DOs and DON’Ts for Communcating About the Coronavirus

image of coronavirus

Greetings from the coronavirus hot zone, New Rochelle, NY. As you might guess, local businesses up here are concerned about losing business due to the fear surrounding the virus. Many are sharing information about the virus and the quarantine in an effort to tamp down the potential panic. As a business owner and 35-year marketing professional, I applaud taking a proactive approach in communicating with customers about this issue.

That being said, I feel like it’s important to share some DOs and DONTs about what you should and should not do in your communications about the virus.

Just the facts! In the age of ‘alternative facts’, it is critical to be sure that any information you are providing to others is absolutely accurate. People’s lives could literally depend on it. You may think your Aunt Barbara is one of the smartest people you know, but please don’t share the statistics she posted on Facebook. The same holds true for TV doctors, talk radio hosts, and YouTube videos. Sharing incorrect information not only makes you look less than competent, it is irresponsible. Lives are at stake.

Here are some basic rules:

  • Consult the experts. Consult resources like the WHO, CDC or reputable public health centers like The Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins. These scientists are the experts, and have no agenda other than to report the facts.
  • Avoid biased sources of information. Again, social media, YouTube, Reddit and talk radio are the absolute worst places to get your information on the coronavirus. I have nothing against them, but remember that they are full of opinions, not facts. If you see stats quoted here, remember that they are unverified, which means they could be completely wrong, or just opinions disguised as facts.

I got a great email yesterday from the folks at Compel CEOs, strictly factual, with a link to the Johns Hopkins site so people could get reliable information.

sign showing incorrect comparison of coronavirus to flu
Don't use incorrect data or comparisons to the flu.

Don’t make comparisons. I have seen many comparisons between the coronavirus and the flu. I took a picture of this sign in an elevator yesterday. While the common flu does kill many people each year, there are many significant differences between it and corona virus, primarily the fatality rate. According to WHO, the fatality rate of coronavirus is 3-4%, while the flu kills only 0.1% of the people who contract it. Also, we have reliable, widespread tests and vaccines for the flu, not so for the coronavirus. We do not know what the possible death toll for this virus may be yet, so making these comparisons should be avoided.

Avoid political overtones. Who would ever have thought that a deadly virus would get political? However, in these hyper-partisan times, I have seen many people claiming the virus is a massive hoax, some claiming it will be the undoing of an administration they do not like, and many that bash the media for hyping the potential danger. Whatever your personal beliefs, please make sure that your business communications are not imbued with them. If you don’t, you run the risk of alienating a large percentage of your audience. Again, stick to the facts… just the facts.

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