Social Distancing: Good Health Measure, Bad Comms Strategy

It's important for us all to practise social distancing in public right now, but it's not an approach you should adopt with your company's communications.

As clocks hit midnight and fireworks lit up night skies across the world, we all celebrated entering a new year, a new decade. Little did we know what was lying in wait.

Just five months on, and we’re beginning to get to grips with a ‘new normal’ and the reality that, for a while at least, life has changed. Embracing friends and family isn’t allowed, nor attending sporting events, or holding a grandiose wedding.

Many words and phrases have been popularised during this time; none more so than ‘social distancing’, the practice of remaining at a sufficient distance from others.

Social distancing is crucial in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It’s also a strategy that many businesses have implemented in their operations during this difficult time, opting to avoid communicating with customers while they cope with such a challenging situation. But is that the right thing to do?

Social Distancing for Businesses

Once the coronavirus pandemic took ahold of Europe, and subsequently the USA, the world of business changed. It was a challenge no one had faced before, and with no precedents to refer to, businesses were left to make their own decisions.

The different strategies that emerged were particularly split in one area: communication.

While some companies opted for a ‘business as usual’ approach to their communications, many took the decision to minimise their interactions with customers; socially distancing themselves, if you will.

Marketing emails were stopped, social media feeds ran dry, and contact with customers simply stopped. Overnight, entire companies fell silent.

Silence Speaks Volumes

So, why did so many businesses stop communicating with customers? And what effects did this social distancing have?

Let’s start with the why, and two reasons that will be familiar to most having experienced this pandemic: uncertainty and fear. Businesses rely on planning ahead, and uncertainty of what the future held meant that was near impossible. As a result, planned events, sales, and calendar dates were no longer relevant, and entire communication strategies had to be shelved.

Fear is a strong motivator, and concerns about making an error and saying the wrong thing — at a time when no one knew what the ‘right’ thing to say was — caused many businesses to take the conservative option and not say anything at all.

So, onto the effects. At the time of writing, June 2020, it’s impossible to say definitively what the long-term ramifications will be. It’s likely that, with more pressing matters at hand, some customers will quickly forget which companies lost interest in them when the pandemic struck. Others, however, may be not so quick to forget, and their purchase decisions may have already changed for good.

In the here and now, though, it’s still something that customers are well aware of. Having been contacted by various companies offering support, assistance, and information, people soon noticed which businesses were absent from their inboxes or social media feeds. Had they folded? Were they still available to buy from? Or had they just forgotten about the customers who sustained them?

Meanwhile, other businesses were capitalising on their competitors’ silence. By remaining active and engaging during this time, they were able to communicate with people who were previously loyal to their competitors and sway them with supportive messaging.

At best, continuing to distance yourself from your audience will have no long-term impact on your relationship. At worst, it will alienate existing and potential customers, making it highly unlikely that they'll make a purchase anytime soon. In short, by persisting with silence, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Keeping in Touch

Staying connected with your audience — even during challenging, testing times — is essential.

Sure, you might find writing communications more difficult than normal, and if you do dramatically miss the mark, you may face some criticism. But if you thoroughly plan and prepare, and place thoughtfulness and good intentions at the centre of your communications, you won't go too far wrong.

When preparing to contact your audience during any testing time, you should turn to two of the major principles of communication — purpose and audience.

In terms of purpose, consider what you want to achieve. Or, maybe more pertinently when times are tough, consider changing your purpose.

During the coronavirus pandemic, countless people have been furloughed or made redundant, meaning their income has been reduced. While the purpose of your communications is usually conversion and sales, would that still be the right approach given the situation? A change of purpose to focusing on developing your brand, raising awareness, or building goodwill may be more suitable in a global pandemic.

Then, think about your audience. Think about how the situation has affected them and how their priorities have changed. Think about what they need at this time, and if the answer isn't a product or service you offer, consider how else you can support them.

By changing the focus of your communications, understanding your audience, and matching your message with your aims, you'll be able to embrace your audience — metaphorically, of course.

It's Time to Communicate

Whether you put your communications on hold or tentatively tackled conversations during the lockdown, engaging with your audience remains crucial.

If you still have lingering concerns about your communications, or you'd like a plan of action for re-engaging your audience as the restrictions ease, we'd be more than happy to help. Leave social distancing to everyday life and get in touch with the Prize Content team today.

Published by Dan Grey

Content Writer

Producing quality content and effective communications that help SMEs thrive.