A Guide for Leadership Communications During COVID-19

A Guide for Leadership Communications During COVID-19

 A Guide for Leadership Communications During COVID-19

80 percent of employees and 90 percent of financial readers expect to hear from a CEO on social media during a crisis, according to Brunswick’s Connected Leadership research. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolves, business leaders are taking highly visible roles communicating key messages to their stakeholders on social media. I’ve outlined the guiding principles and best practices of digital leadership during a crisis, alongside a compilation of leading examples. 
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Why Now?

  1. Leverage a fast and direct connection with stakeholders at global scale.     
  2. Enable two-way communication.     
  3. Meet stakeholders where they are – online, on their phones, on social media.    
  4. Convey emotional connection and authentic leadership with formats like video in ways that static, broadcast formats such as email, corporate memos, or press releases cannot.     
  5. The need for connection to management is amplified in a crisis and exacerbated by social distancing and remote work arrangements.

Best Practices  

  • Know Your Audience. Ensure the audience is front of mind when considering your public messages, be it customers, employees, or investors. Write or speak with clear, simple language at the reading level of your audience.    
  • Empathy and Confidence. In times of crisis, it is vital the tone remain empathetic, calm, and sincere. Content should be factual, relevant, and useful while avoiding speculation. Empower your stakeholders with specific, practical actions they can take and concrete resources from the company or elsewhere. 
  • Remain Authentic. Ensure the executive’s voice shines through the communication. In most instances, crisis communications must go through a series of reviews. However, it is vital that the message is delivered with authenticity by the executive. 
  • Move Swiftly. The news surrounding COVID-19 is moving fast, and carefully crafted messages created a week in advance are already outdated. To ensure the content is relevant, monitor the conversation closely and consider the context prior to posting.
  • One Message, Many Channels. Publish your message through the executive’s primary social media account if available and reinforce via your other corporate social media accounts and internal channels. Be sure to mirror any messages in one location on your website as a reference location and consider earned and paid media amplification in some contexts.
  • Be Brief. Your most important messages should be placed within the first 200 words of a post, blog, or email (one mobile phone screen) or 30 seconds of a video. What must the reader/viewer know and what must they do next?   
  • Consider Video. Since at least 70 percent of communication is nonverbal, video can improve the effectiveness of your message and the emotional connection with your audience. This does not require more than a phone, so long as you have a steady shot, clear audio, and publish the content in a timely manner. Upload caption files in any number of other languages for a fraction of the time it takes to translate a press release.
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Leading Examples   

42 percent of the top 50 Connected Leaders among S&P 500 and FTSE 350 public companies have employed social media to communicate key messages about COVID-19 to their stakeholders, and many more have communicated via corporate and internal channels. While there are too many to list individually, here are a selection of excellent examples to find inspiration. Please send me any great examples you find! 

Employee Advocates  

From communicating timely updates to corporate policies to global workforces, to highlighting the importance of their work during this time, these executives are championing their greatest asset—their employees.

Customer Champions  

Corporate leaders, especially in the travel and hospitality sectors, are continually emphasizing the importance of their customers as they share updates on changes in policies.
  • Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International – LinkedIn     
  • Brett Schulman, CEO of CAVA – LinkedIn     
  • Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton – LinkedIn    
  • Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines – Instagram     
  • Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce – Twitter

Community Leaders  

While sharing vital safety information and business updates, a key theme throughout these executive communications is the importance of community and unity during trying times. 
  • Adena Friedman, President and CEO of Nasdaq – LinkedIn     
  • Ana Botín, Executive Chairman of The Santander Group – Instagram, LinkedIn     
  • Francesco Pugliese, CEO of Conad – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn     
  • Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks – Twitter, LinkedIn     
  • Mike Perry, President and CEO of Hallmark Cards, Inc – Twitter, LinkedIn via brand channels     
  • Strive Masiyiwa, Founder and Chairman of Econet Group - Facebook


As it relates to their industries, certain executives are particularly well-positioned to use digital channels as thought leadership platforms, proposing solutions to challenges posed by COVID-19.

Philanthropists & Activists  

The following executives are using their digital channels to announce philanthropic initiatives and call on others to act.
  • Eric Yuan, Founder and CEO of Zoom – LinkedIn     
  • Mark Zuckerburg, Founder and CEO of Facebook – Facebook     
  • Peter Gerber, CEO and Chairman of the Executive Board of Lufthansa Cargo AG – LinkedIn     
  • Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet – Twitter     
  • Tim Cook, CEO of Apple – Twitter 
Please feel free to ask questions in the comments or email [email protected] to get in touch. 
                                      Craig Mullaney
A proven leader with 20 years management experience and a record of exceptional entrepreneurial performance in high-pressure senior operational and strategic roles at a venture-backed tech startup, two federal agencies, a successful presidential campaign, and in military combat. A tenacious executive, decorated Army Airborne Ranger, bestselling author, Rhodes Scholar, communications expert, and public servant

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