Communicating in the time of COVID-19

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Communicating in the time of COVID-19

I heard this comment on a PR News Webinar that I tuned into last week: “In an age when media are telling stories with a clear and obvious political slant, and social media is dominated by fake news, research is showing that people trust and value news and communication from their employers above anything else.”

I heard this comment on a PR News Webinar that I tuned into last week: “In an age when media are telling stories with a clear and obvious political slant, and social media is dominated by fake news, research is showing that people trust and value news and communication from their employers above anything else.”   

The results of a recent Trust Barometer echo this finding. 51% of people surveyed in the US say that they believe that their employer is well prepared to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, while only 43% of the same people believe that their country is prepared.

In my opinion, in South Africa, there’s a divide as our people struggle with knowing who to accept information from, and who to trust. As an example, media and social media sentiment around President Ramaphosa’s management of the pandemic has been very strong but, as the communication filtered down to certain ministers, the levels of trust have wavered. 

While the world is preoccupied with figuring out what effect the pandemic will have on life as we know it, at ByDesign we have been debating what effect it will have on communication – both inside and outside of the corporate world.

Bearing out the findings mentioned above, we are pretty sure that internal comms will continue to increase in value. We see a widening of the ambit from the dissemination of corporate content to the provision of value-adding socioeconomic content. Driven by a need from employees, community news will sit comfortably alongside company information. 

In terms of media, broadcast and online channels are becoming more important as print slowly loses traction. This isn’t anything new. But, as COVID-19 affects business continuity and the effects knock on in the form of financial pressure on families we see radio and TV becoming ever-more important sources of valid content as people hold back on buying printed comms. And, while our media isn’t as politicised as in the US, we are certainly moving in the wrong direction. Just watch a political story unfold on eNCA vs NewsRoom Afrika – same story, different slant. Who to believe?

As far as print media goes – especially newspapers – we foresee that the relevance will continue to diminish. Online is faster, more agile, more up-to-date, and available to ever-more South Africans. It’s accessible wherever, whenever, and can be consumed in bite-size chunks. It’s also less costly to produce. Frankly, I’m hoping that COVID-19 doesn’t kill newspapers completely, but there’s a chance.

And lastly, social media. Is it an elephant in the room or isn’t it? Certainly, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Publishers (FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, etc) need to continue to increase their responsibility when it comes to the dissemination of fake news. Part of President Ramaphosa’s COVID-19 directive is that people who spread fake news can be heavily fined. The assumption is that this applies to individuals who share dodgy content indiscriminately. But when fake news is presented as fact in paid campaigns that support an agenda – as it often is – there’s a need for more stringent regulations, and a need for the publishers to focus more on the quality of the content and less on the zeroes on their bottom-line. Traditional media has always been held accountable for the quality and veracity of their content, and there’s no reason that social media should be allowed to publish content irresponsibly.

In closing, the ByDesign Communications team has been working from home for almost two weeks. We don’t know how much longer we’ll be at home, but we continue to work with our clients, helping them to communicate with their critical stakeholders via whatever channels are most relevant.  

We don’t know what the communications landscape will look like in a year from now, but we are sure it won’t ever be the same. Which is fine, because nailing the ‘new norm’ will be a challenge, and challenges spawn great creativity and innovation.

What we do know, now more than ever, is just how important good, clear communication is.

*PR News Webinar on the Effect of Communications in the Age of COVID-19.

Vanessa Baard,
Director of ByDesign Communications

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