As electric cooperatives adapt to social distancing guidelines, cooperative communicators work to keep employees and communities connected and safe. In a recent edition of the CFC Extra Credit Education Series of webinars, network leaders delivered timely suggestions for keeping the lines of communication open while so much of our lives is closed.
Kevin Doddridge, CEO of Northcentral Electric Cooperative in Mississippi; Lisa Hooker, vice president of Public Relations for Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative; and Charles Gloeckner, vice president of Corporate Communications for CFC, joined CFC moderators to share techniques for enhancing communication while implementing social distancing policies and procedures.
CFC members can
watch a replay of the April 20 webinar, “Cooperative Communications and COVID-19,” to learn more about how these leaders are supporting productive and safe work environments.
Five Tips for Cooperative Communicators
1. When it comes to internal communications, frequency and consistency are key.
Cooperative employees are important stakeholders as cooperatives work to keep the lights on. Many employees are working remotely and trying to balance family obligations. They are contending with the same heightened uncertainty as everyone else during this unprecedented time. Now more than ever, it is important for employees to know that their leadership cares.
“Communicating frequently and with accuracy can help control the grapevine,” Hooker stressed. “Communicators should consider routinely leveraging e-mail and internal communications platforms to regularly share up-to-date information with employees. It is important to emphasize that their safety and sanity, along with uninterrupted service to the membership, are priorities.”
2. Consistent communication, across multiple platforms, is important for member engagement.
Communicators are using a wide variety of platforms to share information with their membership on the social media and communications channels they use and trust. To expand the reach of strategic messaging, some cooperatives are looking beyond traditional newsletters to stream updates via Facebook Live or publish podcasts for their membership.
While leveraging multiple platforms, consistent messaging remains key. Members tend to gravitate to their preferred outlet for information. To achieve desired outcomes and preserve stature as a trusted resource, it is important to maintain message consistency.
3. When communicating about the pandemic, stick to the facts.
When communicating about the pandemic, Doddridge insisted, “Much like a power outage, it’s critical that we give straightforward, objective and factual messages.” Cooperatives can leverage expertise from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local health departments and other reliable sources to craft sound messaging.
While sharing information about COVID-19, it is best practice to avoid commentary. “Do not tell people things that you do not know,” Doddridge cautioned.
4. Humor can be useful, if used appropriately.
A sense of humor can be an invaluable tool during a crisis, if it is used appropriately. Sharing a light-hearted meme or joke before delivering an important message can capture the audience’s attention.
Humor does come with risks. Before using humor in messaging, consider some of the hardships stakeholders are experiencing from their perspective. Jokes about bad haircuts and other shared experiences created by social distancing are sound premises, but “don’t make fun of the tough situations,” Gloeckner advised.
5. Stay flexible and up-to-date.
Over the next few months, communicators should remain flexible and update their messaging frequently. The situation is changing rapidly. “It’s OK to acknowledge that what might be accurate today might not be tomorrow,” Hooker said. “It is also critical to date communications so consumers understand when the message was released. Keep relying on expert resources and adjust accordingly.”
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