through the Nike Training Club app. This offered users access to several training sessions free of charge, with an option to choose a personal training program for 4–6 weeks. The Nike blog also published nutrition recommendations. As a result, Nike’s online sales boomed: in the third quarter of 2020, they grew by 36%, and in the fourth, by another 75%. Inspired by these results, Nike’s management team decided to shoot for a 50% market share of online sales by 2023 compared with its previous plans of 30%. It should be noted that the company still reported lost profits on the back of shipping and returns costs, but that’s a different story.

Travel startup Snaptravel — which enables its users to book hotels using messenger apps (such as WhatsApp), voice assistants, and even regular text messages — also kept its wits about it. During the pandemic, the startup’s team meticulously analyzed its clients’ needs with the help of AI. The data collected was used to create individual offers (such as “a cozy hotel not far from home, to make the lockdown more bearable”), which might seem simplistic, but this show of care helped to raise bookings by 25%.

More face-to-face communication

All around the world, one in four companies revised its budgets during the pandemic, reallocating funds to proprietary, personal communications channels (such as YouTube and blogs). Free webinars and live broadcasts became more frequent, as 40% of entrepreneurs chose to focus on online events. These online events were typically held on social media platforms, which was a logical move considering that customers had already stepped up their activities on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

Going forward, it’s vital to remember that everyone is growing sick and tired of coronavirus — so it’s best to avoid this subject in future face-to-face broadcasts. Focus on any insights, advice, and news from your company and your industry — whatever may be useful to the audience. The recommended length of broadcasts is 30–40 minutes.

The Financial Times, for example, organized a three-day online conference with 100 speakers. The event was “attended” by 52,000 people. During the conference, experts from the worlds of finance and technology discussed the pandemic’s impact on the global market, changes in the business landscape, and lessons that we can draw from the “coronacrisis.” The sessions lasted 30 minutes, with jazz performances during the breaks. According to FT Live’s Managing Director, Orson Francescone, the conference was not only about offsetting the media outlet’s current losses but also about establishing a very attractive business model. One day, such virtual events will become a new normal.

Fintech startup Transferwise, meanwhile, has been publishing more than just new product information on its website: at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, the startup shared some recommendations about the best ways for customers to protect themselves and their loved ones from coronavirus-related fraud. Users were urged to be especially careful when buying preventive care drugs; in their greed for quick money, fraudulent vendors or businesses may sell useless or even dangerous substances, or simply lie to customers before collecting their money and vanishing into thin air. Transferwise advised people to only buy medicine, dietary supplements, and protective gear from reliable pharmacies. The announcement also mentioned that the company provides its clients with secure money transfers, but the main emphasis was put on remaining vigilant when it came to online ads and purchases. The company also recounted the best-known cons related to coronavirus, such as fake offers of welfare benefit payments and tax breaks, and fundraisers for vaccine development.

Crisis management communications checklist:

  • Choose relevant channels: if people are going online, as happened during the pandemic, choose online and digital media for your communications.
  • Don’t put pressure on customers to buy: they are in the same difficult financial position as you are. Show your audience that you understand them.
  • Engage your customers: share stories about your company, offer insights, use storytelling.
  • Analyze market needs, adapt to them, personalize your offers.

Last year’s crisis offered valuable lessons to all businesses. And it wasn’t just a test of strength: it was a reminder of the importance of customer relationships, and why it’s vital to be in sync with your users.

Founder of Minsdet Consulting. Global Public Relations #Consultant specializing in strategic #communications