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Take Time: Messaging is Always Important

The last month reacting to COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of messaging on both the personal and business levels.

With children in college, middle school and elementary school it’s been stressful waiting to hear from their schools on what the next steps are. At Withum, we’ve been brought in to consult on how to most effectively create a single place for organizations to house information. As a result, I’ve been on both sides of the messaging spectrum. Working on adoption and change management with organizations over the last 14 years, this is not new.

Language Matters

For my college student, the school directly communicated with the students first and e-mailed a summary to the parents. Their message lead to no interpretation, school will continue online, and all facilities will close at spring break. In comparison, the local school system e-mailed to both parents and educators, school is ‘closed’ for two weeks, remote learning afterwards and stated that more will come.

In this trying time, the Maryland Governor then announced that schools will be ‘closed’ until April 24th. Huh? What does ‘closed’ mean? As a parent, I am focused on continuing my children’s education and I am lucky enough to be comfortable with the idea of remote learning, so what does this word ‘closed’ mean?

Language matters and the use of words that can be interpreted in several different ways hinder the clarity of a message. When a follow-up message was received 6 hours later it was determined that ‘closed’ meant ‘facilities will remain closed until April 24th, remote learning is moving forward as expected. To highlight the confusion, a neighboring county sent a message to all parents that learning would not commence until the 24th, and then retracted their own message.

Need assistance setting up a communication stream? Reach out to our experts.

Method of Delivery

For my county, the message was delivered via a tv pronouncement, then posted on the county website. I, however, did not hear from either of these methods. During my lunch break I opened Facebook, hoping for some humor, and saw a post “schools are closed”. Here again that word does more damage than good. Neither the governor nor school system messages provided clarity.

In comparison, organizations are frantically building central repositories for emergency response and making sure there are frequent updates. They are driving all communication to one location, to ensure clarity of message. Especially when people are out of the comfort zone, forced to work from home, their normal lines of communication are severed.

When messaging, think of all outlets that the message can be consumed. I hope in the future the governor will communicate with school systems before an announcement so that web posts, e-mails, and social posts can be coordinated. You can do this in your company too, make sure messages are written for the specific delivery method, and drive to a longer version.

Best Practices

  • Be clear and concise. Think like a reader, what are they expecting, not what are you trying to convey. When launching technology, we ask “What’s in it for me”? Apply to every message, put your reader hat on when editing the messages.
  • One message is not enough. There is no single communication, it is always a messaging campaign where a planned cadence will provide comfort and trust. Be explicit, especially in emergencies, what the maximum timeframe will be between communications.
  • Create trust. A message that there is no information, at the cadence previously expressed, is better than no information. Our school system has been great at clearly stating all of the obstacles that it faces, and how it is trying to be as fair as possible across a diverse socio-economic spectrum of 150,000+ students.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Working on the deployment and delivery of Microsoft solutions, we borrow with the freely available resources Microsoft creates, and change based on the specific needs of an organization. When messaging, if you see someone who is doing it well – copy. Especially during this time people are getting their information from different sources, keeping your message consistent creates even more trust.
  • Create a central hub. While there are different delivery methods, we all like to search for information in our personal and business life. Having all messages have a single source allows for people to find the information when they need it, especially when they’ve missed the original e-mail and/or post.

Thanks for reading, hopefully this will assist in how you create your messaging during this time, and when you’re rolling out any new project, program or technology in your organization.

Digital and Technology Transformation

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