Considerations and Tips for Communicating with External and Internal Audiences During COVID-19

By Kelly Nottermann, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Communications Director

We are all connected and, now more than ever, we depend on one another for understanding, support and partnership to get through a worldwide event that none of us has ever experienced before. Some of us are at home working away to put the pieces together to keep our economy moving, others are trying to do that while caring for or worrying about our family members and friends, and some of us are caring for the sick, stocking grocery store shelves, growing food, delivering food, and doing the work to keep our essential needs met (food, shelter, water, safety, health).

As this global pandemic affects our daily way of life and our economy, entrepreneurs, business owners, and leaders are shifting communications plans and messaging priorities to ensure consumers, employees and others have complete transparency to policies and procedures that are often changing daily as new information and guidelines are released. It is important during this time (and I’d argue any time even without a crisis) to be clear, transparent and authentic while using your company or organization’s collective power to harness your purpose to help those in need.

Below you’ll find a short list of topics to consider as you alter your internal and external communications plans and strategy. This list is really meant to be a thought starter to bring up an item you may not have already prioritized in this rapidly changing landscape.

Tips for Communicating Externally

  • Share appropriate resources to your external audience (for example, the Farm to Plate Network, managed by VSJF, created a COVID-19 Task Force and is actively compiling a collection of resources for organizations, food system businesses and food producers).
  • Shift communications content (editorial calendar) that was previously scheduled or planned. We recommend not auto-scheduling anything at this time since things are changing daily. Manually post content on the appropriate days using your best judgment so your company/organization does not come across as tone deaf in light of current events.
  • Revisit your editorial calendar and content you are planning to communicate at least weekly to make adjustments as our new reality quickly evolves.
  • Review currently running and planned advertisements – either rework the content to be more relevant or consider new content with proper tone. Be sensitive to the tone of your marketing efforts. Now is the time to be helpful rather than profiteering off others or using tasteless humor. Your audience will notice and they will remember.
  • Infuse tasteful humor, inspiration, reassurance into messaging, and urge people to stay home in internal and external communications to help with overall morale. Create content that’s helpful, comforts and entertains.
  • Be helpful where your organization/company can be helpful. A great example of this would be Vermont Glove creating masks for healthcare workers, Aqua ViTea and Caledonia Spirits collaborating to create hand sanitizer instead of spirits, and local farm partnering with each other to provide home delivery. #lookforthehelpers
  • Overcommunicate with funders/clients/customers/general public about what your company/organization is doing to be helpful at this time. This will help get the word out and also can help others think of ways they can be helpful where appropriate and while staying safe to reduce exposure and spread of COVID-19.
  • Think through upcoming events in May and June, and pre-emptively reschedule since our future is unknown right now. Many events are currently being rescheduled for the fall. This is going to make for a pretty packed and crowded space for events in the fall. If you can, consider holding your event virtually if at all possible or push out further than the fall so you are not competing for attendance with partner businesses and organizations. As you reschedule events, your key personnel can be working on new initiatives that may pop up in this “being helpful” space rather than planning for events and workshops that can and should be postponed. Be forward looking. Right now everything is feeling very reactionary. Try to look as far into the future as possible without panicking. Stay calm and be practical. You can be hopeful yet realistic at the same time.
  • Consider shifting events to a virtual format or even creating new events while people are all at home trying to get through what is going on – you can try a virtual webinar, panel or even create a Slack channel or Facebook group to encourage questions and dialogue.
  • Try creating new content and events using virtual tools – Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn have live features – start small as a test. It can be as simple as providing your audience with a tour of your facility or answering questions.

Tips for Communicating Internally

  • When communicating with employees be reassuring when sending out messages that they can work from home and encourage them to do so – this means more than, “if you feel sick stay home” since many people may be asymptomatic and still spreading the virus.
  • As employees and external audiences are home and attempting to communicate with each other, hold regular zoom/GoToMeeting/Microsoft Teams calls for meetings.
  • To boost morale for remote workers, consider holding optional calls that focus on connecting and reducing stress rather than pure work – think meditation/yoga/art/exercise/show and tell/or a virtual happy hour.

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Kelly Nottermann is the communications director at the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. Prior to joining VJSF, Nottermann spent 12 years working in global advertising, specializing in public relations, content creation, social media strategy and search engine optimization.

About Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) provides business assistance, value chain facilitation, network development, and strategic planning to a wide range of stakeholders in the agriculture and food system, forest product, waste management, renewable energy, and environmental technology sectors. Located in Montpelier, Vermont, VSJF was created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to partner with state government, private sector businesses, and nonprofits to build a thriving economic, social, and ecological future for Vermont. www.vsjf.org