Communication in a crisis needs careful thought
By Claire Heath
This morning I received another unsolicited email on “7 self-care tips to stay mentally healthy”. Not from someone who knows what they’re talking about, but (this time) from my bank.
My inbox has been awash recently with emails from companies I have a business relationship with and from friends giving gratuitous advice and “information” about staying healthy during this time of the c-word. It doesn’t help; it just annoys.
My mood was restored when I came across a blog post on communicating clearly at a difficult time, written by Sarah Richards at Content Design London. She gives some tips that specifically address the current situation.
Her first piece of advice is: if you can’t add concrete value for your audience, don’t publish.
Authoritative sources are more likely to have accurate and up-to-date information, and we should leave them to provide it.
Those of us who supply content for websites or social media for work or for fun “do not need website traffic more than people need information about their own health”.
“Don’t clutter up search results,” she says.
“You’ll note that I am not using the cor-word, the pan-word, or the abbreviation with 19 in it. This is because I want to keep this post out of search results. I don’t want people looking for health advice to end up here.”
Ms Richards led the redesign of content for the UK’s Government Digital Service and web portal.
The rest of her advice applies to all communication:
- choose the right channel
- use structure to be clear, and prioritise information into sections so people can take it in quickly
- use clear language in short, active sentences, and use words your users or audiences use
- make it accessible, including by screen readers
- make headings tell a story – use statements, which help readers and also work for search engine optimisation and voice-activated devices.
I wonder if I should send Sarah’s post to everyone who sends me unsolicited advice?
Perhaps I’ll let it go and instead listen to music while I work. Scientists have translated the protein spike on the virus of the moment into music. It’s ethereal, and makes good background music. The scientists didn’t do this for purely creative reasons. They believe it can help them find sites where antibodies or drugs might bind to the virus to help us fight it off.
This transmission electron microscope image shows particles of the virus SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. The protein spikes are clearly visible. Image: NIAID-RML (CC BY 2.0).