Friday, May 1, 2009

Learning From the CDC's Response to the Swine Flu Epidemic

Yesterday's Advertising Age analyzes the CDC's response to this very scary Swine Flu - or H1N1 virus - epidemic from the point of view of PR and marketing.

[image source: The Huffington Post]

The key takeaway from the article, is that in a time of crisis, the best communication is "neither sexy nor flashy, but [is] highly effective -- and critically timely." When people are scared and confused, it takes clear, consistent and credible messaging to prevent widespread panic.

Of course the goal of any communications effort should be to deliver clear, consistent and credible messaging. For those of us who are professional communicators, acheiving those goals during a time of crisis is critically important.

During this Swine Flu crisis, the communications team at the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) has turned to Twitter (with nearly 40,000 followers), a web-based "scorecard" on its front page, embedded mobile content, RSS feeds, and a prominent feedback form to help keep accurate information flowing out to the public.

The AdAge article is worth a read in its entirety - but its key points (with my summaries in parentheses) are:

Empower Those Who Want to Help Others: (Providing a central location for accurate and timely information is key)

Make Search Really, Really Simple and Accessible: (Duh)

Syndicate the Message: (Make your content easy to share with widgets, Twitter links, RSS feeds or embeddable mobile apps. Over-produced, flash-heavy sites with un-sharable video, is useless - both in times of crisis and under normal circumstances)

Communicate in Multiple Languages: (Even US based entities have non-English speaking customers - don't discount them).

Push Mobile as a Service Extension, and Don't Make it Complicated: (Services that feed mobile devices - twitter, RSS, facebook, etc - free your message from the desktop)

Be Simple and Selective on Twitter, Don't Over Complicate: (In a time of crisis, make sure everything you share is important, timely and actionable. When it arrives, your audience will know it's important)

Prime the Messaging: (The bulk of your messaging shouldn't change in a time of crisis. Have standard messaging ready to go, then add additional detail as needed)

Update the Scorecard 24/7: (the CDC has done a really good job refreshing and updating the swine flu "scorecard" on the front page. This builds confidence and authority. It keeps people coming back. It doesn't need to be sexy or flashy; it just needs to be reliable and consistent. Timeliness boosts relevance and credibility)

Exploit Sight, Sound and Motion: (Provide site visitors with multiple ways and formats to consume this serious content, from video explanations to podcasts featuring experts)

Proactively Ask for Feedback: (A prominent "Tell us what you think" option on the home page will ensure that in times of crisis, you have the best possible information at all times)

Even without a crisis at hand, these lessons are valuable. If you have information to deliver - whether for your brand, your product or your self, make sure you do so in a way that allows anyone interested in what you have to say to play an active role in absorbing and sharing that information. Make sure they can easily find and follow accurate, updated information and share it with others. Make sure you give them a way to send in feedback. Make sure you deliver the information in a language they understand, and in a medium that conveys both content and emotion.

These are classic tenets of communication, but sometimes it takes a crisis to remind us that they ring true each and every time.

1 comment:

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