Right now, Australia is in a panic.
We’re panicking about toilet paper.
We’re panicking about food.
And we’re panicking about corona virus — in that order.
It’s mid-March 2020, and COVID-19 has now hit our shores.
Each day we hear of more confirmed cases, and with every diagnosis we’re becoming a little more afraid. Our panic-meter climbs a little bit more.
COVID-19, aka as the corona virus, is a rapidly-changing pandemic that’s bringing new developments every hour. When I started writing this blog, the Australian Formula 1 GP had just been cancelled and the Australian government advised against large-scale events where more than 500 people are in attendance. But that’s already old news. Now we have a 2-week quarantine period for all travelers entering Australia, and talk of schools closing. Who knows what we’ll be dealing with by the end of today, this week or this month?
Quite frankly, it’s a chaotic mix of changing facts and escalating fear, and it’s hard to know how to react from one hour to the next.
But in turbulent times such as these, health and medical brands have a corporate responsibility and unique, valuable opportunity to step in and bring some calm to a somewhat frazzled community.
So how should they do that? Here are my thoughts.
During these turbulent times, health and medical brands have a unique opportunity and responsibility to bring calm to a frazzled community. #coronavirus #covid-19 Click To Tweet
Acknowledge the crisis
As authorities in their fields, health and medical companies must acknowledge there is a crisis. Now is not the time to turn inwards and focus soley on your bottom line, or your own staff’s wellbeing. Your customers will be looking to you for advice and guidance on how to deal with this situation, or to check if there’s any new information they need to know to manage their own health concerns.
Stay up-to-date with developments
Keep up-to-date with the latest developments of the corona virus pandemic, including government responses and legislation. While it’s important to keep abreast of the news stories, you don’t need to reshare everything. Instead, use this information to inform your company of what’s happening in the public market, and what your constituents are likely to be concerned about. Right now in Australia it’s having enough toilet paper, food and medication, to see them through a potential 14-day isolation period. Next week, it will probably something different.
Share factual information
When sharing information with the public, especially on social media, only share scientifically-backed information, or health information that has come from health authorities or government sources. Relatively little information is known about COVID-19, yet there are already many myths about the virus and how to treat it. Distributing incorrect or unsubstantiated information only adds to panic and may compromise people’s health even further.
Good sources of information about the virus include:
- World Health Organization
- Medical News Today
- Science Alert
- National and State Government Health authorities.
Avoid sharing memes (unless they are from a credible source of information), regardless of how pretty or attractive they are. Many of these have been filled with incorrect medical advice and information on the virus, yet their ease of sharing means they too are becoming viral.
Only share accurate health information. Wrong or misleading information only adds to panic and poor health outcomes. #coronavirus #covid-19 Click To Tweet
Avoid contributing into the panic
The media is currently saturated with information about COVID-19; stories of panic buying in the supermarkets, disturbing reports from Europe about the pressure on the health systems. The general public is already reading these reports, so there’s no to add to the panic by re-sharing them.
It’s important to remain calm and be a voice of reason. Reassure your constituents and the general public, that you are activating plans, and abiding with the latest recommendations on how to deal with the public health crisis. Let them know that you’re working closely with authorities and experts on how best to manage the weeks and months ahead.
Understand that people are scared
Remember people are scared. We’ve never seen a pandemic such as this before, so there’s a lot of uncertainty and understandable, fear. Just as you are careful about the language you use when discussing other health issues, you should also be mindful of your language when talking about the corona virus. Be empathetic, yet empowering.
Avoid emotive language that includes the words 'deadly', 'death' and 'life-threatening'. This only feeds fear and causes more panic. #coronavirus #covid-19 Click To Tweet
When people are afraid and vulnerable, they want to feel they can control at least one aspect of their lives, even if the rest seems to be spinning wildly out of control. Offer your customers practical advice they can implement — even if it is only hand-washing, monitoring for symptoms, or avoiding unnecessary social gatherings.
Avoid emotive language such as “deadly pandemic”, “unprecedented death toll”, “life-threatening virus”, “war” or “deathly symptoms”. This only feeds into the fear and panic that many people around Australia are experiencing.
Ask how you can help
As well as offering advice to your customers, think about how you can help to make life easier for them. Can you:
- take steps to ensure your customers are able to access your products?
- put aside certain stock for vulnerable customers with health issues, or special needs?
- offer more regular delivery for online orders?
- set up a special helpline?
Be creative and innovative in your solutions, and consider doing something you’ve never done before.
For example, a number of independent bookshops announced they were closing their doors in an effort to reduce the spread of corona virus. But in order to ensure their customers still had access to the books they wanted, they started a home-delivery service. They knew if their customers had to self-isolate, one of the main ways they’d pass the time was to read. So they got creative and came up with a solution that meant everyone would win.
Look for solutions that will help your customers, especially for the more vulnerable such as the elderly, sick or disabled.
Communicate more often with your constituents about the steps your company is taking to manage the crisis. Whether it’s on social media, a press release, or an email to your database. Keep your customers updated regarding new developments in your policies as a result of the pandemic. Advise them of stock that may be running low, or changes to delivery dates. Even updates on how your organisation is following recommended guidelines will ease the minds of your clients.
However, avoid unnecessary communication. For example, you don’t need to update your community on every detail. Nor do you need to email your entire database, or people you haven’t ‘talked to’ in the last 10 years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, how will your customers remember how you made them feel? #coronavirus #covid-19 Click To Tweet
Don’t be opportunistic
Don’t use this crisis as an opportunity to increase revenue.
In a time where consumer goods are scarce, it’s tempting to raise prices according to ‘supply and demand’. Of course, it may be necessary to increase prices slightly in some instances, however, don’t take advantage of a situation to increase your profit margin. Use it to show your customers you genuinely care about them. When the pandemic is over, and life goes back to normal, the public will remember how you made them feel in their most vulnerable time, and whether you were helpful and supportive, opportunistic, or greedy.
Of course, the corona virus pandemic is serious, and warrants great concern, particularly for those who have pre-existing health conditions and compromised immune systems. But be optimistic. While the virus is more serious than the flu, and has a higher death toll, the truth is that not everyone will die from this virus, and the vast majority will only experience mild symptoms. Reassure your customers that while these are challenging and difficult times, we can all get through them if we work together.
During stressful times, it can be tempting to use humour as a way to cope. But we’ve probably passed the time for that. There is nothing funny about being afraid, about a virus we know little about, the possibility of lock downs, or worrying about the health of the vulnerable in our community. There’s no longer anything funny about people punching and fighting each other in the supermarket over rice, or toilet rolls. Some people may appreciate the light-hearted ‘fun’ posts, but remember there will always be someone who won’t, or may take great offence. If you’re going to use humour, use it with caution, and use it sparingly.
Australians are feeling vulnerable and scared. What they need is calm leadership from health and medical brands. #coronavirus #covid-19 Click To Tweet
My final thoughts
In the coming weeks and months, the situation with corona virus will get worse. More people will be diagnosed and there will be more fatalities. There is likely to be more panic-driven behaviour, more stories about how it’s impacting the country and the rest of the world, and a lot more fear. Things will get worse before they get better.
And the Australian public will be looking for leadership like never before.
Are you ready to step up?
Over to you. How do you think health and medical brands should respond during the corona virus crisis?