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Five ways to know if your communications strategy needs a post-pandemic overhaul

Health care communications always requires highly targeted and effective messaging for a multitude of audiences. The bar on these requirements raised significantly throughout the pandemic, with rapidly evolving waves, directives, guidance, and corresponding impacts on operations – often in the same day.

Ideally, the pandemic not only demanded but also spurred the continuous improvement of communications strategies. For many, however, the focus may have remained on getting through immediate needs while deciding that a longer view of communications would have to wait.

So is it time to revisit your communications approach? Post-pandemic recovery is on minds and tongues everywhere; here are five ways to know if your communications strategy needs a post-pandemic overhaul:

1. The content or frequency of your communications with key audiences hasn’t changed much outside of pandemic-specific messaging.
The pandemic has underscored the need for ongoing, proactive and two-way communications for many organizations that were predominantly focused on one-way communications. A lack of timely information sharing can fuel fear, powerlessness and anger – especially in health care – as can the inability to easily have questions and concerns addressed.

If you didn’t already have a robust multi-channel approach to disseminate and receive information before the pandemic, it should have been built quickly and attended to with painstaking dedication during the pandemic. If you still haven’t done so, it’s something you need to act on — it’s what those who are most important to your organization expect. This means auditing your communications to understand how your audiences engage and then identifying the right internal and external platforms, technologies and content formats need to be established and supported on an ongoing basis.

2. You think transparency is not an option.
Every health care organization has moments that involve making unpopular decisions or taking unpopular actions — some have moments when they may not know how to react immediately. If those occurrences are nevertheless onside with all applicable laws, regulations and guidance, and decisions are being sought in alignment with values, mission, vision, ethical frameworks,  etc., then it’s always best to be direct and open about your course of action.

The fear of dealing with the fallout of telling people what they don’t want to hear should always be eclipsed by what might happen if you remain silent or skim around the truth because you think it sounds more digestible. Finding your organization’s voice in messages that are honest, transparent, and reinforce confidence and connection should be a top priority. Undertaking a process that includes preparing, getting buy-in for, and training to deliver a full spectrum of scenario messaging is a valuable investment.

3. You’re always playing reactionary catch up.
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the rapid-fire pace of evolving guidance and directives in health care has been unprecedented for those working the communications frontlines. Over time however, recurring themes and trends emerged, and with them the evolution of an “if this then that” kind of process. We better understood how the waves of the pandemic *might* flow and what a shift in one direction or another *might* then mean for our communications – like a chain reaction.

Given these (or any) patterns, your communications should not be starting from scratch at every fork on a road which you’ve already traveled. There should be learnings, templates, feedback loops, and tried and tested measures that all drive your strategy and execution. If any of your core communications still function in a reactive mode, it’s time to synthesize the learnings around pandemic communications and break that cycle. Well thought out communications strategies are easily navigable and enable you to pivot quickly. Developing a comprehensive issues management or crisis communications plan that lives beyond and applies to post-pandemic scenarios is critical.

4. You don’t have much to say that isn’t already being shared in major media.
While there’s no shortage of news on most things, if your organization’s social feed is strictly a collection of other accounts’ retweets, shares and likes then you’re missing an opportunity to establish your voice and prove your worth. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” This certainly holds true for your organization. Show your position, value, leadership and thinking. If you don’t have a content or thought leadership strategy you need one — especially if demonstrating your relevance and sector authority matters for your success now and in the future. This is where developing a social media strategy that includes a clear content calendar, rules of engagement, a catalogue of evolving creative and a clear approval process all apply.

5. You’re waiting for things to return to normal.
If you’ve increased your communications because of the pandemic and look forward to pulling back in the months ahead, you likely need to revisit that thinking as well, because your audience has redefined what it expects from you. Plan on maintaining or improving upon your current systems. Get more thoughtful, more proactive and get moving today on a strategy to level up your best engagement. The modes of communication may shift, but a marked decrease in touch points will undermine goodwill you may have established throughout the pandemic. Develop a plan for surge capacity of your communications team like many other strategic organizations have done and work with experts to identify efficiencies in your current communications operations and plans so that you can maintain more robust points of contact at all times.

No doubt, we’ll all look back on this moment in time for what it revealed about so many things personally and professionally. Among those revelations should be how we define and ensure proactive, meaningful, timely communications with those who matter most in our work.