Like many people right now, you’re probably reading this while working from home. Your commute is a walk downstairs, your desk is the kitchen table and you’ve got a new colleague with four legs and a tail. It’s all a bit bizarre.

It’s a whole new way of life, in fact, and it’s challenging. Especially as our home, work and social lives are colliding like never before.

So how can we juggle all this and come out feeling… OK? This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and its theme – kindness – has rarely seemed more important. About 30% of the UK workforce has been diagnosed with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime, according to Business in the Community. And two in five employees say their work has affected their mental health.

Given everything we’ve got going on at home – and, of course, what’s happening in the world outside – it seems unlikely the current crisis will help these figures. But there are some simple things we can do to make our work days a little easier for ourselves and others. Here are five of them.

Finish on time

Drawing a line under the work day is something I found challenging when we started working remotely full-time.

I’m not alone. Last year, 92% of employees working from home reported responding to emails outside of office hours. It’s nobody’s fault, at least not in my case – usually it’s because we work across time zones. But feeling like you’re always ‘on call’ has been found to cause significant stress and anxiety.

So what’s the answer? For me, bringing my day to an end just like I would in an office has helped. I wish colleagues a good evening then shut down my computer. I know my leisure time has started, and it tells everyone else I’m finished for the day. Setting boundaries like this can really help with mental wellbeing while working from home, according to the NHS.

Find your dedicated workspace

It’s easier to finish for the day when you can walk out of the office and shut the door behind you. But now, for many, that office is scattered all over their house, and living and working in the same space can be another cause of anxiety.

So, if you can, choose one area to work in. Forbes suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that quiet areas are best. The NHS recommends finding somewhere away from distractions and, if possible, with a door that you can close. And a comfortable set-up is vital for long periods of work – your back will thank you.

Whatever you do, though, it might be best not to work from your bed, however tempting it might seem.

Get out and about

Research shows spending as little as two hours a week in nature significantly improves our health and wellbeing. That’s less than 20 minutes per day.

Being in nature can improve our mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger and help us feel more relaxed, according to Mind. It’s been found to help with anxiety and depression too. And a small screen break will help declutter your brain, refresh your eyes and break up the day.

So whether it’s a garden, local park or just a walk around the block, get out there – it all helps.

Manage your online meetings

During lockdown almost every area of our lives has been forced online, covering us with a giant digital tapestry that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

And with work meetings and social events happening in the same place – on apps like Microsoft Teams or Zoom, that have been instrumental to businesses and a lifeline to those in isolation during the crisis – many people are reporting signs of ‘video call fatigue’. Constantly having to perform for the camera and process non-verbal cues such as body language and eye contact are at the root of this, experts say.

As the Mental Health Foundation says, there’s no substitute for seeing another person’s face – but use your diary to clearly say to others when you’re available to speak.

Be kind to yourself (and others)

To say things are challenging for us all at the moment is an understatement. Everyone will be experiencing their own difficulties, but experts say that showing empathy, consideration and kindness to ourselves and others can help us all.

Kindness helps reduce stress, boosts happiness and improves our emotional wellbeing. And acts of kindness – like asking colleagues how they are, setting up a virtual coffee club or being there for a co-worker that has had a bad day – can make a big difference to people who are struggling, says the Mental Health Foundation.

And if you feel less productive than you usually do, that’s all right – no one is expected to have all the answers at a time like this. Just be realistic about what you can achieve, find what works for you and try to enjoy your free time. And look after yourselves!

 

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

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.

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.

As the impact of coronavirus seeps deeper, events, company all-hands and business meetings are being cancelled.

Some of these might have been primarily social occasions that can be rescheduled or refunded. But many other events – such as internal strategy sessions or intra-office meetings – are crucial at a time when communication is the key to business success.

Plan ahead

We are in a period of ‘unknown unknowns’, but it’s clear that coronavirus spreads quickly and with stealth. 

If you have a large-scale – or small-scale – event planned in Europe or the US in March, April and May it’s no doubt at risk as we reach the containment phase of the virus.

Cancel early, and shift to a remote or virtual event as quickly as you can – the more of your attendees you can prime, and inform, the better. Avoid negative “we’ve cancelled” messaging and focus on the positive: “We can still meet but virtually.”

Focus on outcomes

It’s important to go back to basics when you re-think your event – at the core of the experience, what do your attendees want or need to take away from the event?

It may well be that you can focus only on ensuring your keynotes or major sessions are streamed. Or you could decide that you need a full range of speakers and have the bandwidth to schedule a full running order. 

Consider re-creating your event without an audience, filming it on site with your speakers if they are able to travel, but streaming to your broad audience.  

Re-staging the event as a ‘virtual television experience’ is relatively straightforward and can work for both internal and external audiences.  

This will work if you have not been told to isolate completely and can still get your speakers in to your workspace or host location, or if you are broadcasting from your own audiences to a disparate or global workforce.

Pull on your strongest speakers – or your speakers delivering business critical information – and build your running order or schedule around them. 

Think hard about the format

Consider compressing a two- or three-day event into 5 or 6 hours. You can include breaks and interstitials for the audience to discuss and ‘virtually break out’; bring in a ‘host’ or primary speaker to pull the event together and ensure that you keep to time and can react to events and interaction from the audience. 

Consider breaking your virtual event into segments or chapters. It’s one thing to schedule straight-through sessions when your audience are all seated in an auditorium, it’s quite another when they can tune out at will online. 

Don’t forget that if you audience are homeworking too, they may be facing distractions a live audience would never encounter. Breaking the event into chapters will avoid people switching away from your event mid-session.

Your technology 

External event providers such as ours will provide one single video stream that you can share to your intranet, chosen environment or social channels, working with your IT department to ensure this is a smooth experience. 

If yours is a small event, you can use streaming technology – such as Skype, Skype TX, WebEx or Zoom meeting app – to deliver your keynotes or presentations, bearing in mind that quality may not be perfect quality for a large screen. 

At a time like this the information you are delivering is more important than the ‘look’ of the presentation. 

Scheduling and languages

Ideally you will schedule your virtual event to be at an optimal time for all your audiences. But finding a time that suits all time zones can be a challenge. You can always pre-record and share a recording after the event if attendance is not possible. 

Don’t forget you can also offer instant translation or subtitling to enable your message to be delivered to as broad an audience as possible. 

Multiple platforms

Consider all outlets to push your event out to your target audiences. Start with your core space – either your business website, YouTube channel or your intranet. Bolt on additional platforms if you need to extend the reach of your event. 

Today’s tech solutions will enable you to upload documents, presentations, imagery or videos into your live virtual event. 

It’s relatively straightforward with available tech to push concurrent live feeds to platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. Consider how best to engage your target audience. 

Enable interactivity 

It’s crucial that the event is as engaged and lively as an in-person event. Here are some ways to include interactivity: 

– If you are using a technology like Skype, WebEx or Zoom, use the chat functionality during keynotes to solicit comments and conversation 

– Stream on Twitter and run polls and votes; encourage comments and build thread commentaries

– Build in ‘water cooler moments’ via your meeting technology, where people can discuss issues and points of interest

– If it’s a large event, switch off live comments so the flow of a presentation or keynote is not interrupted

After the event

Solicit feedback to determine where you can make changes and improvements.  This is a learning experience for many companies, so don’t expect to get it right the first time.

READ MORE: 

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

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

Communicating sustainability: 7 companies doing it well

 

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.

How would your company function if the entire business had to work from home for an extended period of time? It’s a question more and more firms are asking as the threat from coronavirus continues to spread.

Everyone from Amazon and Twitter to Panasonic, Microsoft and NEC are encouraging or mandating home-working in some of their locations. And with the crisis showing no signs of relenting now is the time to prepare.

The situation is unprecedented in many respects. It’s certainly unlike anything we’ve seen in this age of social media and sophisticated digital communications.

For many businesses this will be the first time their communications will have been tested in this way, keeping large numbers of staff connected in multiple locations and over a potentially long timescale.

It’s unlikely to be straightforward, as Twitter’s HR boss Jennifer Christie recently acknowledged. And some roles, of course, simply can’t be done from home. But having a solid plan in place is something all businesses should now prioritise.

Preparing for all eventualities

At Formative, as part of our work for some key clients, we’ve been monitoring the situation and working on client comms around Covid-19 for some weeks.

We work with clients across the globe, which means we’re used to talking to contacts in many different locations. And lots of our staff do work from home on occasion. But we’ve never sent our entire team home at once.

Until this week, that is, when we decided to do just that to test our systems and approach.

We wanted to get ready for any disruption, ensure our people are protected and check our clients can rely on us to support them and their own communication needs as we move further into this unchartered territory.

Our plan included the following measures:

– Setting up a coronavirus response team, which meets daily to assess any impact on our business, teams and clients

– Developing a live document to keep our people informed of the news that will affect them and impact our response as each day brings changes

– Ensuring all of our comms are guided by official advice from the World Health Organization and Public Health England, and take an informed, measured tone. We don’t want to add to the misinformation that’s already developing into an ‘infodemic’

– Updating staff on practicalities in the run-up to the test, as well as on the general situation in our morning stand-up meetings, and making sure everyone was comfortable with and clear on the plan

– Making sure everyone has access to all of our platforms and technology and that passwords are shared securely

– Ensuring all team members had tested their own equipment and had everything they needed to do their job remotely

The right tools for the job

As a digital agency, we already have many web-based tools in place to share information and keep our business running smoothly. But these tools really came into their own in this ‘all staff at home’ scenario.

Based on our experience, these are some of the processes and systems you might need to adjust or review in the interests of smooth remote working en masse:

Creating, storing and managing documents

Microsoft has made its Microsoft Teams available for free for six months as a response to the coronavirus situation, allowing collaboration and connectivity to those working remotely. From March 10, the company is rolling out updates that will lift user restrictions and limits. For some of our work and document storage we use Google Drive, meaning all of our staff already have access to all of our files wherever they are. Migrating this access to the devices of those working from home was seamless 

Meetings

Face to face is always more simple, right? Well that’s not what we found in our recent test. A video communications tool – look Skype for Business, Webex, Zoom, BlueJeans and other systems – helps not just with calls but with meetings too. We held our whole-company morning meeting with clear sound quality and not a single hitch, keeping 50 or so people informed ahead of the day

Keeping in touch

Yes, there’s email, and we haven’t given up on that quite yet. But an intuitive business messaging tool like Slack can make all the difference when people need to make decisions quickly from multiple locations. Complement this with an instant messaging tool or an app like WhatsApp, which will allow you to contact all of your staff, and even clients, at speed wherever they are

Project management

Our project management software, Asana, is already the backbone of our business – it helps us manage the flow of work and staff members plan their days. Again, being web-based it was simple for staff to log on from home. Basecamp and other alternatives are available if you prefer 

Passwords

Data protection is paramount to our business, and this extends to passwords – especially important in a situation with so many people working off site. We use LastPass, allowing every member of staff secure access to all of the logins they need through their own, single password

Internal comms

Keeping staff informed is always important but crucial in a situation like this. While larger firms will have their own intranet systems or internal websites, you can use your Teams, collaborative workspace or a tool like Facebook Workplace to keep people informed

That might seem like a long list, but once everything’s up and running it’s surprisingly simple to track and manage all of these feeds. They’re vital to our day-to-day work. But in a scenario in which we would need to work remotely for weeks or even months they would be critical.

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

Communicating sustainability: 7 companies doing it well

 

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.

Every client I work with has a data story to tell. From combining weather data with AI in order to accurately trade renewable energy, to using data from smart vehicles to lower insurance premiums, there are so many businesses doing exciting things with data right now.

But what about using data as an integral part of a marketing and communications strategy? Instead of simply creating content about how data is being used in the business, how about using data to find out what stories an organisation has to tell, and what stories its audiences are interested in hearing?

Here are three main ways to do this and create data-driven content:

1. Using public data

When we talk about data journalism, it usually refers to the interrogation of publicly available datasets in order to find a story.

One of the main methods employed by journalists is requesting data from public bodies under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws.

Making the request is the easy part. When the data arrives it is rarely collated or organised how you want it; instead, it is sent in a variety of formats, from spreadsheets to photocopies of letters.

The journalist will then need to clean up and organise this data in such a way that the story starts to reveal itself. For example, to produce this story on police out-of-court settlements, The Guardian contacted the UK’s 43 police forces. It then pulled together all of the responses into a single dataset to reveal that settlements had totalled £30 million in four years.

While traditionally the preserve of data journalists, there are some more adventurous companies now using FOIs to generate their own stories. For example, cloud services provider NetApp sent FOI requests to the UK’s NHS trusts about their use of AI. After collecting the responses from 61 trusts, NetApp was able to generate substantial press coverage on its story that 52% of NHS trusts were already using AI in some form.

But FOI requests aren’t the only way that organisations can generate stories from publicly available data. There are many public bodies, especially at the global level, that make their data freely available and easily accessible. For example, we worked with the Wellcome Trust to interrogate World Health Organisation data and created three data visualisations that told the story of the importance of vaccines.

2. Using a social listening tool

Social media gives every organisation a wealth of information about their audiences. Using tools that ‘listen’ to conversations is a great way of identifying hot topics and trending themes.

For example, social listening tool Pulsar ran a search of Chief Information Officers (CIO) on Twitter to find out about the key themes and topics they are interested in. It then used that data to publish content on its own website revealing those trends.

Tools such as Pulsar not only offer a way to pinpoint broad themes, they can also be used to deliver more nuanced insights that may not yet have played a role in any content strategy.

We used Pulsar to identify the topics being discussed on Twitter by a target audience of one of our clients. This audience was tech-focused and made up predominantly of CIOs. Many of the results of our search simply confirmed our editorial hunch that themes such as Blockchain and AI would be an extremely important part of the content strategy. 

However, it also identified that a topic gaining a good deal of traction among this audience was ‘women in tech’. This was something that the client had not previously considered as part of its content strategy. As a result of this insight, we were able to build women-specific and gender equality-focused content into the campaign.

3. Using your own data

Companies today have a vast array of data at their fingertips, telling them everything from the demographics of customers to how their business and assets are operating and performing. 

This data can be mined to create stories. To date, this approach is rare in business-to-business organisations, but it is common among tech companies that analyse their app data. 

For example, fitness app Strava revealed that 19 January is “Quitters Day” – the day that most people give up on their New Year’s resolution to be more healthy. Airbnb, meanwhile, went through its data to reveal that Wales was the trending region for those holidaying in the UK. 

However, there is a reason that few companies beyond app developers mine their data to generate content: data on its own is never enough. Reams of statistics won’t magically conjure up increased engagement on social media. There still needs to be someone with the ability to interpret that data, someone who understands what resonates with audiences, and what makes a great story.

For example, technology company NTT runs the data analytics for the Tour de France. Despite having a wealth of data at their disposal, their executives admit that they must still work with journalists to find the most compelling stories among the numbers. 

Ultimately, the only organisations likely to successfully generate data-driven content are those that have realised the value of applying journalistic values to their marketing and communication strategies.

And while it may be difficult to directly link brand journalism and thought leadership to sales, the body of evidence around their importance is growing: Edelman’s 2020 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study found that 88% of decision-makers believe that thought leadership is effective at enhancing their perceptions of an organisation.

It’s also important to remember that data will never give you the whole answer, and content strategies shouldn’t be built on data alone.

As Formative Content CEO Gay Flashman points out in her book Powerful B2B Content, building up a steady flow of content that connects with your audiences requires multiple approaches to “story mining”, both inside and outside your organisation. This will still include old-fashioned concepts such as having conversations with colleagues and customers, as well as setting up processes that enable those conversations on a regular basis.

But in 2020, data should at least be part of the process for creating content that connects with your customers.

READ MORE: 

About the author: John McKenna is a Senior Content Editor at Formative Content. An experienced business journalist, John now combines journalism with data to help global organisations tell their stories.

Formative Content is a corporate digital agency working with some of the world’s most widely known and well-respected multinational organisations. If you’d like help with your digital marketing campaigns, get in touch.

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.