Blake Snow

content advisor, recognized journalist, bodacious writer-for-hire

As seen on CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox, Wired, Yahoo!, BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal
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How to write well in a pandemic

Courtesy Shutterstock

Some of my clients have recently asked how to address coronavirus uncertainty in their immediate writing and content marketing plans.

While I don’t have all the answers, these seem to be the most common approaches:

  • Do nothing. This includes staying silent or sticking to pre-outbreak plans as if nothing changed. The former is bad communication and the latter is tone deaf. Neither is recommended.
  • Cliche generalizations. As you probably have seen, many companies have bombarded consumers with long-winded “What we’re doing to keep you safe” emails. While this is better than staying silent, it lacks relevancy and impact. There is a better way.
  • Heartfelt honesty. The world psyche dramatically changed this month. Consequently, so must our communications. You can and should still say what you need to right now, but it should be done with additional empathy, especially for ephemeral content. For example, if you feel more concerned for your readers’ welfare, say so. But try to avoid catchall sign-offs like “stay safe,” which are about as genuine as saying “cheers” at the end of every email.

I recently received a sincere email from the director of my children’s soccer club. “We wish we had better news,” she opened in her short message, while sharing that canceled games have been extended “until May 1.” She expressed “extreme disappointment” in not being able to play but encouraged participants to do what they could to stay healthy in quarantine and promised to send “more information as we receive it.” Out of dozens of company emails I’ve received over the last two weeks, this was clearly the most concise, endearing, and uplifting one.

Having advised companies on their writing for 15 years, I’ve seen first-hand the evolution from copywriting and “company speak” to more human, relatable, and branded journalism that reaches and influences more people. Although COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge for anyone alive, it also affords an unprecedented opportunity to learn and grow—our writing and communication very much included.