Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

5 working life hacks for corona communication

Advice from an employee in a governmental organisation and previous journalist

We are all pretty sick off the pandemic and dream our lives before corona back. Me too, although — or even because I deal with the pandemic in my daily work. I’m working in the department of external communications of the city of Graz. Communication about measures against the pandemic and the vaccination are part of my job. How to get through to the people tired of the pandemic? That’s an essential question for governmental organisations as well as for media outlets and journalists. Here are my learnings from work.

1. Acknowledge that you don’t know everything

The pandemic proved us how quickly things change and how uncertain or outdated information can get. Our readers, viewers or citizens are used to get quick and reliable information through our channels. However, it’s not that easy anymore. The corona virus is something new which is still explored. We can’t give our users every information they demand — simply because we don’t have it neither. It’s no shame telling them so. Let’s honestly tell them what we know so far — and what not. Let’s show them how we’re putting our efforts into this. It’s also ok to fail. Just admit it and indicate what you’ve learned from it and how you will do better in the future. In my daily work, I recognised that people honour truth and openness — even though it’s not about good news. Transparency is the key.

2. Find the right balance

But doesn’t transparency cause mostly bad news during corona, you may ask yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to. On the social media channels of the city of Graz we posted for example cooking videos. Our ulterior motive: Yeah, we have to stay at home and restaurants are closed due to lockdown. Why not offering a service to our users which doesn’t necessarily convey bad corona messages?

And it’s useful and current content. A brand’s content should be current, appropriate, relevant, useful und usable for their target audiences. That was one important thing I learned during my master’s program “Content Strategy” at FH Joanneum. I pretty enjoyed the lectures by Margot Bloomstein.

Besides useful content during lockdowns, there is also progress that can be communicated — like the vaccination (even though it progresses slowly) or a decrease in infection rates. However, don’t forget to communicate bad news transparently and honestly. The pandemic is still there and it’s our duty to inform people in an unbiased and reliable way — as journalists as well as governmental organisations. Try to find the balance between “classical bad” pandemic news and good news. There are always a few positive aspects — or at least ideas for useful lockdown content. Our social media users honoured that balance.

3. Show why it matters

“Please, take care of fellow human beings and stay further at home.” We’ve heard it so many times from the government and are getting sick of it. I have to admit, I share those feelings — even though I’m working for a governmental organisation. Pretty every day I hear in meetings with experts, why it’s important to stick to the measures and stay at home. But yeah, I’m also getting tired of it.

I’m convinced that it’s important to remember people, why their behaviour matters in the fight against the pandemic. However, I think it’s completely wrong to do it in the words of the Austrian chancellor like “Everyone will know someone who dies because of corona.” Fear doesn’t help in the long term. In my view it would be better to convey people on an emotional level and visualise how their individual contribution can help against the pandemic.

I pretty like the approach of the German government. The launched a video campaign under the hashtag #besonderehelden where they honoured people staying at home and doing nothing as heroes. A clear visual and emotional statement.

4. Put the user first

It should be as a matter of course, but governmental organisations and also journalists still fail from time to time: Put the user first when creating content and conveying information. Identify the needs of your users and offer the right content to them. Which information is relevant and useful to them? Which format is the appropriate one? That’s crucial especially in terms of the information needs during the pandemic. And as governmental organisations and journalists we have the duty to supply our users with the right and relevant information.

It’s not about PR and being seen in the best light as a governmental organisation. Bad things and wrong decision can happen during those extraordinary times. Let’s deliver our citizens with all the information they need in order to come to their own reasonable decision. That also applies to journalists. I’ve worked for many years as a journalist and I know that — most of us — want the best for their readers and viewers. However, let your audience come to their own conclusions based on your reliable, trustworthy and relevant information. Let facts speak and never your opinion — unless you’re writing an opinion piece.

5. Stay on people’s side

You think you gave all the relevant and appropriate information to your users and now you’re done? Not really! Stay on your user’s side. Whenever there are questions, answer them. Particularly a governmental organisation should be a reliable partner for its citizens — not matter if an issue is unconformable or not. If you don’t know something right now, tell so. If another institution is responsible for a certain topic, also tell your users or get the information from there. Your users don’t know — or care — if you’re formally not responsible for a particular aspect of the topic. If you ignore them, they won’t trust you anymore. And they are damn’ right!

Are you working as a journalist or in a governmental organisation? How do you communicate in terms of corona? And what kind of communication or information would you wish as citizen or news consumer? Let me know in the comments. I’m looking forward to your opinions and experiences 😊.

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