Columns , Communication , COVID-19

Crisis communication

Your digital messaging needs to stand out from the crowd if you hope to reach distracted clients. Great subject lines matter.

Crisis communication
Be sure to write subject lines that won’t get lost in a sea of boring, non-essential emails.

“Stay home, save up to 50%!” was the subject line of an email I received from one of my favorite retailers. It completely turned me off. Thanks to COVID-19, my business was down about 30%, I was terrified to look at my retirement account, and I wouldn’t have had anywhere to go in my new clothes even if I did buy them at 50% off. Needless to say, I deleted the email without opening it.

During uncertain times, clear and consistent client communication is key. But it has to be done right. When inboxes and social media feeds become bogged down with similar messages and organizations try their hardest to remain relevant and profitable, how can you ensure that your messages are seen by clients and are sensitive to the uncertainty and fear they might be feeling?

Here are seven tips to effectively communicate digitally with your clients during a public crisis.

1. Offer Real Value

No one wants to feel as if they’re being marketed to during an emergency. Your digital messages should convey information that pet owners will find helpful as they navigate uncharted territory. So, write blog posts addressing the common questions and concerns of pet owners.

For example, you could focus on:

  • Can a pet get or spread COVID-19?
  • Is the veterinary hospital still open?
  • What happens if a pet has a health emergency duringthis time?
  • Should a pet’s wellness visit or dental cleaning be postponed?
  • Are vaccines essential for a newly adopted pet or can they wait?
  • If a pet seems sick, can the client discuss the symptoms with a veterinarian over a video chat, email or phone call?

When you write blog posts with helpful information, share them on your social media channels and via email.

2. Update Your Website and Online Business Pages

Many veterinary practices changed their hours or days of operation in response to COVID-19. Add a pop-up alert or button on your website’s homepage so that clients can easily access your updates and information. Also, ensure that your Google, Yelp and other business profiles are kept current.

3. Use Subject Lines That Stand Out

We all saw the canned email subject lines that many businesses used in their COVID-19 updates. If a company you once used to clean out your gutters sent an email with the subject line “COVID-19 updates from ABC Gutter Cleaning,” you would probably delete it without even opening it. And, when “Patio Furniture Warehouse’s response to COVID-19” landed in your inbox, you probably wouldn’t have excitedly opened and read the message.

But there’s a difference between your practice and those companies. Your services are essential. You provide health care for the pets that many people consider to be members of their family. You need to write subject lines that won’t get lost in a sea of boring, non-essential emails. Your subject lines should be as specific and relevant as possible.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Pet emergency? ABC Animal Hospital is open during COVID-19
  • Taking care of your pet during COVID-19
  • How ABC Animal Hospital’s response to COVID-19 might affect you and your pet
  • Sick pet? We’re still here for you
  • What we know about COVID-19 and pets

4. Make It Visual

Everyone loves a good video. According to a February 2020 article from HubSpot, about 8 billion daily video views occur on Facebook, and users spend three times longer watching live videos than standard uploaded content.

The lesson: Don’t be afraid to broadcast live videos on your social media channels or embed videos into client emails, and make your videos engaging and fun. Use your smartphone; these videos don’t have to be professionally produced.

Some ideas:

  • Share a video of you and your pets at home, letting clients know that you’re in the same boat they are.
  • Create a video talking about any new policies and procedures.
  • Make a video showing how your curbside or telemedicine appointments work and what clients can expect.
  • Turn your educational blog posts into videos. “Hey, everyone. Dr. Smith here. Not sure if you read my latest blog post about keeping your pet’s environment enriched during a pandemic, but here are the key points I made.”

Photos are a great way to attract clients’ attention and lift their spirits. Include pictures of you and your pets, and your team and their pets, in your social media posts, emails and blogs.

5. Make It Personal and Authentic

Be real and relate to your clients. This can be hard, and it’s OK to show vulnerability. Talking about your fears and frustrations during a difficult time can be a powerful way to bond with clients because many of them will feel fear and frustration, too.

Consider these two strategies:

  • Instead of your typical marketing email, write a heartfelt emailed letter to clients. Talk about how the crisis is affecting you, your team and your practice, and include how you adapted. Open the email with “Dear [client’s name]” and end it with “Sincerely, [your name],” just like with a letter. Also, include positive or helpful tips.
  • Create a video or take photos that document life at home and the practice. Share them on social media, in emails and on your blog.

6. Be a Bright Light

While you can and should be authentic, you should add a positive spin in your communications whenever you can. When clients read your email or social media post, let them walk away feeling more hopeful or happy. Perhaps a team member discovered a great grocery or meal delivery service — share it! Maybe you feel great after spending five hours putting together a puzzle — share it! Maybe your team helped a sick pet recover and go home today — share it!

Enduring a global crisis is not easy, but it can feel a little easier each time you focus on something positive and beautiful.

7. Communicate With “Just Right” Frequency

Just like Goldilocks and her porridge, there is a “just right” in terms of communication frequency. For example:

  • Social media: Post on your channels as often as possible, even multiple times a day if you’d like, as long as the information is relevant and useful.
  • Email: Don’t overdo it. Too many emails can irritate clients, so reserve your emails to no more than once a week unless you have an important announcement that cannot wait until next week.
  • Blog: A blog is a great way to educate clients and provide useful and credible information. Publish blogs as often as you’d like, but aim for a minimum of once a month.

Remember that veterinary care is essential and that your clients want to hear from you. Educate them, lift their spirits and show them that they aren’t alone during an emergency.

VetPartners member Sarah Rumple is a Denver-based veterinary writer and editor and the owner of Rumpus Writing and Editing. Contact her at www.rumpuswriting.com.

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