The public is on edge. And rightly so, as COVID-19 spreads across the United States.
As news breaks about illness and deaths, quarantines and cancellations, more companies are stepping up to engage. From airlines and hotels to gyms and event venues, companies are reaching out to their stakeholders via email and social media to assure them they’re taking every precaution in these uncertain times.
The Center for Food Integrity urges the food and agriculture industries to do the same without delay. While the U.S. food supply is the safest, most abundant and affordable in the world, an outbreak like the one we’re experiencing presents many unknowns, including about the safety, supply and cost of food.
Transparency is key to effective communication and the tenants of earning trust come into play. There are six steps you can take to help allay fears and provide assurances as the pandemic unfolds.
- Listen: Monitor the conversations of your client base – online and anecdotally. Listening can help you tailor any correspondence to address their specific questions and fears.
- Empathize: First and foremost, all communication should express empathy; acknowledge the uncertainty and anxiety. Consumers want to feel that their concerns are validated.
- Share: Engaging with values is important. While facts are essential in times like these, connecting on what your audiences value most is more important: health – personal and that of family and friends, a safe food supply, responsibility and accountability. Values first, facts second.
- Be Transparent: Be upfront about how you’re navigating the situation, acknowledging challenges and how you’ll continue to monitor and adjust.
- Communicate Frequently: Communicate often, without inundating. The public may be feeling overwhelmed, so use your best judgment and provide updates and assurances when new information becomes available.
- Provide Avenues for Engagement: Make it easy for audiences to ask questions, offering a phone number, online form or live chat, and have processes in place to reply quickly with values-based responses and relevant facts.
While we’re in unchartered territory, tried and true communications fundamentals still work. Without communication, people fear the worst. It’s important for the food and agriculture industries to help put their stakeholders’ minds at ease.
If you have questions about your communications approach, feel free to reach out. We’re here to help.
CFI Executive Director