COVID-19 impact steers the future of business and stakeholder communications in a different direction

Trevor Chueu

As fear and anxiety grip the world in light of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, we have a chance to make the best of our new reality.

The pandemic has radically changed our daily lives and continually challenges our assumptions. It has altered the way we interact and do business. What started as a health problem has morphed into a full-blown human, economic and social crisis.

As global economies take a serious knock amid travel bans, closed borders and unprecedented lockdowns, there is an opportunity for all of us – from all walks of life – to usher a new world order. As we charter an uncertain territory, we may have to let go of a few pre-COVID-19 assumptions and tendencies, including how we consume content and find reliable sources of information.

Defaulting back to the old ways is not an option as it may render companies and industries uncompetitive and irrelevant. COVID-19 has already shown that it is going to be a key driver of fundamental change. The quick adoption of new technology solutions during the lockdowns is a case in point.

Nobody knows what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. But we all have an opportunity to shape the “new normal”. It is an opportunity for companies and industries to take a hard look at how they do business and to let go of what has been holding them back.

As we navigate the unchartered terrains, the need for credible and reliable information shines through. People are searching for answers on a number of issues. Therefore, companies and organisations must communicate more, not less.

While there has been an influx of information during this past couple of weeks, during uncertain times, our audiences are “hungry” for information and engagement. COVID-19 presents us with constantly changing variables, hence the need for timely communication.

The shape and form of that authentic communication is what should seize our imagination now. We need to find innovative ways that command attention and provide palatable consumption of news and information. This certainly enforces pressure on communicators to find that sweet spot in a new world.

The communications profession is among the sectors that must brace for changes after the dust has settled. For a long time to come, audiences will yearn for information that they can trust. Considering all the fake news that have made the rounds during the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains critical to continue producing credible content that is authentic and audiences can rely on. What may change, though, is how that information is going to be consumed, especially considering the appetite for both analysis and up-to-the-minutes news.

Communicators, whether in big or small business, must be agile enough to respond to prevailing content consumption trends in order to remain relevant for businesses that need to be held by the hand and led during a time they need to authentically reconnect with their stakeholders. Increased digitisation gives consumers greater power regarding the content they consume and share. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, we knew about consumers’ preference for content that is relevant, timely and engaging. The digital news world is relevant now more than ever when we see newsrooms shrink and publishers go under.

Already in the UK, there is evidence showing that up to a third of frontline journalism jobs will be lost in the forthcoming recession. This is according to research by Enders Analysis. India is also seeing the same challenge, with many media houses across the country having made news after they announced pay cuts and layoffs, leaving the industry in a state of shock.

Locally, this unprecedented pandemic has already started changing media and social connection habits like never before. According to an article published by a trusted communications and media industry news source, Bizcommunity, online and broadcast media consumption is on the rise due to self-isolation – and with hugs and handshakes a thing of the past, for now, consumers are increasing their personal connection using social networks, with a 43% spike in Facebook and 45% on WhatsApp.

What does this mean for the communications industry?

Improving upon and leveraging owned platforms is going to be the answer for many companies and organisations. The owned platforms include websites, blog sites and social media channels. Companies must seriously consider developing credible content hubs where aggregated content around a specific topic can be found.

It goes without saying that traditional media outlets are going through disruptive changes that affect revenues and, in some cases, threatening their sustainability. The gravitation towards digitisation has forced traditional media organisations to adjust to a changing landscape. Some have seized the opportunity to gradually move to new media formats.

FleishmanHillard has been relentless, with this reality, by watching these trends closely and gearing up for the inevitable. Over the years, we have provided some of our clients with owned platforms as credible and trusted solutions for stakeholder communications and brand awareness. We have also provided them with strategies on how to drive stakeholders and consumers to those platforms. Content hubs offer an ideal vehicle for companies to foster trust and loyalty in order to build brand awareness. Equally, it is important to build authoritative and trustworthy content that answers audiences’ questions.

This is also informed by the reality that the competition to get noticed is becoming harder as technologically advanced solutions emerge.

In light of these prevailing trends, modern organisations need to consider options for their content, hence they must embrace a multi-channel approach that exists in the digital world.

Trevor Chueu is an Associate Director at FleishmanHillard and has over 15 years of experience in the communications industry. Throughout his career, he has been responsible for developing and implementing internal and external communications strategies for businesses in different industries and sectors. Further to leading client account teams, he assists clients in managing their day to day issues as well as provides support on crisis preparedness and management.