Check all outgoing messaging

One of the most urgent things for a business to do as the pandemic takes hold in our communities is to reevaluate your planned outgoing messaging. Some content will need to be altered, some delayed, and some abandoned entirely because it is inappropriate in the context of COVID-19.

For example, images of large celebrations, people hugging, or any form of close social contact have suddenly become inappropriate – they spark health anxieties, remind us of what we’re missing out on, and send the wrong public health message. Similarly, messaging will need to be scanned for terms and expressions (like “going viral”) that were innocuous before but have taken on a new resonance in the pandemic. Go through all of your marketing materials (for example mailers, social media posts, and your website) to make these changes.

While images and copy that have taken on new and unfortunate connotations in this new context will have to be replaced, some of your outgoing messaging may just need to be put on hold for a short period. For example, humorous or light ads and posts initially will seem inappropriate and jarring when everyone is struggling to come to terms with the pandemic, but after a couple weeks they will be welcomed again as people become exhausted by the constant barrage of covid-related news and look for distractions and entertainment.

Similarly, while initially messages of support and solidarity are appropriate, they quickly become formulaic and counterproductive. The public has already tired of hearing “in these times” and “we’re here for you” over and over from businesses selling products. So, you will have to revise your messaging regularly as people adjust to life in the pandemic and their moods and expectations evolve accordingly. Where possible, demonstrate actual efforts to support your community (through donations and services) and ways that your products or services can help during the pandemic, and use a light touch when pushing sales or promoting your company.

To help you start thinking about how your messaging may take on new connotations as a result of COVID-19, below is an updating list of words, images, and themes to avoid (or use cautiously):

  • Images of crowds and large gatherings
  • Images of close social contact (hugging, shaking hands, etc.)
  • Images of people in public areas like restaurants or businesses without masks
  • Any language related to sickness, infection, viruses, and symptoms (coughing, fevers, sneezing, nausea, etc.)
  • Invitations (“Come see our new location!”)
  • Generic expressions of solidarity (“We’re here for you,” “We want to help,” “In these difficult times”)