SHARE RIGHT: The basics of communicating the coronavirus

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In 2020, with impending coronavirus we have all become public health communicators whether we like it or not.

We’re faced with the most serious pandemic for a century although the World Health Organisation has not formally declared it as such.

We’re also faced with the most powerful disinformation engine mankind has ever made in social media.

There’s two things every organisation must crack when it gears up for this.

  1. Social media.
  2. Internal comms.

Like some kind of stress test, this is a check-up on how organisations function and communicate public sector or not.

Normally a public sector communicator has to fight to get their messages in front of people. They can be niche. This time, everyone really is the audience.

Stephen Waddington has blogged here concisely about the path coronavirus has taken and correctly identifies that a fact-based response is needed. He’s spot on with that.

He flags up useful resources for communicators through the Department of Health and Social Care coronavirus information page as well as the World Health Organisation’s incident tracking page and theNHS coronavirus page.

The Local Government Association advice can be found here.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has some good guidance for remote workers here.

Zurich Municipal part of Zurich Insurance has a useful pandemic planner with downloadable checklist here.

Third sector blogger Madeleine Sugden has blogged useful resources here.

The Public Health England resources are here.

For Scotland,the NHS resources are here.

For Wales, the NHS resources are here.

For Northern Ireland, Health advice resources are here.

The CIPR Local Public Sector advice and resources are here.

Pointers for public sector people

Knowing your audience

Normally, I get a bit tetchy when people say ‘everyone’ as their audience because it very rarely is. This is one of those rare times. But it’s worth avoiding the classic mistake of making one-size-fits-all take-it-or-leave-it content. Create content for your channels, answer media queries but think about where your audience actually is and create content with that in mind.

Props to the World Health Organisation for joining TikTok and creating content. They’re thinking. Credit to them.

On social media

On Twitter, a search for coronavirus points people to the Department of Health and Social Care’s Twitter account as the UK’s prime Twitter outlet.


Facebook are running something similar when you run a search.


If you’re public sector and responsible for communicating coronavirus

Here’s a glass half full fact.

Since, the confused response to foot and mouth how the public sector will communicate has been codified. There are local platforms in place in England and Wales to respond through Local Resilience Forums that bring police, council, NHS and others together. In Scotland and Northern Ireland there’s an equivalent.

The message will be pretty prescriptive.

Create content that’s short, fact-based and shareable.

I’m not convinced by screen shots of hard-to-read text shared online. So, create written content directly onto the platform as they can be read more easily. Support with date-stamped images. Threads for Twitter and text for Facebook and other platforms.

Create video with a straight-forward fact-based summary. Especially if you’re public health.

Public Health has been a local government thing for some time. While the politician may be keen to be seen to take the lead for me, the public health official themselves should absolutely be the one taking the lead.

Brighton and Hove Council’s coronavirus advice page here is a pretty good standard to aim towards. It has pages for the public, businesses, public transport and others. It mixes links to UK Government advice with some local flavour.

If you’re not responsible for creating content share the right content

But above all the best tip? If this isn’t your gig leave it to the experts and share what they’re saying. I’ve seen some cut and paste advice guides that claim to be from a doctor in Wuhan and you know what? I’m not convinced. If you’re police, fire or looking after a library account just share the local advice.

What public sector communicators can do

Don’t be tempted to go off piste with inside info from your mate’s cousin who works at the hospital. This should be obvious. But it’s a point that’s worth repeating.

Importantly, if you’ve got lots of accounts across the authority, you’ll want them to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Ask them to share the main voice for the area. Yes, I know they may be a library but they have followers and they have trust. The helpful message needs to be shared. A whatsapp group for page admin across an organisation isn’t such a bad idea with this in mind.

Facebook groups have been a growing trend. Like digital Parish pumps they are where people meet online. Make your content on Facebook shareable and look to go through group admins. Think about a Facebook Q&A with your public health official. Facebook Live is one option although trickier to manage. Just words is easier.

On internal comms

While external comms is important it’s not nearly as important as making sure your staff know what the situation is and how they can get the right information.

Make it fact-based and create it in places where people are.

Again, this isn’t time for one-size-fits-all communications. Have the same message and repeat it.

I’ve got absolutely no doubt that the public sector and other communicators will rise to this challenge.

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