Getting the message right during COVID-19

Ben Murphy, NECS Senior Marketing Manager provides an overview of the importance of good communication and getting the message right during a pandemic.

The past few months have been challenging for us all, both as people and as health and social care organisations. But despite these tough times, we’re all in the same situation. As social distancing and remote working have become commonplace, the importance of digital and online communication has been greater than ever. And despite being physically further apart, there’s never been a greater need for us to be closer together.

Whilst plenty has been written about the pros and cons of video consultations, virtual meetings and how the digital transformation of the NHS has been accelerated out of necessity, one thing that’s perhaps gone under the radar is the use of digital marketing and public engagement. So, how should healthcare organisations be approaching social media during the pandemic? And what should communications sound like, at a time when communities need more support and guidance than ever before?

Be human, build trust

It might seem obvious, but any communication needs to be delivered with a human approach. Be straight-forward, be empathetic, be you. Now more than ever, patients and the public need reassurances and consistency. It’s a tough time but we’re all in this together.

If you don’t have a defined tone of voice, now might be a good time to form one or at least draft some guidelines. It’ll be a useful toolkit to use across your organisation and ensure that messaging is clear and consistent.

For both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 related health messaging, a balance of simple communication, accurate information and clear expertise will go a long way to building that all important trust.

Telling stories

At its core, social media is designed to create communities, share stories and bring us closer together; regardless of where we are. And with more people working from home and having more time to themselves, we’re seeing screen time being higher than before. That makes it the ideal moment to share positive news and engaging stories.

This could be COVID-19 related activities or something more general, either way we’ve seen the great responses that real, inspiring human stories can have. Think powerful initiatives like Captain Tom raising £33m, the nationwide clap for carers or even our very own round up of care home activities.

As well as sharing serious messages, these stories, videos and initiatives help spread positivity and keep spirts high during a difficult time.

Keeping partners and the public up to date

The way people search and find information is changing. People are now much more likely to use social media and online resources as their first point of call for general service status, contact information and more.

Unlike other industries, health and social care has not come to a standstill during the pandemic; as we all know providers have been busier than ever. However this doesn’t mean that some day-to-day services and procedures haven’t been reduced or halted. If this is the case, make sure your partners and the public know about it.

Even if formal communication has been made, it’s always good practice to share relevant, informative messages on social media. It will also help if you proactively reply to any comments or queries on posts and private messages.

Fighting back against misinformation

While tackling misleading information and false stories relating to COVID-19 is a major challenge for social media platforms, we can play our part by making sure we share as much clear, reliable and informative messages as possible. Recent research in the UK showed just 10% of people said they trusted news about COVID-19 on social media - let’s do our bit to change that!

It should go without saying, but make sure all information is from official sources and government guidelines. It’s clear that there’s never been a more important for your communication to be accurate, clear and informative on everything related to COVID-19 and beyond.

The show must go on

While as previously mentioned, some patient services have inevitably been disrupted, that doesn’t mean that people have stopped having heart attacks, developing cancer or suffering serious injuries.

One of the most concerning side effects of the pandemic has been a reduction in people seeking help for the most serious conditions. In fact, research revealed that nearly half of the public have concerns about seeking help while the threat of coronavirus is here.

In reality, NHS staff and healthcare settings are well equipped to make sure people can get services like cancer checks and treatments safely. Equally, online consultations mean people don’t necessarily need to go to GP surgeries for check-ups or appointments. COVID-free cancer hubs have also been set up to provide surgery, along with independent sector hospitals who have signed an unprecedented deal with the NHS.

Clearly communicating this type of information to our communities could help save lives.

Here to stay

One of the most powerful outcomes from the pandemic is the public’s relationship with the NHS. There’s never been greater respect and admiration for health and social care workers and the crucial services they provide. This means that long after COVID-19 is gone, the foundations will have firmly been set to re-engage patients, partners and providers across the country.

Alongside that, it’s worth noting that your organisation and brand is here for the long haul. Keeping it active, reliable and consistent during these unprecedented months will go a long way to building relationships and trust for years to come.

If you need support with your communications, marketing or public engagement during COVID-19 and beyond, take a look at our service offering and get in touch.

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