The problem: COVID-19 content is everywhere

From all we currently know about the COVID-19 virus, it's clear we're going to be dealing with this for a while. We also know the information about the virus is continually evolving.

As learning to live with this virus shifts from an initial “acute” phase to an ongoing “chronic” phase, it’s time to also shift how we handle this content. We need to change our focus from dissemination to integration.

To get information out there as quickly as possible, most of us put all that content in the most visible, accessible place on our digital properties, particularly our intranets.

Some have a strategy for doing so, but many (due to lack of manpower, resources, or other factors) have just been scrambling to get the information up on our sites as it developed. As a result, that content is everywhere and anywhere, in memos, emails, posts, policies, you name it.

The solution: Launch a COVID-19 content micro-strategy

Now, as the crush of new COVID-19 information slows, it’s time to collect ourselves and our COVID-19 content and figure out the direction to take it.

Bringing all best practices to bear, we need to create a strategy that keeps COVID-19 content accessible, engaging, and effective, yet also easy to update and sustain over the long haul.

We recommend a micro-content strategy, one that starts with discovery and ends with deployment, but at a micro scale. Focusing only on COVID-19, it’s time to take that content intentionally right through its lifecycle from creation to retirement.

Step 1: Assess COVID-19 content

Before you can create a strategy around your COVID-19 content, you need to know what it is, where it is, and if it’s still accurate and relevant. While performing a content assessment could be fairly challenging (did you have the time and presence of mind to tag all that content before going live with it?), finding and assessing the COVID-19 content you have out there is imperative. Lost content can live forever in the ether and haunt your business for an eternity.

Once gathered, the assessment criteria for your COVID-19 content should include, at a minimum, a basic R.O.T. (Relevant, Outdated, Trivial) assessment. It’s entirely possible that the content you created to stay on top of virus developments is one or all of these things.

You should also factor into your assessment where the content is currently located, stakeholder ownership, and the intended audience. From these bits of data, patterns may emerge that will inform your next step, creating the strategy itself.

Step 2: Create a micro-strategy

It’s probably safe to say your actual business has nothing to do with the virus itself. It’s just affected how you go about your business. Therefore, COVID-19 content is largely irrelevant to the products or services you offer. So, rewriting your existing content strategy to accommodate this content is probably not the right direction. Instead, you need a micro-strategy around the COVID-19 content alone.

First, define what the business goals and customer goals will be around this content going forward. This will largely depend on how much your business interacts with the public. Both your business and customers will have protecting personal safety at the top of their minds, of course.

But business goals might also include minimizing corporate liability and increasing productivity. Customer goals might include learning what protocols must be met to conduct business in person and getting updates on any changing hours of operation.

Second, define the audience you need to reach with ongoing COVID-19 information. Do you need to do new full-blown persona research? Maybe, especially if your business interacts heavily with the public.

But for most, it may be sufficient to research only how your audience demographic is affected by the virus and insert an addendum into your existing persona and customer journey maps. You’ll want to learn about what ways they’re now comfortable/uncomfortable with interacting with businesses generally and what new needs they have surrounding the products or services you offer.

Third, define what voice and tone you want to move forward with. Having a unified, accurate, and authoritative voice is critical to alleviating your audience’s anxiety and uncertainty of doing business around COVID-19. If, during your assessment, you discerned that your content wasn’t very effective or well received, you may simply need to revise your voice and tone to one that’s more appropriate.

Finally, from these discovery efforts, you’ll be better able to determine what content topics your audience now needs. You may be able to retire most content about what the virus is and turn your attention to developing content for how to operate with respect to it.

It’s important to take a long view and keep informed of unfolding needs and expectations. Create a strategy that is agile enough to change and accommodate any virus developments that might radically affect how you do business.

One bonus of a micro-strategy such as this is that it could be used again in the event of another natural disaster or calamity. Think of developing this micro-strategy as another facet of business-continuity planning and emergency management.

Step 3: Create a discrete UX design and marketing plan

In the next segment of your micro-strategy, think about your long-term approach to managing the location and presentation of your COVID-19 content.

Location, location, location

A pattern may have emerged during your content assessment that can help you determine what location is best for users. Take a look at your site’s existing navigation and information architecture. There may already be a suitable, more permanent home for this content.

If not, you may need to conduct a quick and dirty card sorting exercise. The Nielsen Norman Group discusses a couple best-practice approaches in developing a permanent home for your COVID-19 material.

One option is to keep COVID-19 content in one, easily accessible place. You may choose to create a new section, subsection, or classic content hub depending on your existing information architecture.

A second option is to disperse this content into relevant areas on your website. The option you choose is contingent on how deeply COVID-19 has impacted your overall business functions. Whichever you choose, crosslinking will be critical, as will tagging your content so that it is searchable and filterable by relevant criteria.

It’s critical to use UX best practices to move your COVID-19 content from what might have been a fine temporary solution initially to a better, permanent solution now that we’re in a slower, ever-present state of this virus. Doing so should prevent a temporary solution from becoming a lasting problem for your business and users long after the virus has gone.

Presentation, presentation, presentation

In a related effort, you’ll also need to determine how you want to present current and active COVID-19 content to be most effective. Creating special graphics, components, or section page templates are some possibilities to consider. It’s important to make clear what information is current or critical compared to baseline contextual information.

Additionally, look at any existing analytics to see what channels are performing best for getting your COVID-19 content where it needs to go. Is an ongoing email campaign warranted? How often will you need to reach out?

As we move from having so much somewhat speculative information about the virus to having less, but more accurate information, it may be sufficient to communicate less often and in fewer channels to keep everyone well informed.

Step 4: Develop governance and workflows

Arguably, the most important part of your micro-strategy will be establishing processes and workflows around existing and incoming COVID-19 material. Because the information is evolving and will likely continue to do so, your governance should be particularly focused on developing processes for managing new information, semi-permanent information (not new, but stabilizing), and permanent information.

“Governance” covers how content is created and the workflow processes, timelines, tools, and human resources that are implemented to get it done. Good governance starts by defining ownership and roles for who receives, creates, reviews, and approves incoming content so everyone is clear on who is handling what. It’s quite possible that now, fewer people may need to be involved.

Next, you need to design the workflows for the intake, go live, and, most importantly, for COVID-19 content, the evaluation and permanent retirement of inaccurate or out-of-date content. (Depending on whether the industry you’re in is regulated or not, you may also need to develop an archiving workflow.)

And finally, document your processes. As mentioned earlier, the strategy and governance work you do for COVID-19 content may apply to future emergency situations that require the timely management of large volumes of rapidly evolving content.

You may not have time to reinvent the wheel while under that kind of stress, so having these processes documented will put you that much further ahead. For effective contingency planning, the important thing is to lay down simple, straightforward workflows for processing the content through its entire life cycle.

Step 5: Build in measures of success and analytics

Finally, the last step of strategy creation (integral with good governance) is building measures of success into your COVID-19 content. These measures don’t have to be elaborate. Basic analytics will do, unless your business is intimately tied to the ebb and flow of the virus.

If that’s the case, you may need a more robust analytics implementation. But it’s important to measure KPIs and have analytics in place to determine whether your content, its placement, and its delivery are effective.

You may also need to adjust your measures often to accommodate any new business and customer goals that may emerge as virus management progresses. The point is, you need to be able to quickly determine whether a content topic needs more attention or whether it has run its course and is ready to be retired.

Even though COVID-19 content flow has slowed, it’s still important to react quickly to new information that may contradict old information to avoid costly, or even deadly, confusion.

Conclusion: Manage COVID-19 content sustainably

Now is a good time to begin settling into a new normal. Developing a micro-strategy dedicated to defining the sustainable management of COVID-19 content is one way to get that accomplished.

The effort will ensure that your business continues to meet its employee and customer needs as the pandemic continues to unfold. And the experience gained could provide a template for better management of any future disaster content going forward.

Need help with your COVID-19 content strategy? Let's talk.