The challenge of creating a comms plan for hundreds of volunteers and rolling it out in just a couple of days was not one we had ever faced before. But three weeks ago we came across a new Facebook group for our local town in Buckinghamshire, England, created in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Noticing that lots of people were offering their services locally, I set up a Google form to post on a local Facebook page to take names of people who wanted to volunteer. Within 24 hours we had over 150 names, and rising fast.

Now, what to do next?

Through the local grapevine, I was made aware of a new charity in the town – Better Connected Beaconsfield – and it soon became obvious that this would be the right organisation to help in structuring our growing group of more than 300 volunteers.

After a couple more phone calls The BCB Buddy Network was born. I started working intensely with a group of people who I’d never before (and nearly all I still haven’t met in person). After a lot of late nights, a lot of Zoom calls, and a load of favours called in, here’s what we’ve learned. I hope this is of use for all of you (either with or without comms and digital experience) trying to manage communications and digital output for local coronavirus volunteers.

Read more about the BCB Buddy Network at www.betterconnectedbeaconsfield.org.uk

Focus on the instantly doable, then do it

Just as I would do with a client, we quickly developed a basic plan of what we needed to do urgently. In the short term, the first step for us was to update and improve the website to enable people to find the charity, the second was to promote the charity and the need for volunteers on social media. The next phase has been communicating the work of the charity through PR to get more local recognition and more people signing up, and then building a newsletter to update and engage our team of buddy volunteers.

Learnings:

Establish a core comms and digital team

We put a volunteer button on the front page of the BCB website to encourage those who wanted to volunteer for any task that we might face. This enabled us to gather information about local comms, PR people and designers who might be able to help us. Each person who expressed an interest was quickly interviewed on the phone to understand what they wanted to do, and what their skillset was – and then assigned a role.

Learnings:

You’d never believe what’s possible when you ask

Not everyone can give time – these are personally and professionally challenging times for all – but I have been overwhelmed by the number of local people with exceptional skills who’ve offered their help with this project.

The original BCB website was basic and, at that stage, not quite up to what we needed to manage a flow of volunteers and enquiries. We asked the UK WordPress community, and local agencies and freelancers, for help. Within hours I had heard from local developer, Simon Plews, who updated the front page immediately.

Then I was approached by Louise Towler who runs Indigo Tree, a local digital agency. Louise offered to build a new templated WordPress website in the space of 36 hours herself over a weekend. The front page includes three clear calls to action and is dedicated entirely to our local coronavirus response.

Learnings:

Pause, and think

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have a habit of rushing and wanting things done quickly! It pays – when health and vulnerable people are involved – to pause and think. Tempers can get frayed at times like this as people are feeling anxious. Be direct and clear in your needs and also be realistic about what people can do.

Learnings:

Create some clear comms guidelines

We created some social media guidelines very early on as it was important for us to make sure that we protected the confidentiality of our residents if they were looking for help. Ensure that you explain to your volunteers and network how important it is to be cautious about what is shared in public social media groups.

Learnings:

Set up data protection and GDPR-compliant systems from the start to protect your volunteers and those you are helping

Regular group communication

From day one we set up a daily evening call for core members of the charity team, to bring us together with a common goal and ensure we were moving forward as quickly as possible. We also all needed to be on the same page when it came to comms and messaging.

As soon as the volunteer network was in place, we instituted a webinar each weekend that disseminated more widely the information we needed. This included local doctors, local church leaders as well as the core project team. We started with a one-hour session, and have reduced that to 30 minutes.

Regular communication to volunteers and a flow from, and to, the group enables us to minimise the time spent on communicating and repeating information, and also ensures that we get our key message delivered quickly.

Learnings:

Social media – a blessing…

We’ve used Facebook to organise and communicate with our team of volunteers and also to reach out to the community to promote what we are doing. There was already a BCB Facebook page which had limited followers. We quickly redesigned as a coronavirus hub for BCB… Including more callouts for volunteers and Buddies to join the network and also pushing anyone in need to the website to sign up.

Learnings:

Keep sharing your key information

We’ve been uploading both webinar recordings and key documents such as shopping guidelines to our Facebook private Buddy group, but also uploading them all to the BCB website behind a password-protected page that Indigo Tree created on the website.

This enables us to upload PDFs, videos etc to keep the volunteer group closely informed.

Learnings:

Other learnings:

Find your connectors: Approach and ask for help from those people who are great communicators, and connectors in your community. You need them at a time like this, to help spread the word across Facebook groups and pages, and guide those who do not know about your services.

Google forms: We managed to get a volunteer and call for help system establish quickly using Google forms attached to the buttons on the front page of the website stop each button for instance I need help, or I want to volunteer, had a separate Google form behind it.

Information from each button drops into a spreadsheet which could be managed by the project team at BCB.

This enables us to ensure that our data was safe and GDPR-compliant. These things are important at a time like this and it’s vital not to forget data protection and compliance with privacy regulations, especially when dealing with vulnerable people.

Newsletter: We have a team of four people including a writer, one person looking after mailing, one person finding stories and a graphic designer to pull together a regular newsletter for volunteers. The aim is to send a big thank you to them, as well as encouraging more volunteers to join and giving a shout out to our lovely volunteers. We will create this only as often as we have the stories, and the resources. Not a priority at this stage.

Video volunteer stories:  I have encouraged or asked volunteers to record short messages on their phones in video answering the questions who are they – first name only – and why they volunteered, with a little bit of information about them. These have been brilliant to give a face to our volunteers, and to encourage more volunteers to step forward

Facebook scanners: We have recruited a handful of people to keep an eye on Facebook across all local groups and our partner organisations in Beaconsfield, with the aim of responding to those looking for help, and posting details of the BCB Body Network to encourage people to go to the website to get help. We also created a Google form which is open to all where we have uploaded information about neighbouring and local support groups in case we are approached by people seeking help from outside of the area

I hope this is of use to even one other volunteer group out there. Best of luck with your work helping your communities.

None of this would’ve been possible here in Beaconsfield without a fantastic team at Better Connected Beaconsfield, and of volunteers behind the scenes.

And of course to all our Buddies, the incredible volunteers who are powering just one community’s response to this challenging crisis.

 

READ MORE:

#Coronacomms: Building a compelling virtual event – 4 key steps

#Coronacomms – Getting Virtual: tips & techniques to put life back into virtual communications

If you would like to know more about virtual communication strategies, please email gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

 

Three years ago, global TV audiences were enchanted by two young children who invaded their father’s home office, gate-crashing his video interview with BBC News. The clip went viral. 

In the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, what was unusual then has virtually become the norm. Most of us now work from home, with video conferencing the standard form of communication – complete with interruptions from children and pets.

It’s part of what is now often referred to as the ‘new normal’, and its impact is set to linger on, even once the crisis is over and lockdowns ease around the world. 

Why? Not only because the business case for remote working is now irreversible but, more importantly, because these new ways of working have allowed – no, forced us – to show more of ourselves and to be more authentic as a result.  

The new ‘business as usual’

Some of us may feel uncomfortable revealing so much of our ‘real life’, maybe even think it ‘unprofessional’ if a child interrupts a conference call or the dog demands to be fed.  

But Ashish Babu, Chief Marketing Officer for Europe and the UK at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), observes: “Someone’s alarm or doorbell will go off, and I think you’ve got to just assume that is business as usual. The simple headline is that we’re all human, and this is going to be the new norm, and we just get on with our business. What matters is good content and good interactions.” 

What the lockdown has given us is a heightened level of authenticity and transparency in our communications. We are connecting at a human level because we are revealing more of ourselves than we would typically do in the office. And we’re building stronger relations as a result. 

Connecting socially − remotely

Deborah Turness, head of NBC News International, was building her team for a new global news channel, NBC Sky World News, when the lockdown hit. While the channel’s launch is on hold, her “remote army” is delivering content to NBC’s global operations. 

And Deborah is emphatic that her connection with the new team has benefited rather than suffered from the current situation: “I think I’ve gotten to know my team better than I ever would have if we were in the newsroom together. Because we’re sharing, we’re letting our guard drop a little bit, and using the platform to come together in a social way as well. And yes, we actually have a glass of wine together. We share cooking tips. It’s really refreshing.“

This authenticity doesn’t just extend to interpersonal relations but also content creation.

An antidote to ‘fake news’

In the nightly news, we now see politicians in their living rooms, wobbly mobile footage, and journalists finding new, more ‘grassroots’ ways of telling stories using the tools currently available to them.

While this may take some getting used to, it also brings audiences and journalists closer together to rebuild a relationship of trust. 

This is particularly important in this era of fake news and diminishing trust between the audience and the news providers, says Deborah Turness. She points to market research by NBC which shows that, rather than being presented with an all-too-perfect final product, audiences want to know what journalists do and how they get their stories – warts and all, including any mess-ups along the way. 

“Don’t just tell me what you know. Show more of your working. Let me know I can trust you by showing me that I can trust you. Strip away some of that gloss that conventionally comes in particularly television news. The real story of news is something much more essential, visceral.” 

The limitations imposed by the lockdown – if they are indeed limitations – allow news reporters to create much greater intimacy and understanding, and with that a chance to restore the audience’s dwindling trust in them. 

Turning limitations into opportunities

The same applies to business relationships and communications. In adapting to the new normal, aiming for a ‘human-first’ experience in all communications is critical, says Ashish Babu of TCS.   

Several conferences have already moved to online channels as a result of the lockdown, with more heading in the same direction. But there is potential for many other daily business interactions to draw on the human element that platforms like Zoom, Skype, Teams and others convey. 

While our interaction with these tools is currently driven by the lockdown, it’s in our interest to stick with them beyond the crisis and help make communications more transparent – rather than simply slip back to the ‘old ways’.

 

READ MORE:

#Coronacomms: Building a compelling virtual event – 4 key steps

#Coronacomms – Getting Virtual: tips & techniques to put life back into virtual communications

If you would like to know more about virtual communication strategies, please email gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing everything from daily meetings to conferences online the world is getting a crash course in the processes and technologies needed to make the switch to virtual possible.

We recently held our own event, Insight Live: Creating Engaging Virtual Experiences, where a range of speakers shared best practice on creating engaging live business events.

Here are some tips based on what we learned from putting it together.

 

  1. Think about the experience

Consider carefully the aspects of your event that could be a challenge.

I’ve produced a lot of TV programmes in my career, so in planning our Insight Live event I knew how important it was to build something that, alongside being useful and informative, was enjoyable to watch.

Taking the audience with you throughout the duration is key to this, as is ensuring everything is presented with a human touch. For our event, top marketers and communicators like Ashish Babu, CMO for Tata Consultancy Services – Europe & UK, and Deborah Turness, President of NBC News International, brought their considerable experience to that role. Interactivity and engagement are key challenges for many corporates and businesses at the moment, so be mindful of how these elements can be included too.

Some of the other ways to create an engaging experience include:

 

  1. Fast, efficient planning is key

Before getting started you need to know the basics. Who are you talking to? What are your key messages? What actions do you want your event to lead to?

You might only need a small but finely honed audience. Or your event could have broader appeal, so why not spread the net? Who you’re seeking to engage will inform the platform you choose and who you approach to take part.

Things to consider when planning:

 

  1. Test and learn

Our goal for our event was, of course, to deliver a slick and professional experience. But as the current crisis forces businesses to reinvent many aspects of what they do, we also knew this was something of a trial run – for our team, for the tech, and for everyone else involved.

We tried out different approaches and technologies and refined them as we moved through test runs and rehearsals. This allowed us to practise many times before we went live.

A key element of this was to script the event down to every word. We might not have always stuck to it during the show, but it provided a firm structure for proceedings that everyone involved could follow.

Here are some other things we learned while testing:

 

  1. Build a resourceful team

Whether it’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams or WebEx, if you’re taking a test-and-learn approach with your chosen platform you need to be able to pull on a group who can efficiently execute and deliver your programme.

Be sure to get people who have done this before or, failing that, are happy to experiment and practise multiple times – entrepreneurial people who are quick to solve problems and are content to work on projects where there is a degree of ambiguity.

Here are some other things to think about when putting together your team:

 

READ MORE:

#Coronacomms: How can you create a successful virtual event?

#Coronacomms – Getting Virtual: tips & techniques to put life back into virtual communications

If you want training or guidance in how to migrate your events online, creating meaningful content, or training your people to perform and communicate effectively via webcam please email me – gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

The difference between crisis communications and business-as-usual communications is like comparing off-road driving with cruising along a regular motorway. 

Whether it is your internal communications with employees, or how you speak to external stakeholders and customers, every communications’ professional is having to navigate their way through. 

Many of us are using video conferencing technology to meet virtually – but the magic lies in skilling up your staff so that they can use the technology well. 

 

Your background is your brand 

First impressions really count, so if you’re working from home, take time to find a background that looks professional, particularly to external stakeholders or clients. People don’t need to see your dirty laundry or family photographs. 

Recently a video was circulating on social media of a live online interview with an expert – on the news. Behind her, a flatmate or partner walks nonchalantly down the stairs wearing just his underpants…

Find a neutral background – a nice coloured wall or bookcase. Or see if your technology provider offers a virtual background which can be matched to your branding. This means you can sit in your bed and no one will be any the wiser.

Be human

One of the common side effects of sitting in front of a webcam seems to be that normal body language changes and people become expressionless and unfriendly. Teaching people to work well on video means reminding them to smile, to have good eye contact, to use gesture – basically to be themselves. 

As someone who spent many hours in remote studios staring down the barrel of a camera lens wearing an earpiece in live TV interviews, it takes a while to get used to treating the webcam like another human being. 

Get the lighting right

Make sure you are well lit. One of the most common mistakes I see is people sitting in front of windows. Do not sit with a window behind you – better to sit somewhere you can have the window light illuminate your face. 

If there isn’t any natural light, then make sure you have some good white lamp light (better than yellow electric light) on your face. Experiment so that you remove any shadows or reflections on your glasses if you wear them. Don’t sit under bright strip lighting. 

Position yourself well

Sit yourself centrally to the webcam or phone camera. The camera should be at your eye level so that people aren’t looking down at you, or indeed up into your nose. 

If necessary, prop your laptop on a firm box or pile of books. Don’t leave this up to the last minute – find the perfect spot, check that it looks good, experiment with your seating and lighting levels until you are happy. Check the position by taking a photo of yourself. How do you look? Often we see experts on television who are holding their phones, or positioned awkwardly. This will potentially make you feel more nervous, and detract from what you – the expert – are saying to your audience. 

What not to wear 

If you’re using video conferencing to communicate with colleagues or clients, there are some rules. Ideally you won’t be wearing your pyjamas… but if you do, ensure they aren’t visible.

If you are communicating as a professional to an external audience, it is obviously sensible to dress professionally; internal meetings can be more relaxed as we all get used to working from home. 

Avoid wearing fabrics with close stripes, checks or dots. These patterns can strobe on camera. Avoid jewellery that is too large or shiny or that makes a noise if you move. And very light or pale colours can look washed out. 

Engaging the audience 

The biggest challenge of communicating through a webcam is keeping people engaged. You have to work a lot harder to involve audiences through a camera lens. The more people joining you in a virtual meeting, the harder this is. 

Getting the eyeline right, your lighting, the position of the webcam and your background will help. Then you have to inject two main things: a clear structure to your call or meeting to keep your audience on the same page, and a lot of energy and passion.

If the present crisis is going to be the start of a more permanent shift towards working from home, training yourself and your colleagues to communicate more effectively in the virtual world will be a good investment.

 

READ MORE: 

How best to show your company’s commitment to sustainability

How the right kind of content can help build trust in your brand

About the author: Charlotte Hume worked for ITN for just under 18 years – much of that as a TV correspondent. She is a highly experienced communications coach and a specialist in crisis communications. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

At times like this, when many of us feel concerned and anxious, we all need to be careful about what we say – whether to the people we are close to, to our colleagues, or to our clients and stakeholders. And that’s just as true for corporates as it is for individuals.

As the ‘front line’ of company engagement with your public audience, that caution needs to extend to social media channels – it’s incredibly easy to misjudge the tone of your social posts and wreck your reputation in a moment. Business as usual content, pre-scheduled and automated, should be dropped in favour of thoughtful and responsive output that reacts and responds day by day.

People are looking to brands and companies to give sensible and appropriate advice as we live through this pandemic, on topics they have ‘earned’ the right to discuss. Some of the world’s politicians and leaders will be found wanting in the advice they give to their citizens during this crisis – companies can step into the trust vacuum.

How do you ensure your social media content developed during a global crisis does not offend, upset or alienate audiences during this difficult time?

Review your output

First, swiftly assess what you are saying currently, and what is scheduled on your social channels. Is it appropriate at a time like this? Be clear on the role your brand plays in people’s lives, how you add value for your audience and use that knowledge to help guide your decisions. Pivot to areas that will have resonance and meaning for your audiences.

Eva Taylor, Head of Social & Marketing Operations at social media management platform Hootsuite, gives this advice: “Sensitive situations, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, require a careful and thoughtful approach. Take a step back and re-examine the content you’re sharing on a regular basis to avoid appearing insensitive or irrelevant, which can negatively impact your brand in the long run.”

Shift to a different tone, says Taylor, “A health scare is not a ‘marketing opportunity’ to capitalize on: instead, focus on how your brand can help others.” She added, “Keep an eye on breaking news and how it might impact your chosen approach. Observe how your audience responds and consider adapting your tone accordingly when crafting any messages that you plan to share on social.”

I don’t know how many times in the last few weeks I have read a social media post that has very obviously been pre-scheduled months ago. They appear crass and ill-timed.

Run through your scheduled posts and check them for tone. Do they feel wrong or badly timed? Do they seem insensitive to any members of your audience or your client groups?

Direct resources to social

This is not the time to close down communications. In fact, this is the moment when, as an organisation, you should be communicating more than ever with both your employees and your external stakeholders.

Clients, customers and suppliers will be looking to you for a clear outline of how you are responding to the crisis and how they can expect to be treated. This is the right time to be demonstrating your commitment to a true purpose, especially if you have previously espoused one in your values or communications.

Audiences and followers will want to hear how your leaders are responding and that they are ‘steering the ship’ confidently in the face of adversity. They will also need reassurance that you are maintaining at least some semblance of an operation in spite of the challenges of remote working and social distancing.

Taylor recommends: “If your audience is reaching out to you with questions and concerns, this is a great time for your brand to participate on social in a transparent, empathetic and timely manner. Use this as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships and build your community.”

Be honest and be human

As with all communications, it’s important that you’re honest and open in your messaging. That does not mean that you have to reveal everything that is going on behind-the-scenes. But it does mean that you need an authentic and honest tone of voice when you speak to the wider audience. We all know that this is a very human catastrophe and everybody is under pressure whether with family, work or with their companies. Bear that in mind when you think about the tone of voice you use.

If you read some of the latest output from Microsoft, who we have been working with, you will see that CEO Satya Nadella has been on the front foot with his commentary and content on social media, as has Microsoft President, Brad Smith. Their messages have been delivered in an authentic and straightforward way.

At the right time, organisations should be telling the hero stories, the frontline stories, the stories of the challenged and the vanquishers. Whether it’s your people at the top, or your staff messages, think about how you reveal the human behind the message. For larger, global organisations, these stories will land with your own people as reassurance, as much as with your external audiences.

“In the ‘new normal’ that we now face, brands should experiment with different formats. A video message recorded on a CEO’s webcam or phone might be exactly what is needed to get an authentic and timely message out to the world,” says Richard Wellings, Digital Content Strategist at Formative Content.

“More than ever, social must be a two-way affair. Brands should carefully plan to share employees’ stories, important third-party pieces or answer questions in a public forum.”

Look to the future

In this initial phase of the pandemic – when different countries are feeling the full impact of the virus, with many people ill and dying – your comms should be helpful and practical, authoritative but warm, demonstrating and explaining how you can help. Talk about how you are helping your people, communities or clients. If it’s not crucial or of value – why would you say it now?

If your business is struggling but you are determined to keep it going, then focus on that message in your comms. If you have devolved your team, and that is putting pressure on your internal operations, then start to tell the stories about your people and how they are responding. Explain how you are working to deliver continuity of business.

The final word goes to Hootsuite’s Head of Social, Eva Taylor: “Social media is an ideal channel for two-way engagement and plays a significant role in crisis communications.

“At times like this, fully leverage its ability to communicate with your customers, employees, and the broader community to help support each other as best as we can.”

READ MORE: 

#Coronacomms: How to be productive when everyone’s working remotely

#Coronacomms: How can you create a successful virtual event?

#Coronacomms: How can business leaders communicate with impact in this crisis?

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped tell the brand stories of some of the world’s biggest B2B organisations, please email gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Or if you would like to find out more about her recently published book ‘Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling’ click here.

We are in extreme and unusual times. In the next few weeks and months we are likely to experience and witness mass lay-offs, business collapses, personal crises and ‘black swan’ events that will change forever how we do business and interact as a global society.

I never expected to write that kind of paragraph. Even now I wonder whether I am “over-reacting”.

But it seems that this is an existential threat, something that none of us in this generation has ever encountered. At this stage there is no ‘rule book’, no great blog with all the answers, no post on Google that will nail it – there is only a sensible and considered approach based on our experience and knowledge as leaders and communicators.

How companies – and leaders – respond and communicate in this crisis will inform their legacy and reputation for years.

Communication is critical, more so than ever before. I can’t promise I have all of the answers – none of us can – but here is some guidance from myself and the team at Formative Content, as well as some examples of how others are speaking to their people, their clients and their broader stakeholders in this challenging time. Please feel free to chime in with guidance, advice and support – let’s face it, we all need it.

 

Set up your communications team

For larger organisations you’ll already have your comms team and a strategy in place, but no-one has written the guide book on dealing with a pandemic like the coronavirus.

However you structure your core team, think about these points:

Meet regularly: Virtually will be the norm for most, as we move into the next stage of the spread of coronavirus. I have been meeting each day with my senior team to discuss coronavirus for more than three weeks now and managing a considered cascade of messaging to our team.

Take a 360-degree view: Think around all the issues for your business, team and clients, each time you meet. Put yourself in their shoes to help calibrate your messages. Balance honest realism and pragmatism with nuance and compassion.

Think a few steps ahead: We can’t know what’s around the corner, but many of us can anticipate how coronavirus will impact our businesses. Be swift and considered in your decisions and try to pre-empt questions where you can.

Establish a regular pulse of comms: Look for help where you can if you don’t have a dedicated communications team. Seek volunteers or reach out to your network to try to find guidance.

Communicate your plan: Many businesses and companies have chosen to move ahead of the government’s guidance (here in the UK) – this is an opportunity to show decisive action as a leader and to lead from the front with your own plan and approach.

 

Communicate regularly and routinely

Your teams, shareholders and clients will be looking to you for clear and open communication. In this situation, make sure you are communicating more, not less. Be on the front foot where you can, anticipating the next challenge for the business and building a response in advance.

Increase the cadence of your communications: If you currently message once a week as a CEO, increase that or even consider daily comms if your organisation or business is particularly badly hit. Be regular and timely with the delivery. This will minimise questions and uncertainty among all stakeholders.

Create content: Update your website – consider having a section on your front page or a clearly marked sub-page. Deliver clear and sensible information about how you are responding as an organisation. You cannot answer everyone’s questions but do what you can to work through FAQs and the obvious concerns of clients and stakeholders. Logistics company Agility – which operates around the world – has been sharing vital information to its clients via a special page on its website for weeks now.

Live updates: Create a live document that can be shared and kept open with regular updates on your business response – you might choose to share this with your wider stakeholders. Be as transparent as you can be, but cautious where required. Alternatively create a blog page that you regularly update with information for key stakeholders.

Cascade your comms: Create a team that can cascade down your information and share it to distributed networks and remote teams. Do you have WhatsApp groups you can create, or ‘ambassadors’ who can help to disseminate messages to those people and staff who might not be able to access your website or traditional comms?

Create bullet-point guidance: If you have a distributed management team, or workforce, who have to share messaging verbally to large groups or teams then supply crib sheets or bullet points to guide them on what to say. This will ensure there is a consistent message to all teams around your organisation and that misinformation and rumour will not spread.

Share health guidance: Share with your internal teams the details of where they can find up-to-date and fact-based health information. This will help to quash rumour and avoid the sharing of false reports on social media. Use the WHO[1] or the World Economic Forum’s COVID Action Platform[2] or Agenda sites.

 

Refine messages for all stakeholders

As you develop or refine your plan, break out each of your separate audiences to ensure your message for each takes account of their particular concerns or needs. Everyone in your business community will be feeling the pressure in different ways – some personal, some professional. Your messages to staff will differ – in detail terms – from those that you disseminate for stakeholders, stakeholders or suppliers, for instance.

Be agile: This is a fast-moving situation. In your live document, map each of your audiences and agree key messages for all, along with the associated regularity of comms.

Tune in to specific needs: Which cultural issues, or language issues should you be mindful of? Think through how each of your messages will land with your target audience.

Demonstrate action: You might not have all, or any, of the answers at this stage, but tell people that you are working to find solutions. As you craft your messages, ensure they are direct and clear, yes, but don’t lose touch of the need for empathy. “I know the COVID-19 pandemic is concerning for all of us,” writes HP CEO Antonio Neri on LinkedIn. “I am working closely Hewlett Packard Enterprise leaders to ensure we are responding quickly and keeping our team members, customers and partners safe.”[3] This shows action, and compassion.

 

Find the right tone; stay human

We are all in this together, and many people are struggling with a range of issues – they might be worried about their job, their family, their future, isolation. As Brené Brown wrote on LinkedIn: “Fear and anxiety can drive us to become very self-focused. This global pandemic is a real case of ‘getting sick together’ or ‘staying well together.’”[4]

Say how you feel: Anxiety is a big issue in this situation for all of us – I know I’m feeling anxious, and many more people will feel the same. Don’t be afraid to share that message – we are all human.

Use compassionate language: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella uses emphatic and human language in his LinkedIn post: “We deeply consider the effect on people in our communities in every decision we make.”[5]

Plug into your vulnerability: Calibration of your messaging to people who might be suffering or anxious is critical. If you know this is not your strong point, bring a team member in to support you with reviewing messaging to ensure it will resonate with stakeholders. “Stay safe, stay well, and take care,” Alan Jope, chief executive of Unilever, reportedly wrote in his email to staff working remotely.[6]

Step up: Many businesses are struggling, or will struggle, in the next few weeks and months. Many will go out of business. If you can step up and demonstrate in your communications AND actions that you have a true sense of purpose as a business, then this will build enduring trust. Microsoft has donated US$1 million to a regional COVID-19 Response Fund in Seattle, which is already greatly impacted by the virus. President Brad Smith wrote: “As our community focuses on public health needs during the COVID-19 outbreak, it’s important that we also rally together to address the unmet economic needs developing around us.”[7]

 

Establish or improve your systems

As well as your business continuity messaging to your teams and your public-facing messaging to your clients and partners that might be on your website, you will need a range of other communications outlets to deliver key messages and allow your own teams to communicate with each other.

– Define your systems: Find a system to share instant notifications and urgent messages to your core teams that doesn’t necessarily rely on email – group chat, IM or Slack can help speed up the sharing of business-critical or health alerts.

– Have a channel plan: Establish a plan about how to use each channel – one channel might be operational, another for sharing documents, another for instant engagement and group chat

– Broaden your channel approach: Ideally, try to share your messages across multiple channels to reach as many as your stakeholders as possible.

– Simplify content development: Create templates that you can update easily for your social media channels with updated notices or information.

– Use a range of formats: Consider what is most effective and most straightforward in terms of format during this type of crisis. Many business leaders are using fast-turnaround, simple video on social media channels to communicate clearly and directly to their people. Video can help build a quick connection and is the most shareable form of media.

– Ensure there’s a release valve: Leaders must message from the top that letting off steam, or “socialising virtually” whilst WFH is necessary. We have set up a couple of Facebook Workplace channels to enable our team members to share pet and family photos and comments, for instance.

 

Communicate your plan for the future

While we are in the eye of the storm it may feel challenging – and inappropriate – to consider the longer term. This is the time for a considered balance in your comms. It’s important that your people know that you are still planning sensibly for the future, and flexing with the current situation, to ensure the long term of your business is secure.

Be explicit and clear: “Our top priority is keeping our employees, customers and other stakeholders safe while doing whatever is reasonable to keep Ford running,” Ford senior managers have told staff in an email, as reported by the Financial Times[8]. This balances the focus of attention now, with the needs of the business in the long term.

Lean on your network and share: Give and help where you can. Paul Daugherty, group Chief Executive at Accenture has reached out to his “fellow techies” on LinkedIn: “YOU are essential in assuring success of the mission-critical systems and data that power businesses, governments and keep our world running. YOU can/must lead.” He signs off: “We need you. And we need to rely on each other.”[9]

READ MORE: 

#Coronacomms: How to be productive when everyone’s working remotely

#Coronacomms: How can you create a successful virtual event?

How the right kind of content can help build trust in your brand

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped tell the brand stories of some of the world’s biggest B2B organisations, please email gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. Last year, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Or if you would like to find out more about her recently published book ‘Powerful B2B Content – Using Brand Journalism to Create Compelling and Authentic Storytelling’ click here.

One in seven of the world’s population is on Instagram, with over 200 million users visiting business profiles every day – a potentially vast audience for your brand.

And with 71% of businesses now active on the platform, they’re signed up to a whole new market demographic, one that craves personalised visual content.

Some businesses are guilty of creating content for the platform that does not add value or engage the audience. What can they learn from the charitable sector?

Many charities and not-for-profit organisations have been establishing themselves on the social media site for some time – and have a lot to teach corporates in how to leverage those square tiles to deliver powerful brand messages. 

Here are five lessons:

Use people power

Research shows that images with faces in them are 38% more likely to be ‘liked’ and 32% more likely to be commented on. Instagram is a platform that rewards you for humanising your brand. Unicef, the world’s leading organisation working for children in danger, has grasped this. Take a look at some of its recent posts:

 

 

 

 

At the time of writing, these were Unicef’s most liked images from the last seven days. Unicef is using its key personnel and the children it helps, as its subjects. 

Businesses should replicate this. Use real people, strong images and human examples where you can to make your posts more relatable.

 

 

Unlock emotion

Charities know that using images and real life examples evokes emotion in the reader or audience. Follow Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders for strong examples.

B2B companies might not be telling stories that have the same emotional resonance as those from charities, but it is still possible to find stories from your organisation that build a connection. 

Consider how you can engage your own people to share their thoughts, purpose and passion on your Instagram feed.

Think of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. If you’ve got a product to sell, communicate either through evocative imagery or compelling captions why what you’re doing is important.

Captions are also a useful storytelling tool. Instagram allows up to 2,200 characters on its captions which is ample room to complement the imagery beside it. 

Well-written captions bring the story to life, and can act as the post’s main emotional pull if the supplied image lacks sentiment.

Use Stories

500 million people use Instagram Stories every day – and a third of the most viewed Stories are from brands. This is an area for marketers to exploit, especially as they are expected to outpace feeds in 2019.

Dogs Trust regularly posts Story content to its channel as a way to extend brand awareness even further. The charity also makes use of the highlights feature, allowing it to save past stories permanently to the top of its profile, instead of disappearing after 24 hours. Because of this, Dogs Trust can share powerful evergreen content to its followers, such as health tips and dog safety. 

50% of businesses are creating Stories every month, an interestingly low statistic given the obvious advantages.

Stories are an effective way of driving traffic to your website using the ‘swipe-up’ instruction. A strong call-to-action in an Instagram story can direct people to relevant pillar content hosted on your site.

Unleash the power of video

Video content receives 38% more engagement on Instagram than regular posts – and 2.1 times the amount of comments. 

Pencils Of Promise and The World Economic Forum are prime examples of not-for-profit organisations exhibiting quality video content across their Instagram channels. 

The accounts have high volumes of followers and specialise in posting informative, short-form videos commentating on world news and topics. 

Bearing in mind Instagram’s one-minute cap on video content, both organisations ensure that their message is conveyed clearly and concisely within the timeframe. 

The Forum’s content has caught the attention of influencers such as Leonardo DiCaprio, who has reshared many videos on environmental issues. 

Post often and keep it relevant

This isn’t as obvious as it sounds. If you’re posting to Instagram once a day, but the actual contents of your post doesn’t add value or spark joy in some way, then there’s no point. Focus on quality over quantity.

The most successful charitable Instagram accounts focus on ensuring that every post shows what they’re working towards; whether that’s a cure, global aid, rehoming animals or caring for people with disabilities. 

Even if it’s only twice a week but it’s relatable, captivating imagery, your followers will appreciate it far more and wait eagerly in anticipation of the next instalment.

READ MORE: 

How present should a CEO/CMO be on social media?

Lessons in content marketing: why your ‘why’ should come before your ‘what’

 

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content can optimise your social media strategy, please email seb.budd@formativecontent.com

About the author: Seb Budd is the Content Marketing Executive for Formative Content. He is responsible for planning, executing and driving the social media and blog content for the company. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Trust is hard to win and easy to lose – easier than ever, in fact, in today’s world where news travels fast across multiple networks, driven by users, companies and organisations, as well as traditional publishers. 

Monitoring social media is now a full-time job for brands. But just reacting to events is no longer enough. Investing in digital communications to help build trust is crucial to any marketing strategy. 

The importance of this to brand guardians is highlighted in a recent piece of social listening research we carried out at Formative Content.

Chief marketing officers and comms bosses, the research reveals, regularly use the keyword “trust” when tweeting about content.

Why trust matters

Other research, too, shows that trust isn’t just a big concern for brands – it’s also a big opportunity.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, people trust businesses more than they do governments and the media. Almost three-quarters of people are worried about fake news, but a similar proportion look to company CEOs to take leadership on important issues.

So organisations have a chance to step into the void created by a lack of trust elsewhere. And the content they put out on social media will play a key part in this.

What’s the secret?

Creating content that builds trust requires a focus on quality and authenticity.

“Write about what you know” is the advice often given to budding novelists and it’s even more true for businesses. Companies that produce blogs and videos about things they understand are much more likely to be considered genuine sources of useful information.

Messages should articulate the views of the organisation with clarity. And, of course, honesty is a given – pretending to be something you’re not is likely to have the opposite effect to that you intended. 

Find the emotion

The most successful content makes a connection with the person reading or watching, and central to this is acknowledging that person is human. 

As I write in my forthcoming book on brand journalism, it is a mistake to ignore the emotional side of business communications.

Marketers and comms professionals all too often think that’s just for consumer brands.

People want to feel an affinity with anyone they’re buying from and trust is imperative in building that relationship. But you can’t just communicate and expect to get attention.

To be effective, content needs to embody the qualities that make the best journalism compelling. It must be relevant, reliable and credible. It needs to keep the reader engaged and offer a fresh perspective on an issue the audience cares about. 

The value of trust

In short, your content needs to deliver real value. If it does, it will help grow meaningful and enduring relationships with your audiences. Over time trust will grow, and in turn give a tangible boost the brand.

Marketing expert and author Michael Brenner says people want to learn new things, and expert thought leadership builds trust. He cites the example of consultancy Capgemini, which created a corporate storytelling website to showcase the talents of its consultants.

The initiative delivered nearly one million new visitors to its brand website and attracted more than 100,000 new followers to the firm’s LinkedIn page, as well as 1.8 million shares of their content. 

A boost in trust can directly impact on a company’s bottom line, according to a recent Accenture report

“In this age of transparency, how a company does things has become equally important to what it does,” says the report. 

“Companies need to very intentionally create a culture of building, maintaining and preserving trust, and bake it into their DNA, strategy and day-to-day operations.”

READ MORE:

Lessons in content marketing: Why your ‘why’ should come before your ‘what’

Consumer trust and digital skills will be key to business success in post-Brexit Britain

 

If you would like to know more about how Formative Content has helped build trust amongst client audiences, please email gay@formativecontent.com

About the author: Gay Flashman is the CEO and founder of Formative Content. In April, she was named in Thrive Global’s Top Female Creatives of 2019 list. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.

Updated on 27th February 2020.

It achieved over 1.5 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play in 2019 and is more popular than LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat. It’s active in 155 countries around the world and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Its name is TikTok and it bills itself as the “destination for short-form mobile videos”.

But should B2B marketers be taking note? Especially following the monumental success experienced by outlets such as the World Economic Forum, who recently garnered over 3.5 billion views of one of their TikTok hashtags at this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

What is TikTok?

Beginning life in Asia and then launched in 2017 by ByteDance for markets outside China, TikTok is the way for primarily teens and Generation Z to engage with each other through music, dances and videos lasting between 15 and 60 seconds. 

Now though, global news organisations such as The Washington Post and NBC News have joined the platform. Consumer brands such as Burberry and Calvin Klein are on board and even sports teams such as Liverpool Football Club are using TikTok to generate content aimed at raising brand awareness amongst a younger audience, in a way that resonates with them.

The question is: how can B2B brands harness TikTok’s power? Is it just a brand awareness tool? Or is there more to it?

Scepticism

Not everybody seems to be convinced. According to some, B2B marketers were safe to ignore TikTok in 2019 and possibly forever. This is unsurprisingly down to the young audience, clique-like nature and time restrictions on message delivery.

Whilst the demographic at the moment sits in the 16-24 range, the older generation is expected to arrive in due course, as happened with Facebook. So arguably, now is the time for businesses to invest in TikTok and establish a following through expressive and compelling content that explores what makes them fun and interesting. 

Think of it in the same way many B2B businesses conduct themselves on Instagram – using the network to share captivating, cultural content. Instagram began as just a way to share pictures with friends, and now there are more than 25 million brand accounts that regularly connect with and, most crucially, sell to their audience. 

TikTok has a long way to go, though.

With its young userbase, the decision makers just aren’t there yet, so there’s not much for B2B brands to market to – and there really is no way to tell when they’ll show up. 

By the time they’re in senior level roles, will TikTok still be around? Just look at the demise of MySpace and Bebo.

There’s also a pertinent question B2B brands will have to ask themselves – do they want to create a new innovative side to the business, without jeopardising their authenticity and integrity? Do they want to completely shift their tone of voice? 

If the answer’s yes then brands have got to be willing to experiment and test new ideas fully knowing they may fail. This could put off a lot of well-established corporate players.

Waiting game

So why, then, has The Washington Post taken the gamble and joined in the first place?

Dave Jorgenson, the driving force behind the Post’s TikTok page, said: “The long-term plan has always been that we’d use this as we use any other platform. [Someday we will] post news in the way that reflects the platform. [Right now the plan is to] jump in and be part of the fun.”

Jorgenson, who primarily serves the newspaper as a producer and editor in the Creative Video team developed a seven-page proposal for his bosses – and they approved his plans. 

Clearly, The Washington Post is confident in TikTok’s future. But it does have the advantage of being able to wait a decade or so to see if it brings in readers in the future. 

TikTok is also currently in the very primitive stages of allowing brands to advertise on the platform, so this could be another route in. However, it circles back around to that key factor of who the brands would be advertising to.

It seems that, for the short term at least, TikTok might not be the best place for B2B brands to be advertising. Building brand awareness is apparently the strategy for those already there, but any selling is going to have to wait a while.

It’s likely that we won’t see a flood of B2B activity on the platform until one of the key players takes the plunge and joins the game, giving onlookers the chance to analyse their performance. Who, if anyone, will be the first to take a step into the unknown? 

READ MORE: 

4 steps to building your business a better Instagram strategy

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If you would like to know more about how Formative Content can optimise your social media strategy, please email seb.budd@formativecontent.com

About the author: Seb Budd is the Social Media Executive for Formative Content. He is responsible for planning, executing and driving the social media and blog content for the company. Connect with him on LinkedIn here.

Why are you reading this? Your purpose, we’re guessing, is to find out more about content marketing and because that catchy headline piqued your interest.

But do you know why your clients and their audience would read anything you create? 

Tim Williams, CEO of Onalytica, says people aren’t interested in ‘what’, they want ‘why’. 

Speaking at a session on influencer marketing at B2B Ignite at the Business Design Centre in London, he said that as marketers we should be asking ourselves ‘why will people want to read this?’ ‘Which pain points am I addressing?’ 

If you can’t think of any, how can you be sure there are any? Maybe it’s a sign to re-evaluate what your audience needs from you.

Whys matter

Let’s dig a bit deeper into this why question.

Simon Sinek, author and TED Talk(er) extraordinaire, developed the ‘Golden Circle’ concept to explain how businesses can differentiate themselves and build their value proposition.

His theory goes that if a business strategy starts with the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ or the ‘how’, your message will carry much more meaning. He says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

The Golden Circle

smartinsights.com

Sinek uses tech-giants Apple as a perfect example of a brand whose philosophy begins with ‘why’ – challenging the status quo, thinking differently. The ‘what’ – making computers – is almost irrelevant.

The same principle can be applied to content marketing. 

People first and foremost, want to know why your content will help them achieve their goals, not what it is.

Take a step back to think about what the ‘why’ of your content is and then lead your copy with it. People will take much more notice of it when you address the issue straight away. Why should they read on? The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ then follows.

You’ll quickly see that if you can communicate the core purposes of your content before anything else, the trust between you and your audience will grow and solidify. People buy from people, and if you can embody the same fundamental beliefs as your market, you’ll see that trust blossom.

How to communicate purpose

Forbes identified three effective methods for communicating purpose. They are: 

  1. Challenge vs Overwhelm
  2. Clear but unfinished
  3. Repercussions and rewards

Starting with Challenge vs Overwhelm, content needs to excite people and challenge them to stretch themselves to be a greater version of themselves. However, we mustn’t overwhelm them with unachievable goals, unmanageable expectations or statistics that scare the reader. Inspire hope, don’t instil fear.  

The goal with the second point here is a little harder to define. It’s important to outline a clear direction for your reader in which to propel themselves, but with flexibility on the route to get there. Forbes describes it as the ‘fine line between governance and guidance’. 

Ultimately our content should be sparking an image of a company where processes are streamlined, productivity is increased and ROI is greater. However, every client is different and has their own USPs, so it’s vital to offer variation in how to achieve their vision.

The third and final method speaks to what energizes people. In a survey of workers, 98% believed meaningful work was ‘important’ or ‘very important’. So it follows that content that carries greater meaning delivers greater rewards and is more likely to be followed. 

In short, people are tired of products. What they’re interested in now is context. A piece of content is nothing without purpose. 

To demonstrate why our content is going to help somebody, we must communicate with honesty and direction. Illuminate all the reasons why this information is key to their success and do it before you try to explain anything else.

Begin with the ‘why’ in everything you do. It’s an unbreakable foundation for success.