Covid-19 is disrupting our society in unprecedented ways, and communities around the world are scrambling to come together and cope with the trials and tribulations of a global pandemic.
This novel virus is on the warpath to affect every organization from your local Girl Scout troop up to Walmart. And while most measures have been voluntary, cities around the country are now implementing shelter-in-place orders.
As a company that specializes in networks, we’re in a unique position to observe and report how organizations are preparing and overcoming the myriad challenges faced in this new reality. After receiving several customer support requests around the topic, we put together an outline of strategies and tactics we’ve found other Mobilize customers using to keep their communities organized and safe.
The most critical component for any organization amid a crisis is to have a clear and concise communication plan. — this plan covers two things:
- How you’re communicating
- What you’re communicating
Choose mediums that make sense for your members and your message. FEMA states, “the most effective communication tool is one that:
- Reaches the target audience.
- Gets information to the audience when they need it, for as long as they need it.
- Can be expected to deliver the message reliably.
- Enhances comprehension of the message content.
- Can be accessed within resource limitations.”
Depending on the situation, short and time-sensitive messages, SMS (short message service) may be the best way to reach your audiences. According to Scientific American, text messages have the lightest footprint and are allocated their own channel, “It’s a bit like being able to drive on the shoulder when the freeway is jammed with traffic.” And with an open rate of 99%, Consider SMS for communicating short, mission-critical details to members quickly and in almost any situation.
- PROS: Fast, quick, and most reliable form of communication during emergencies.
- CONS: Short-form content, Limited to 160 characters per message, and can be expensive.
Due to the complex nature of any crisis, longer-form content will be required. If your message is not time-sensitive, e-mail is a great way to deliver a complete story with nuanced instructions, insights, and rich media. It also has the added benefit of encouraging dialogue and interaction that can lead to ideas and member engagement. Consider using this medium for long-form content that provides your members with context and visibility to high-level messages, scheduled updates, and unanticipated actions.
- PROS: More information, a higher click-through rate than SMS, creates a dialogue.
- CONS: Not as fast/reliable as SMS, lower open rates than SMS, inbox competition.
More novel but effective way organizations are communicating is through in-app messaging. In-app is excellent for creating engaging group conversations and galvanizing your community around challenges. With in-app messaging, you can send members short, and long-form content with valuable resources and community support a swipe away. Another added benefit for in-app messaging is that users can engage with each other in real-time, and provide a sense of comfort and camaraderie. For communities dealing with uncertainty, this can be a powerful tactic for members and organizations.
- PROS: Long or short-form content, real-time communication, sense of community & comfort.
- CONS: Data-intensive, device fragmentation, and lower open rates than SMS & e-mail.
In less than 48 hours, KAHAL, an international Jewish exchange program, deployed a communication plan that would recall over 5000 Jewish students from around the world. This was no mild inconvenience, but a devastating blow to young students who were on the adventure of a lifetime and had prepared for years for the opportunity to study abroad. Not only was this an abrupt and jarring end to their experience, but they are far away from home and face serious challenges on getting back home, including two-week preemptive quarantines, academic credit uncertainty, and extensive tuition, travel, and accommodation costs.
Kahal had to be quick, comprehensive, and supportive. They formulated a plan to cover four main initiatives:
- Academic Support
- Emotional Support
- Experiential Support
- Financial Support
By using a combination of e-mail and in-app messaging, students received detailed instructions and resources that helped orientate and update them on the status of the program. This was a traumatic event for many students, so providing emotional support was essential. Kahal set up a group for streamlining all communication, comparing tactics for handling logistics of the outbreak, but also to help provide emotional support about the reality of being impacted by COVID-19.
Create your COVID response group:
- Build this group with a pinned post, highlighted posts, files, & member profile fields all specific to the outbreak. This way the COVID conversation can remain in one place rather than coloring the tone of the rest of the community
- You could also mock up the sidebar and group title, and create a COVID cover photo to ensure users know this group is about the crisis.
As more events are canceled or postponed indefinitely, many organizations are trying to provide members with an online alternative. This accomplishes two important things:
- Give members a sense of purpose
- Provide a platform to engage and bond
An Ask Me Anything (AMA) is an online question-and-answer interview session. It’s focused around a host who essentially fields questions from members on any topic imaginable. The fascinating thing about AMAs is the range of questions asked and the level of engagement achieved. Because anyone can participate and the host picks the questions they answer, you’ll find your lurkers coming out of the woodwork to ask thoughtful questions.
Create your AMA:
- Slot at least 1 hour for “real-time discussion” for people to ask questions, advice.
- Create a highlighted post that gives members instructions for how they can participate, so they feel more confident posting questions and commenting
- Prepare questions in advance so if discussion quiets down you still have valuable content to share with your members
- Having a moderator picking questions can help the presenter focus on their answers.
IRL Events – Webinars
When your event is canceled in real life, there’s a void created in your organization. You’re unable to share your vision with your members, and your members are unable to communicate with your organization. To help overcome this, we’ve seen several organizations move their events online. While it’s no replacement for the real thing, getting your message out is helpful. Furthermore, by providing members with a group to discuss and have sidebar conversations, you might be surprised at the level of engagement and also the value that members can get from the experience.
You can use events to move IRL events into your online community:
- Members can still get the value from an IRL event in this online community space
- Use the Events feature to host an event and link to a virtual meeting room.
- On the events page, host discussions and @ mention members to invite them to share ideas or connect them.
Lori Gracey, the executive director of the TCEA, says that once they began to see their schools closing down due to the virus, they tried to be as proactive as possible. They distributed a free-to-anyone webinar about “Online/Blended Learning in the age of Covid-19” featuring resources related to the virus and ways that learning can continue from home if schools close. Gracey also stated, “Allowing our members to share with each other seems to be what they need the most right now…”
With the future looking volatile, it’s more important than ever before to have a strategic communication plan in place for your organization. Choose the right medium for the message, open up your platform so members can sympathize with one another, and have tactics ready to keep your members engaged online. This will not only enrich and protect your community, but a well-thought-out plan can help instill a sense of purpose. And a sense of purpose during times of uncertainty can make all the difference.