Writing in the time of COVID-19: guiding your content through a pandemic
Author: Julie Rouphael

Navigating content through a pandemic is new territory for everyone in the world. COVID-19 has affected all aspects of life, so it’s only expected that businesses, brands, marketing and content are impacted as well. Instead of learning to deal with social distancing, empty cities and a lack of Sunday brunching, content has had to walk the line of relevance and sensitivity.

But what constitutes relevant and sensitive content? How do we reach this space? It’s fair to ask these questions, after all, this is new for everyone. During a crisis, everyone thinks that speaking loudly is the best way to be heard. However, not everything said will be listened to. Audiences can be fickle and sensitive; the slightest off-beat message can completely turn them off of your brand, not just your platform. Refining and maintaining your relevant and sensitive message is the key to piercing through a barrage of content successfully and effectively.

How do you achieve relevant and sensitive messaging?

Relevant and sensitive doesn’t mean boring. Your content, whether it be social media or digital, must remain engaging and true to your brand. When creating your written content during the COVID-19 pandemic, bear in mind the following.

  • Respond according to your industry
  • Don’t ignore
  • Be sensitive
  • Ensure accuracy

Let’s expand on these guidelines a bit more.

Respond according to your industry

Even though we are all going through the COVID-19 pandemic together, it does not mean that everyone or every business’ experience will be equal. Several industries have been incredibly affected, some more than others. It is important than on your social media, your content reflects the current status of your business according to the industry and not a blanketed response. 

For example, there is no way for beauty salons to continue their operations as it requires close contact with another person, increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19. This is one business that cannot be facilitated virtually. However, even though restaurants have seen a drastic decline in their profits, curbside pick-up and delivery have been utilised to make up for their losses.

The above examples prove that a blanketed solution and response cannot work for all businesses. It’s important that you communicate with customers, whether it be on your blog, social media or website, about your personalised solution to the pandemic. Ensure that they understand that your business is not MIA and has developed alternative ways to serve them. This brings us to our second point, not staying silent.

Don’t be silent and don’t ignore

A common trap that many businesses fall into is that they don’t know what to say or how to say it. This is understandable however, the solution must never be to go silent, off the radar or MIA. Why? Because you’ll soon find that many of your customers, followers or website visitors also go missing. Staying silent during a pandemic just sends the message that you can’t handle the heat and you’re not sure of what to do. Consumers don’t cut slack for confused and out-of-touch businesses, even in these unprecedented times. 

When you do finally decide to say something on your platform, don’t ignore the elephant in the room. That’s exactly what the COVID-19 pandemic is, a huge inconvenient and dangerous elephant. So, why would you ignore it? Your business will appear tone-deaf and like it was hiding along with Jared Leto in his two-week silent meditation isolation in the desert.

So, what do you say?

Let’s turn to our next point for that.

Be sensitive

We’ve established that you must say something but, that doesn’t mean anything. When preparing your content for any business during this pandemic remember that people’s lives have been severely affected by it. People have lost loved ones, endured severe emotional, mental and physical pain and suffered tremendous personal financial loss. Consumer priorities have changed and their sensitivity towards offensive and exploitative messaging is at an all-time high. So, let’s take a look at how you can maintain purposeful, quality and effective communication.

Avoid harsh words

Any crisis, depending on what it is, will produce a new set of words that can trigger customers. For this pandemic, any word alluding to death, sickness, virus or infection is a trigger. These don’t only carry negative connotations but, can also appear offensive to your customers. They don’t have to be used in the context of the virus in order for them to be offensive. For example, ‘Take advantage of this sick deal!’, ‘Shop our killer sale!’ or ‘Like this post to make it go viral’ are all examples where harsh words even though not used in the context of COVID-19 can still appear as insensitive or inappropriate.

Avoid the need to be light-hearted and playful

You may think that being light-hearted or witty will help to maintain communication with your customers however, it’s best to steer clear of that and instead, let your content captivate a serious tone. Remember, though your intent may be good, all customers will see is a tone-deaf and overly casual message from your business. This may not be true for every single person, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

That being said, you don’t have to only be serious and clinical in your messaging. You can inspire hope, positivity and togetherness. Remind your customers that you’re there for them and working to make your business safer. Just skip the jokes.

Show support

It’s true, some businesses may make it out of this crisis unscathed or at least, not totally broken. It’s also true that many will not. Symptoms of a damaged business in this crisis include the letting go of employees and rapidly falling profits. Many people have had their incomes severely cut or lost their jobs as a direct result of this virus so, even if your business is doing well, veer away from boasting. We’re in a time when many are struggling, so there’s no need to let the world know that you are doing better than they are. After all, many of the customers who support your business may have lost their jobs or taken a pay cut so instead, try to be supportive and hopeful in your messaging

Ensure accuracy

When dealing with a crisis, particularly a global health crisis, accuracy and credibility of information is of the utmost importance. In your writing, ensure that any information that you are communicating, whether it be, government policy, new research or health advice, comes from a credible source and is accurate. There’s nothing worse than being classed as one of the many culprits who disseminate fake news or incorrect information. Sources that you can cite include the following.

  • The World Health Organisation
  • The Centre for Disease Control
  • Department of Health, Australian Government
  • Your state’s government

Remember not to promise re-openings or new products unless you are certain that it can happen. Policies have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus, including shutting the dine-in option for all restaurants and cafes. Before the government has announced a specific date for them to return to normal service, don’t make any promises or inaccurate statements to your customers. Instead, be encouraging and communicate your solutions.

With any crisis, it’s important that the content you produce reflects the presence, support and positivity of your business. Customers will be consuming content more than ever at this time, so it’s important that you get your content right. Maintain your brand, your standard and your marketing through your content. Even though we’re navigating an unprecedented crisis, all that has to change is your content, but not your quality or core. At the end of the day, your business is still your business; it’s just functioning during COVID-19 times.

About the Author

Stephanie doesn’t only have extensive experience in audience growth and community management, but she’s also been at the forefront of relevant and engaging content creation for digital, press and social media. Yes, she’s the one who makes you spend hours on Instagram and Facebook.

Julie Rouphael
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