16 Apr How to Communicate Effectively in Times of Uncertainty – The States of Guernsey
The coronavirus has highlighted the importance of good brand communications in times of crisis and, with the news changing daily, PR teams have had to act fast and communicate effectively with a variety of audiences.
Clear communication is fundamental to interaction, transaction, relationship-building and problem-solving. We believe that tailored and authentic messages can build relationships, drive action and create change, so we are always on the lookout for campaigns that reflect our approach.
Since the news broke about COVID-19 at the beginning of the year, the States of Guernsey has been rightly praised for how it has communicated vital, accurate information in a timely way, across all platforms and mediums.
We have put together a timeline* of the States of Guernsey’s social communications strategy surrounding the virus, to give you an example of an organisation which has delivered trustworthy messaging in these troubling times.
Jan 23rd – The first information about coronavirus appears on the States of Guernsey website. This article is factual and explains that Guernsey’s Public Health team has recently undergone an exercise to test its response to a pandemic.
Jan 30th – The States of Guernsey releases a new webpage for all information relating to COVID-19
- This was a fantastic early move by the comms team who accurately predicted that an information hub would be required to house a large number of connected resources, media releases and advice.
- The website has become the go-to place for trusted and local information, it is easy to navigate from the home page with relevant calls to action added as required. As the situation has evolved, so has the website, with new landing pages and a brilliant use of graphics and symbols.
Feb 5th – Sharing information on Twitter from the Department of Health UK
- At this time it was logical for Guernsey to share content from the UK and the NHS….however this was soon to change….
Feb 6th – Info for islanders returning from China with self-isolation advice
- From this point onwards, Guernsey’s comms team started to put out information that was very specific to the Bailiwick of Guernsey, and throughout February the pace of comms really picked up, demonstrating that in a crisis situation, the flow of information is fast and must respond to ever-changing circumstances.
Feb 10th – The first tests in the Bailiwick
- The messages are reassuring and direct and Dr Nicola Brink is established as a trusted spokesperson.
Feb 13th – Having previously shared the NHS’s handwashing videos, the States of Guernsey quickly releases their own advice on handwashing and preventative measures
- Again, releasing their own advice instead of re-posting advice from the UK government reinforced the advice to follow Guernsey-specific information to avoid confusion.
- The team quickly established a clear visual style for all the coronavirus comms and used this across all channels and types of materials – from posters to social media graphics. It is instantly recognisable now to islanders.
February saw the pace of news really pick up, with daily updates on social media and the website. These constant updates have been an important part of the team’s strategy and from the early stages of the crisis have helped to ensure the whole community is working together:
- Feb 13th – Social media updates on the first people tested locally
- Feb 14th – Social media advice on coughing and sneezing
- Feb 15th – Information regarding travelling back from China and self-isolating
- Feb 16th – Sending people to the coronavirus webpage
- Feb 21st – Advice for those returning from an affected area
- Feb 25th – Advice around masks
Feb 25th – Grammar School Ski Trip advice
- Again, this was a good move to reassure the community on current and timely worries about events happening in the Bailiwick. As this was a school-related matter, it was likely that social media discussion, the parents network and teenage gossip could have created a deluge of incorrect information so being proactive with communication at this time was essential.
March 2nd – States meeting and Statement by the President of the Committee for Health and Social Care
- Here we see Heidi Soulsby coming to the fore and, like Dr Nicola Brink and Gavin St Pier, she has proven to be an exemplary spokesperson, very human but reassuring.
March 6th – Coronavirus helplines set up
- Critical and non-critical helplines were set up to ensure that two-way communication was in place.
March 7th – “Shall I self isolate?” button added to the website
- This was a great tool added to the website, allowing anyone to take a quick questionnaire that explains whether they should self-isolate. It also takes away the pressure from the health centres with fewer people calling to ask this very question.
- At this stage we saw the first positive case of coronavirus in Guernsey, and the need for self-isolation information increased. The comms team responded with both information and also actions to bring the community together. And on March 16th, when stricter border controls came into effect, the #GuernseyTogether hashtag started.
- By using their own hashtags, they created a sense of community and togetherness, this in turn has encouraged people to comply with the regulations.
March 17th – First media briefing live-streamed on Facebook
- The States members at the front line of the coronavirus crisis have used a very open and honest approach – they have used direct language, told the truth, and been transparent about what’s happening. This has built trust and trust has built compliance amongst islanders.
- The regular media briefings have been central to the open communications strategy. Allowing journalists to ask questions, often on behalf of their readers, and streaming the sessions live on Facebook probably seemed like a brave move at the beginning but it has proven to be the right one. Thousands of people are tuning in to hear the latest news live and, importantly, first-hand from the spokespeople, and broadcasting it live on BBC Guernsey helps to ensure it reaches the widest audience possible.
Updates continued on a daily basis, with information translated into other languages, statements on the islands’ economic position, restrictions on bars, clubs and pubs, information on schools and key workers etc.
The comms team has used film as well as graphics and written statements. A video clip of essential goods coming into the island was reassuring for locals to see local goods services operating as normal, a tactic to hopefully discourage panic buying. A walk-through film of the hospital and a short film about testing have opened a window into the preparations being made – reassuring and making us all proud of our island’s response. Films on TikTok have added some fun and humour into the handwashing message, and helped to reach a younger audience.
Phone lines have also been established, and text message instructions also commenced mid-March, using all channels of communication possible, not just social or traditional media, is an important part of crisis communication.
Then came the announcement that everyone knew was coming…
March 24th – Guernsey’s lockdown announcement comes from the island’s senior politician in a live broadcast, with subsequent communication across all channels
Since the lockdown announcement, the States of Guernsey shifted their communications to compliance. They have focused on keeping the public informed and understanding of the lockdown rules and reasons, therefore getting people to comply more effectively.
March 26th – A guidance document is published regarding the benefits and financial support available to individuals in financial need as a direct result of the coronavirus.
March 29th – A short film is produced, telling the public what they need to do if they are called for testing.
The States of Guernsey has always made it clear that managing the corona crisis is a team effort. Islanders have come together, to help each other, support those less fortunate or more vulnerable than themselves and through simply staying at home.
Essential workers have been praised, along with those working round the clock at the hospital and contact tracing teams.
March 30th – #ShareTheRainbow campaign begins, getting children and the community to spread positivity around the island.
Gavin St Pier’s shout-outs to groups of islanders, thanking them for doing their bit to help the island beat the virus, have also shown how politicians can use their personal social media channels to great effect, in a very natural and authentic way.
But of course no one can get everything 100% right. Mistakes were bound to happen, but the States of Guernsey has shown they can admit to getting things wrong and what they are doing about it. We’ve seen that happen twice. First, Gavin St Pier admitted openly in a media briefing that they made a blunder with issuing advice about what types of workers can leave their homes to perform their jobs.
Lyndon Trott also moved quickly to admit they were listening to feedback and said: “We knew that we wouldn’t get everything right first off and that adjustments would be needed. Not only are the support initiatives new, they are also unprecedented in both their cost and urgency.” Releasing a statement to say they had received feedback and were working on the situation served to keep business owners up to date and stem complaints. This was quickly followed up with an announcement of the new measures.
The comms team has followed rule 101 of crisis communications – keep updating people with what you can, when you can.
You won’t have all the facts, but you can tell people what you are doing about the situation. If we hear nothing, we will speculate or complain; tell us you are working on it and we’re more likely to wait patiently to hear more.
The States of Guernsey has provided the community with a constant stream of updates across different platforms, creating a clear timeline of crucial events as they continue to unfold.
Spokespeople and specialists have been visible and consistent throughout, offering reassurance and trust and ensuring that media could disseminate accurate information as it was released.
Their strategy has included updates, advice, facts and figures, information on the rise of the global pandemic and clear guidance and instruction for the local community.
This type of clear communication is vital in this current situation to reassure an anxious community with their non-biased, confident messaging.
We know how exhausting it can be to work through a crisis, and this situation is going on far longer than most issues a PR team will have to deal with.
So we take our hats off to the States of Guernsey comms team, along with the leaders, their teams and every essential worker in the island. You are all true #CommsHeroes.
Please stay healthy and safe, if you need help with crisis or internal communications, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This timeline of events has been taken from the States of Guernsey’s social media pages, website, broadcast and print media publications and was current at the time of blog publication.