Pandemic and the viral world of communication

The Director-General of Who Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in mid-February, “We are not just fighting an epidemic, we are fighting an infodemic.” He was referring to fake news that “spreads faster and more easily than this virus.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described it as “second disease” accompanying the pandemic. Simply put, infodemic is an epidemic of information. It is an overdose of information with the potential to spread misinformation, disinformation and rumours during a health emergency. It can create confusion and distrust among people and hamper effective public health response. Viral communication wheels the infodemic. 

According to World Economic Forum data, the percentage of government portals with COVID 19 data globally jumped from 57% to 86% in just two weeks between 25th March and 8th April 2020. Infodemic has also increased manifold ever since. In a country like India where media consumption (of all kinds of media) is high, and health literacy is low, health, infodemic assumes the scale of the health pandemic itself.

You dint create it. You can’t control it.

We all know, at a fundamental level, what makes content go viral is that it is a short piece of content with a human interest that engages with the viewer. Topicality and relevance drive the virality. Viral communication, considered one of the best forms of communication, is a bane for pandemic-related communication. With the digital landscape growing in these troubled times, and content getting viral within seconds, it has become critical for communicators to allay employee fears and misconceptions.

There is a growing need to create relevant, topical and authentic information that captures the attention of employees and empower them to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff. There are several Dos and Don’ts Internal Communication experts have articulated, such as timely communication, focus on employee wellbeing, focus on change management, and so on that one needs to communicate during these troubled times. What I find critical are the 2Ts- the tonality and transparency in communication. 

Tonality of Communication

Stating the fact and demystifying fear are the hardest to communicate. While clearly articulating this, it is better to avoid an authoritative, or an instructive or a top-down kind of tone. Such tonality does not help in allaying fears or misconceptions. Be authentic and be informative or factual. Be careful and consistent in your tonality. That goes a long way in building trust. 

Transparency in communication

In these times, just one email or a town hall is not going to work in addressing all concerns or employees. A string of emails or town halls works if the communication is transparent. Transparency makes it honest and real. A friend in a global products company points out that in January, her leadership felt the pandemic would be contained by June-July globally. During a broadcast in July, the CEO started with the admission that the pandemic would blow over in a couple of months was a miscalculated one. It instantly helped build a connection with employees and instilled a sense of confidence. Such transparency made the communication humane and real. 

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Radha Radhakrishnan
Radha Radhakrishnan has over 25 years of experience in corporate communications and marketing across different industries and geographies. She has built a reputation as a storyteller and a creative thinker. She has mentored social entrepreneurial startups and has been a visiting faculty at premier communications institutes in India. She is currently the global head of corporate communications at Wipro Enterprises. She anchors the weekly PR and Communication podcast, Mrigashira.

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