The language of crisis: how to adjust your written comms

The language of crisis: how to adjust your written comms

written commsMost businesses need to make adjustments to their written comms (website, social media pages, and emails) in the context of the COVID pandemic.

For some, such as a restaurant that now has to become a takeaway business, this means a complete overhaul of the core offering and related messaging. For many others, the required change is more subtle. What if your business is still operating in the same way, but you’re worried your customers won’t appreciate you trying to sell to them right now?

Enter: crisis communications. We’ve all rolled our eyes at the number of identikit “COVID-19 update” emails that have relentlessly pinged into our inboxes, and you’re probably feeling nervous about adding to them.

You may be right.

Most customers are no more inclined to read another “we care” email from a brand than to engage with a blatant sales pitch.

So, how do you shape your written comms to be acceptable during a time of crisis? We’ve put together the following tips to help you choose the right words for your website, social media pages and email campaigns:

Avoid over-used words

When words are used too often, they lose their impact, even if they’re true. So if you’re mid-way through your email about how your company is coping in these “unprecedented times”, stop and rewrite.

Use “you” more than “we”

Crisis communications should be all about the reader, and not really about you at all. So, if you cast your eye over what you’ve drafted and the ratio of “you” to “we” is lower than 3:1, it’s time to redraft.

Check your lexicon

Is your marketing collateral peppered with references about being “on the front line” of your sector? Are you proclaiming the benefits of getting “out and about”? These are likely to be poor choices of vocabulary during a health crisis where 20% of the world’s population is in some form of lockdown.

Less is more

Nobody needs you to write them an essay. Only communicate if you really have something to say (otherwise, better not to communicate at all), and stay on point.

Don’t state the obvious

We all know times are tough – that’s pretty much what defines a crisis. Your written comms do not need to spell out what is happening and how much your company cares. Just keep the context of the crisis in mind in order to create sensitive messaging.


If you plan to take part in public discussions about the crisis itself, make sure you only share or quote information from verified sources. Your brand’s reputation depends on it.

Stay true to your brand voice

Some comms “experts” are advising against expressions of humour, for example, but if yours is an authentically humorous brand, suddenly changing the way you sound is bound to backfire. Your customers need to trust you, so while you may decide against certain topics or word choices, your overall brand voice should remain authentic.

Prioritise helping over selling

This is good practice in normal times, but it’s essential during a crisis. People dislike being sold to – especially if they’re feeling worried or upset. They do like being helped to solve a problem. Focus your written comms on how your product or service can make your customers’ lives better.