Four Guiding Principles to Create Community while Navigating COVID-19

The scene is a familiar – if not cliché. A group of colleagues gathered around sipping their morning coffee, swapping weekend stories and discussing tasks and deliverables for the rest of the week. What’s unique? This morning touch base is happening via video chat, as each of the participants call in from their respective home offices.

COVID-19 has dramatically increased the number of employees working from home as companies implement optional or mandatory work from home policies. As a result, organizations are facing growing challenges with maintaining an engaged and productive workforce. More importantly, employees struggle to feel connected and stimulated as they practice social distancing, self-quarantine or complete isolation.

Many are looking online for forums and methods to remain engaged. Platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have seen increases in usage as COVID-19 has escalated. Local community leaders are turning to Facebook and Twitter to keep their constituencies abreast of changes or important information, and neighborhood message boards like NextDoor have proved useful in communicating togetherness while practicing social distancing. In addition, many brands have turned to Instagram to communicate with customers and other key audiences on operational changes and important health and safety information. Beyond being just channels, all of these are becoming social media communities.

Managing social media communities can be tricky, particularly in a time of crisis when people are anxious and hungry for answers. Companies and brands must tread lightly and recognize their place in the overall conversation. They need to provide stewardship when applicable but steer clear of authoritarian expertise. Overstating credentials or capabilities to address this situation can land an organization in the proverbial doghouse just as quickly as staying silent and failing to address stakeholder concerns.

During uncertain times, communities (online and offline) form out of a natural human instinct to seek safety in numbers. Any organization or individual looking to interact with these communities must be guided by the ideal of “first, do no harm.” Foremost, companies and brands must understand what their roles are in the larger conversation, and, perhaps more importantly, what they are not.

To serve these communities in a way that is authentic and meaningful, companies must:

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