How to Communicate Sensitively During a Crisis

Hands typing on a keyboard

When you’re facing a crisis, whether personally or in relation to your business, it’s often challenging to determine what to say and how to say it.

And while any crisis — regardless of size — is disruptive, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing business, and life, as we know it. 

As we all work through this new “normal” together, it’s important to remember that there is very little precedent on how your business should act during a time like this. Whether your small business has been open for one year or 20, you’ve probably never faced a challenge quite like the one you’re in right now. 

The good news is that you don’t have to go through this alone. You’ve got this. You’ve got us. 

Below are some guidelines to keep in mind when drafting your coronavirus-related communications for your website, social media, email campaigns and more. 

TIP: We’ve just released our Small Business Support Kits in response to this crisis. Check them out for the tools and guidance you need to get through this challenging situation.

How can I make sure that my messages during this time aren’t coming across as insensitive?

The first step in crisis communication is to assess and take stock of the situation before putting out a message so, if you’re asking yourself this question, you’re on the right path. It’s important to recognize that tensions are high right now, so making sure that your message does not add to the anxiety your readers are likely already experiencing is important.

In any of your communications, regardless of the platform, it is important to remember not to make light of the situation. Reassuring your customers is great, and everyone can sure use a smile right now, but try to avoid making jokes or downplaying the severity of the situation. Unless you are a healthcare business with knowledge of the situation, refrain from sharing your opinions or beliefs about the outbreak and instead share only information from reliable sources such as the CDC

Email crisis communication tips

First, don’t feel that because there is a crisis this means you should not be communicating with your customers during this time. While your own health, and the health of your family, should always be your first priority, communicating with customers or supporters of your business should be one of the first steps you take for your small business during a crisis. 

When you’re constantly having to make changes to adapt to an ever-changing situation, it’s imperative that you let your customers know what you’re doing and when.

TIP: If you’re a Constant Contact customer, you can find pre-composed Coronavirus Response and Coronavirus Update templates within the template picker. These templates are fully customizable and ready to be edited to match your brand. 

In a Coronavirus response or update email, outline some of the things you think are most important to share with your customers at this time. Your emails should aim to:

  • Inform of changes in your day-to-day operations or modified business hours
  • Highlight delivery and takeout options, if applicable
  • Clarify if you have any product availability challenges at this time
  • Tell customers how they can buy merchandise or gift cards from your company at this time. If you are able, consider running a promotion on gift cards to bring in revenue.
  • Reassure your customers as much as possible. Let them know about the precautions you are taking to help reduce the virus spread, as well as additional cleaning measures or staffing adjustments. 
  • Stay engaged by sharing your social media profiles and letting customers know how they can contact you at this time. 
A screenshot of an email sent by La Provence using Constant Contact

La Provence, a gift shop in Rockport, MA who you might recognize from our recent series, sent the above email to subscribers this week with the subject line “Thinking of You” as a sweet message to her customers during a difficult time. Her email is short and concise, provides important information to readers, and doesn’t make light of the serious situation.

Note: If you will not be closely monitoring your email inbox, make sure to tell your customers how to get in contact with you if they need further information or help. Be sure to include your phone number or social media accounts for easy access.

Social media crisis communication tips

Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with your customers even when you’re not open. But be careful not to let your fast fingers get ahead of you during a crisis. 

Try not to bombard your social followers with constant posts or updates. Instead, use your social accounts to share promotions, behind-the-scenes looks at how your business is adapting, and share local information to keep your community informed.

Use your social accounts to remind people to sign up for your email list for the most up-to-date information about your business. Inversely, make sure that your social accounts are linked in your emails so your customers know how to get a hold of you in a pinch!

When it comes to what to write on social, keep your messages factual and to the point. Use the “pin to my feed” options on Facebook and Twitter so customers visiting your profile can quickly see your most important post. 

Walpole Outdoors uses Facebook to communicate with their customers regarding whether they are open during this time, what their employees are doing to protect themselves and their customers, and how they can help.

Keep in mind that you should also be urging your customers to comply with social distancing and other CDC regulations. If your social posts do the opposite, it may be time to reconsider what you’re posting. 

Lastly, this is a good time to review any communications you may have already scheduled in order to determine their appropriateness and relevance based on the current state of affairs. Make sure to unschedule things that could come off as offensive or distasteful during this time. 

Website crisis communication tips

When a customer is looking for information on your business, your website may be the first place they look. Consider adding a banner or headline to your website that clearly indicates what you are doing during the crisis. Something short like “our online store is open” or “now accepting orders for curbside pick-up and delivery” is perfect.

Update your contact information, such as hours of operation, to reflect any changes. For example, changing your hours to say “Our physical location is temporarily closed due to COVID-19” provides readers with a clear answer. We also suggest letting customers know about shipping information during this time, such as “all online orders will ship via USPS 2-day priority mail” or “shipments may be delayed due to lockdowns.” 

A screenshot of the Lady Black Tie website homepage where a banner that reads "yes, our online store is operating and we are shipping out all orders!" can be seen over the hero image

Lady Black Tie, a dress boutique located in Massachusetts, uses the image at the top of their homepage, otherwise known as a “hero” image, to let shoppers know that their online store is open and ready to ship. 

In-store signage and other materials

Although your store, restaurant, or other brick-and-mortar locations may be closed currently, don’t assume that everyone passing by knows you are temporarily closed or how to reach you as a result. Or, if your restaurant or location is open during this time, don’t assume that everyone will know that, either!

Print or handwrite signage to place in your windows letting passersby know that they can still shop with you or support your business online during this time. If available, consider hanging a banner on your storefront or in the parking lot to let those driving or walking past your shop know that you are ready to serve them.

All of us at Constant Contact are here to help when you need us

We are all learning how to operate in this new “normal” together.

As always, our team at Constant Contact is here to help. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our customer support team, our team on social media, or you can chat with fellow small business owners who are also learning to adapt on the Constant Contact Community. You’ve got this. You’ve got us.

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