Not long after the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2020, I began planning for a milestone birthday, a 10-year wedding anniversary and a child heading off to Kindergarten. This year was supposed to be a big deal.

Sketchbook with the word "adapt" in the center.Fast forward three months and cue a global pandemic — all bets were off. I’m sure you can relate.

The unpredictability on my own datebook got me thinking about how companies and organizations were handling communication during a crisis while managing so many uncertainties. How are these uncertainties affecting content planning?

Adapting your content calendar in a crisis

In a perfect, well-planned world, content calendars are mapped out months in advance. But what happens when a crisis hits and threatens to derail best-laid plans?

Marketing and communications teams have spent a lot of time in 2020 asking themselves what changes they needed to make in response to events happening to and around their organizations.

In the face of a crisis, editorial calendars may need major changes. Content plans have to be reevaluated to determine the potential impact on a brand’s reputation.

Providence, a healthcare organization serving communities across the western U.S., diagnosed the country’s first case of COVID-19. The Providence marketing team quickly reduced their 30-60-day content planning lead time to just one or two days, producing consumer-focused articles on the latest COVID-19 information. Their fast action helped alleviate patient fears.

What if the impact of a crisis isn’t as direct or clear for your organization as it was for a healthcare provider like Providence? Below are three tips to guide your communication during a crisis.

1. Listen to your audience

In an article for Content Marketing Institute, author Ann Gynn reminds us that, “Unexpected bad news may not directly affect your brand, but it may affect your audience.”

This new decade has given marketers and communicators plenty to think about relative to their audience — both internal and external. You’d be hard-pressed to find any business whose customers and employees aren’t affected by COVID-19. Add to this a national discussion around racial justice and it’s easy to see how tone-deaf communications could leave your business looking out of touch. And research shows that it matters.

Consumers and employees alike are increasingly looking to the companies they use or work for to serve more than a transactional role.

A 2020 report from Morning Consult found an overwhelming majority of consumers (90%) expected brands to “take care of their employees and treat them well, even in tough times.”

A company’s profitability has even been tied to effective corporate social responsibility programs.

Using public communication channels to show investment in employees, take a stand on issues, provide education or calm fears is not only what your audience may be seeking, this approach could also be best for business.

2. Communicate well and support your business

Your business goals don’t have to suffer even if your content calendar gets tossed out the window.

Here at WriterGirl, we kicked off 2020 with celebratory messages of our 20th anniversary. We had plans to reach new and potential clients through all of our communications channels. But with national events causing deep disruptions on our own team and the healthcare industry, we quickly made some necessary adjustments to our plan.

We learned that our partners needed us to shift focus with them and support their changing content plans. We also realized we could be a stand-by resource to new and existing clients by offering specially designed content packages to meet audience demands.

Keeping that in mind, our team began re-thinking our blog posts and social posts, adjusting them from fun and celebratory to content more mindful of our follower’s current needs and stressors — shifting but not straying from our core values.

3. Be authentic in your approach

Communication during a crisis doesn’t have to look completely different from normal content. In fact, consumers and employees won’t be fooled by what seems like a sudden shift in focus or values.

Your organization’s principles should shine through your everyday content, so your messages are authentic and believable when it matters most.

Consider the hotel brand DoubleTree, which is famous for the warm chocolate chip cookies it offers to guests. The Hilton-owned hotel chain — which prides itself on making its guests feel comfortable — used its communications channels to deliver comfort to people stuck at home during COVID-19. In April, DoubleTree released its secret cookie recipe to the world.

In an announcement about the recipe release, Shawn McAteer, senior vice president and global head, DoubleTree by Hilton, said, “We know this is an anxious time for everyone. A warm chocolate chip cookie can’t solve everything, but it can bring a moment of comfort and happiness.

“We hope families enjoy the fun of baking together during their time at home, and we look forward to welcoming all our guests with a warm DoubleTree cookie when travel resumes.”

On that note, I’m off to do some baking!

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