Most People Getting Virus Info from Mass Media but Want Employers to Communicate Too

How often have you heard a variation of the phrase “Everything’s changed” over the past few days? Since a basic rule of communications is to know your audience, a good rule of thumb is to look at survey data to help gauge attitudes, inform message creation and highlight opportunities. We took a look at several to see how the American public and businesses are handling the current crisis climate.

Concern But Less Action

It’s to no one's surprise that Americans are concerned with coronavirus. The latest Harris Poll found 86 percent of respondents are worried most about older friends and relatives; and 84 percent are concerned about the virus’s influence on the economy. But just 65 percent of respondents were worried about their own health.

Despite 74 percent saying they’re concerned about “accidentally spreading the virus,” a slight majority (58 percent) “have not changed how much they’re having people over” and 50 percent have not changed “hygiene behavior when having people over to their home.”

The Harris survey seems to indicate communicators need to be sensitive in their messaging. In addition, they have an opportunity, perhaps a duty, to offer links to COVID-19 safety procedures.

Basic Shopping Habits Unchanged

DISQO conducted two surveys, one from Feb. 29 to March 2 and March 7 to 9. It compared what people were searching for and buying during the two periods.

As expected, COVID-19-related searches jumped 60 percent from the first survey to the second. Cleaning supply purchases rose 32 percent, and personal health sales rose 24 percent.

While nearly half (46 percent) made purchases in response to COVID-19, 67 percent said their basic shopping habits did not change fundamentally. That finding should inform communicators’ messaging, which may evolve as the crisis continues.

Turning to National News Media and Employers

APCO’s survey of 1,000 adults found the national news media was the leading source of virus information (58 percent). It topped the CDC (28 percent), social media (27 percent), the White House (10 percent) and employers (8 percent). Only about one quarter of workers expected to hear messages from company leaders (27 percent).

That’s likely to have changed since the March 5 poll. In an interview, APCO Insight senior director Chrystine Zacherau tells us she expects staff to turn to employers more. Employers, she says, “have practical and personal relevance...their role in providing information from facts about the outbreak to work policies to personal support” will increase.

Internal Communications' Role

As such, Zacherau says, “Internal communicators and HR must adapt to address the disruption that the 60 percent [of staff] expect in the workplace." Providing daily information updates and two-way communication channels are among best practices for corporate communicators, she added.

In fact, Zacherau believes in “this heightened state of concern, it is the obligation of employers and external communicators" to support their employees and the public.

Similar to APCO's finding, an Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 1,000 people in 10 countries, including the U.S., said 64 percent of respondents are turning to major media for virus information. Still, Edelman argued, staff want to hear from employers. In addition, they consider internal communications a trusted source, according to the survey, conducted March 6 to 10.

Inside the PR Biz

Looking internally at the communications business, Peppercomm and The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) surveyed 300 communicators March 5 to 10. Not surprisingly, they found 83 percent are “moderately” or “extremely” concerned about the virus's potential impact on their companies.

Often the overlooked aspect of PR, internal comms received a boost. Eighty-one percent said communicating to employees is “essential” or “high” priority, besting communication with customers (66 percent).

In addition, 57 percent said their legacy crisis plan included infectious diseases, 44 percent said it did not. Just 30 percent said their organizations were “very” prepared to handle the virus; 55 percent said they were “somewhat” prepared.

Steve Cody, Peppercomm's CEO/founder, was “pleasantly surprised" that 57 percent of plans included infectious diseases. "At the same time, I was shocked to learn that 10 percent had NO crisis plan whatsoever...that’s dereliction of duty on the part of the senior communications professional.”

This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.