Industry Reports

Coronavirus communications – What we’re hearing from Poppulo customers

Every day, in excess of 25 million employees in over 900 companies across 100+ countries use Poppulo, and over the past several weeks, tens of millions of those communications have been related to the COVID-19 crisis.

We’re in constant communication with our customers, working shoulder-to-shoulder with them through the crisis, and here I would like to share with you the challenges they face and some of the measures they’re taking right now.

We’ve talked to them about best practice and what is and isn’t working for them and in a Poppulo webinar we addressed the real-life, real-time feedback we’ve been tapping into over the past couple of weeks from Internal Communication and HR teams.

HR & IC – Managing the communication explosion in a time of crisisWatch webinar

The first challenge for many people was not being operationally ready for a crisis of this magnitude, plus the speed of change in advice from Government and official sources as the crisis unfolded.

The second big challenge has been the approach of selecting the most appropriate channels for the COVID-I9 comms and the sign-up process for these critical communications.

During the webinar, which had 1,200+ registrants, we polled the following question to get a sense of how well prepared comms teams were to scale up operationally for the crisis:

‘Prior to this have you done any crisis comms planning that is now being used?’

We got the following response, which highlighted a significant lack of crisis planning and the inadequacy of any planning that had been done.

From our point of view, what we’ve seen is that many companies struggled with the speed of misinformation and disinformation being put out there before they had a chance to set up a single source of truth within their organization.

We’ve also sensed frustration, especially from global companies, over conflicting advice coming from different geographies around guidelines for public and work safety.

However, what we’re now seeing is that many IC and HR teams have assembled authenticated lists of trusted Government and official websites, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, Public Health England in the UK, and so on.

So, based on what we’re hearing from our customers, we strongly advise that you have a strategy in your company for the dissemination of COVID-19 information and make that list available to all your approved communicators 

What we’re also seeing is a pattern emerging relating to the use of channels, and the style and sign-up process of communications in the crisis.

It’s no surprise that there is a diverse approach to channel choice, type of communication and sign-up process among different companies, but we are seeing that email Is still the main channel for IC.

We’re also seeing that organizations are scanning instant community-centered channels like Slack and Teams to pick up on employee sentiment, and specific employee concerns, but companies are not responding on Slack or Teams.

Instead, they are aggregating that community sentiment and those employee concerns and then responding through carefully constructed and controlled email flyers and newsletters.

Single source of truth for COVID-19 comms:

In this way, organizations have been able to quickly establish and convey to their employees that they will only communicate anything to do with COVID-19 through specific channels such as a combination of email and mobile. For example, the email channel may be used for clear, authoritative, controllable and considered communication whilst mobile is used for more text and time-sensitive communications. 

But, of course, another challenge for many organizations is how to reach non-desk workers and those without email, so lots of companies are now reaching out for company mobile apps, and we’re working on that with several organizations on that at the moment.

However, what’s coming across loud and clear from customers everywhere is to not use apps like WhatsApp and other social media apps because of the conflation of misinformation and disinformation on social media. 

That’s the last thing any organization should do in any crisis: use channels where trusted authentic company information sits side by side with inaccurate and false information from uncontrollable sources.

Whatever channel you choose to use for your coronavirus comms it’s imperative that you are consistent and that your employees know where they will find that single source of official company information on the crisis.

In terms of communication style, companies have been careful to ensure that COVID-19 comms stand out from routine communications for employees, and this could be the source of the comms, for example from the CEO or the substance.

Regarding the latter, for example, one of our customers I was talking to recently knew that a large cohort of their 50,000 were highly technical people and had a strong tendency to only open and read text-based comms.

They knew this from the metrics and analytics they were able to get from previous comms through Poppulo. So, the comms team used text-based COVID-19 comms for this particular cohort of employees and used different templates based on the metrics they had for other cohorts in the company. 

For most organizations, however, a newsletter-style is still the preferred choice. In reaction to this crisis, Poppulo has developed a range of COVID-19 styled templates to improve the impact and authority of the communications. Learn more here ›

Finally, I’d like to share some high-level statistics based on tens of millions of Poppulo customer communications relating to COVID-19 as of last week, which might be useful to other companies for benchmarking purposes.

It’s not surprising that 34% of all comms are now COVID-19 related and one of the stand-out stats we’ve seen is the big spike in the preference for flyers these comms. (Flyers are ideal for light-touch bulletin-style content that requires little formatting, for example for urgent comms or a quick update from the CEO).

While some people ask how we can get open rates higher than 70% and what I would say about that is that 70% is a really high figure, and factors like erroneous people data and the fact that some people just never open comms has to be taken into account.

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