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Yuval Ben-Itzhak: Especially in times of crisis, you can't afford not to communicate

There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis. People are concerned for their wellbeing and that of their loved ones, businesses are uncertain about the economic future, and society in many parts of the world is living through a period of enforced or recommended social distancing. As people spend more time in physical isolation, online communication has never been more important. That’s why, I believe, that especially in times of crisis, we can’t afford not to communicate. Here are a few examples to illustrate why communicating during a crisis is so important and tips on how to best manage it. 

Communicating accurate, up-to-date health information

When it comes to reaching and engaging at scale during a time of crisis, there’s no tool more powerful than social media. That’s why organisations like the World Health Organisation are leveraging social media to make sure they keep people educated and informed. Whether it’s by engaging people around the #SafeHands challenge, or by sharing easy-to-follow graphics highlighting best practices for keeping hands clean, social media is a key tool for the WHO in making sure people are educated about how to stop the spread of the virus. Just think, before social media people waited for news broadcasts or visited their doctor’s office to learn about how to stay safe during an epidemic. Now people can educate themselves in real time thanks to online communities, especially those on social media. 
A best practice for communicating during a crisis is to partner with relevant influencers to reach and engage with a broader audience. For example, the UK government announced it’s taking steps to partner with influencers to combat COVID-19 misinformation. The government will work with selected influencers to spread accurate health information "and reach younger online audiences that are more susceptible to fake news". This is a smart move by the UK government, and given the power of influencers on the younger, more social-savvy generation, it would make sense for more organisations to use influencers as spokespeople as they work to educate people about how to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Brands and media have their roles to play

During a time of crisis people look to the media they trust to keep them updated on news as it unfolds. That’s why news outlets need to make sure they have an active and engaged social media presence. A good example of a media outlet using social media in the fight against fake news is Tagesschau, the main German news program. Tagesschau launched a hashtag, #WirVsVirus (us versus the virus), to communicate about COVID-19, sharing specific fact-based details and educating their audience on how to behave to limit the spread of the virus. 
Finally, you might be asking yourself, what can brands do to communicate value in a crisis like COVID-19? The answer is plenty.
It’s during times like these when people can’t physically support each other, that virtual connections and interactions are so important. Whether it’s food delivery services like Just Eat or Deliveroo offering customers contactless delivery, or LVMH announcing that it will manufacture hydroalcoholic gel (hand sanitizer) and provide it to the French public authorities, people want to feel that the brands we know and love are getting involved and helping during this period of crisis.  
Foto: (osobní archiv)
Yuval Ben-Itzhak
Finally, thanks to the scale of social media and the reach it offers, it has become the go-to place for communities. When people can’t go and meet with friends, they turn to their Facebook groups or Twitter feed to feel connected with the outside world and to reassure themselves that they are not alone. Social media is just that – social. It brings people together in a virtual community. In some cases it gives people a window into each other's lives, and in challenging times people need to feel like others are going through the same challenges. In other cases it’s a source of humour and entertainment. For many of us, it’s a place to keep up with friends and family scattered around the world. 
So, while over the last year we might have grown accustomed to spending more time at home socially distancing, it certainly doesn’t get any easier. People are still very much looking to the online world to keep them feeling connected, updated, and entertained. With that in mind, as a leader, it is definitely not the time to go quiet. The key things to remember when it comes to communicating during a time of crisis, are to keep up frequency (people need to hear from you even more when they are feeling remote), stay relevant and factual to add value, and, where possible, to keep it light and engaging to keep spirits up. 
Yuval Ben-Itzhak is a respected executive and entrepreneur who has received numerous honors and public recognition and is the inventor of 25 U.S. patents. He was named one of the 25 Most Influential CTOs by InfoWorld magazine, one of the 40 Innovative IT People To Watch by Computerworld magazine, and selected as the 2017 CTO of the Year by GeekTime magazine. He has worked at AVG, Outbrain and led Astute's acquisition of Socialbakers in 2020 as CEO, and currently serves as President and Chief Strategy Officer at Socialbakers. This article has been published also in Czech.