Goodwill goes a long way right now, MCI USA’s Brittany Shoul (sales and partnerships - pictured far left) and Rachel Dillion (member services) told us during a timely and informative webinar last week titled "COVID-19: Communicate Empathically, Plan Strategically" that the company hosted. Organizations are starting to open certain resources and products for free and gather information that way, they said.
That advice was seconded yesterday in an AM&P Virtual Lunch & Learn: How Association Publishing Teams Are Responding to the Pandemic. Marlene Hendrickson, senior director, publishing and marketing, American Staffing Association, suggested lifting your log-in requirements for your COVID resources. "This is your chance to engage and protect your community. It's the right thing to do!"
"We know that a lot of our members are doing good things," said Kathryn Hamilton, vice president for marketing and communication at NAIOP (the Commercial Real Estate Development Association), mentioning Delta airlines quickly relocating a work site. "So we've invited our members to share their good works with us." In addition, NAIOP’s FAQ page has received a great deal of traffic—and saved staff time. Another organization, Northstar Travel Group, created a Silver Lining Social campaign that engaged members to share their positive stories amidst the upheaval.
Here are more key takeaways from the MCI USA webinar:
Focus on the gap methodology. The plans that we all put in place two weeks ago aren't the plans today. And who knows what the future will bring. Focus on the middle. Our key stakeholders are experiencing a level of uncertainty that we're all experiencing. There's a place now between the current state (unarguably not great) and the future state. Make the most of the time now.
Have conversations with your members. Shoul and Dillon said that the natural inclination at this time might be to withdraw, but the opposite should be true. It's the time for strategic conversations and important questions. Pick up the phone. "How are you?" should be the lead question. It's a great time to be human and lead with empathy and understanding. "What do you need the most help with?" "What are your pain points?"
Empower your staff to have these same conversations and then share. Anecdotal information from the conversations/emails your staff is having with your audience should be shared. Everyone should be empowered to ask these questions. A short personal email is fine if you don't want to call and then listening for what comes next from them (after "how are you").
Get back to your core products. We're using responses from members to inform our current state but also to plan what we're doing in the future. We want to get back to the products we create and deliver for our members. We must ensure that members are engaged everywhere they can be.
Look at something new. Virtual events may be new to you. But you're in information gathering mode to get a stronger sense of what is needed. Take those case-to-case cancellations and pivot to something new. The silver lining of this crisis is that you're lengthening your planning cycle. That makes this a great time to plan and design something different. What does your audience want and need?
Tailor general information for your audience. What can we do now to positively impact the people we serve? The CDC is pushing out a ton of information right now. How can you take that information and tailor to your industry?
Create content bundles for members working from home. People may have more time now so create how-tos that you haven't been able to get to in the past. Social media might be something that people could get better at now and use. Chipotle is hosting Zoom open-line lunch sessions. Any organization can do that. Also special event streaming is becoming huge—maybe stream an interview with a high-level member in your industry.
Explore your archives. It's a great time to dig into your files. What do you have that can be recycled and refreshed—maybe an article that approached crisis communications. People are also craving community now. How can you create that online dialogue? Also podcasts are experiencing incredible upticks now. Anchor, which is owned by Spotify, just launched a feature making it easy to record with friends.
Find new opportunities. Buyers and sellers still want to be brought together. Sponsors were looking forward to the face-to-face opportunities at your events, Now they're looking for new opportunities. How can you use your website and the advertising opportunities there to introduce new concepts?
Make tough decisions. The pain of the moment can create a time to change things that have been hard to change in the past. Has a print product been declining? (Barnes and Noble just withdrew al their magazines from the racks. We don't know what the new normal will be. Maybe it’s time to reallocate resources.
Talk to your audience (repeated). Customers and members will remember these interactions. Get comfortable listening. "Make sure your sales people are reaching out to everyone now," media consultant Jim Elliott said. "You want to show that you care. In August they'll remember you care and that you reached out."