Outreach during the COVID pandemic is different, requiring emotional proximity as well as physical distancing. Communicating as if people’s worlds are normal is like shouting into a windstorm. Establishing an emotional connection when communicating can ease the sense of social isolation people are experiencing.
Humans are social animals. We have emotions that only human contact can fulfill. Social isolation denies people the human contact and emotional stimulation that comes from intentional conversations, family get-togethers, informal gatherings over a drink and even small talk. That absence can complicate otherwise normal outreach efforts.
Research suggests social isolation tends to make people more defensive, a major roadblock to effective outreach. When people meet while wearing masks, their exchanges lack revealing nonverbal cues. Human contact through Zoom meetings can help, but they aren’t substitutes for in-person interactions or always as productive as group brainstorming. Emails can inform, not always replace a handshake or warm embrace.
More so than in normal times, marketing and messaging content must contain emotional elements. Outreach must address questions such as: Why is the information important to me now? Will what you tell me make my family and me safer? How will it make my life more normal? Can I rely on what you say?
Trust is essential for effective communication and its messengers at any time. These times demand an extra emphasis on trustworthiness that bursts through a wall of defensiveness. Don’t assume something or someone passes the trusted test. Do your research. Before you put someone in front of a camera on your behalf, test potential celebrities, corporate spokespeople, known influencers and generic types of people.
Personalizing communications build bonds. Try to put yourself into the shoes of the people you are addressing by acknowledging the concerns of product users or people impacted by a project. Employ show-me visuals, from how-to videos to explanatory infographics. First-person testimonials can be useful, too.
Personal communications can connect, too. Make a call or write a note instead of sending a text or email. Tasteful gifts can generate rapport. Personal communication should include asking how people are holding up and coping with pandemic stress. Sharing your own experience, being positive, offering encouragement, empathizing and really listening can break through a sense of isolation to engage and connect. During Zoom calls, show understanding and patience when kids pop into view or dogs bark in the background.
Sharing your own experience, being positive, offering encouragement, empathizing and really listening can break through a sense of isolation to engage and connect.
Emotional outreach may require training, especially for the emotionally challenged among us. Use some of the time you save from working remotely instead of commuting to look up old friends and contact them. Share personal experiences, like going on a pleasurable hike or watching an old movie favorite, with friends and followers on your Facebook page. When you read something that impresses or moves you, let the writer know and provide feedback. Capture your own emotional feelings in a poem, through a story or with journal entries.
Not every contact or piece of content can do it all, so think carefully to include the most effective and appropriate emotional elements for your outreach. The most important thing to remember: Be intentional and pick your spots. If social isolation has taught us anything, it’s that direct human contact is important to our well-being. A great start is finding ways to show your own humanity.