Coronavirus communication online – best practice so far

Here are key elements of effective corporate coronavirus communication, based on a snapshot of how the world’s biggest companies are explaining their responses to this global crisis via their digital channels. By Jason Sumner

We looked at the top 25 companies in our Index of Online Excellence (and selected others we know are doing useful things) to see if there are any lessons at this early stage.

  • Among the top 25, the majority of firms (17) have done the minimum online: 12 have published company statements or press releases on their global websites, usually signposted from the home page; while five do not mention the crisis.
  • Six companies have gone beyond a company statement and published thought leadership articles, stories about employees responding to the crisis, or a more personal statement from the CEO on LinkedIn.
  • Two companies in the top 25 have created full-fledged online coronavirus information hubs.

Although relatively few companies at the top of the Index have chosen to create online coronavirus information hubs at this time, that may change as events unfold. The best ones we have seen are by GSK, the UK-based pharmaceutical company; Verizon, the US-based telecoms giant (both in our top 25); and Target, the US retailer.

Best practice guidelines – effective coronavirus communication

There are many, many variables that will determine whether, when and to what degree your company communicates about the crisis on its external digital channels. In order to help with your planning – no matter what stage you’re at – here are some best practice principles with some useful examples from around the corporate web (with thanks to my colleague Scott Payton for contributing several of these).

Signpost your coronavirus communications from all key landing pages

The Verizon hub is signposted via prominent banners across the top of its consumer and corporate sites; as well as the main panel on its corporate home page. The company has also reduced the number of rotating panels on its home page to two crisis-related messages. Siemens has temporarily made ‘Covid-19’ a part of its ‘About us’ menu structure.

Include comprehensive FAQs that are easy to scan

The frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) sections by Verizon and Target are useful models here – wide coverage, direct language, divided by sections for ‘customers’, ‘public sector’, ‘employees’, etc. Verizon uses click-to-expand menus for easy scanning. Target provides a date at the top showing when it was last updated, which ensures people know they are getting the very latest information. If you are publishing a hub, it is a good idea to indicate the latest date and time of all updates, not just the FAQ.

Provide messages directly from the CEO on the website and social media

Verizon has a video message from CEO Hans Vestberg in its coronavirus hub, which is taken from one of his internal messages to employees and customers; a good example of how internal communications can be used to communicate externally. Shell’s executive chairman in China also posted about the situation in the country, giving details of the company’s #positiveenergyrelay campaign on its internal social media platform. 

Target links to ‘updates’ from Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell. Shell’s CEO used a LinkedIn message to highlight a personal story from one of its employees in China. 

Use your company’s expert network for informative features

French insurance company Axa has an outstanding interview with a social anthropologist about the effects of human encroachment into animal habitats and the blurring of ‘frontiers between species’. Siemens has a timely story about how its robots are helping the fight against the virus. Many experts are likely to be too busy to contribute to digital channels at the moment, but companies can look for opportunities to provide useful information to their customers, employees and the public at large.

Provide visible contacts, alert sign-ups and links to third-party information

Target has prominent links to the US Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, as well as media contact links. NovoNordisk has a ‘Contact us’ panel for customers and patients. Rio Tinto links to the World Health Organization, the Australian Department of Health and the Government of Canada website.

In addition, for all communications, from online hub to simple statement, it is important to adhere to the highest accessibility standards so everyone can access the information.

Like the situation itself, the online communications strategy will develop too. It is clear that the focus for many companies is internal at the moment – ensuring employees are safe, and manging risk amid growing economic uncertainty. As the crisis goes on, it may make increasing sense for companies to share more of what is happening internally with outsiders such as investors, journalists and customers, many of whom will be eager to hear about all of the courageous and selfless work taking place behind the scenes at global companies.

- Jason Sumner

You may also be interested in our article: Coronavirus communications online: our latest recommendations and best practice

For more insights on all aspects of corporate digital communications from the experts who advise 25 of the world's 200 largest companies, download the Index of Online Excellence and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

First published 26 March, 2020
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