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Even During a Crisis, the Internet Is a Double-Edged Sword

April 13, 2020 Julia Motis

person using internetHow many times have you heard someone say “the internet brings us together” or “the internet is tearing us apart”? Although they are polar opposites, both are true statements because the internet is a double-edged sword. 

Being globally connected has its pros and cons. We are simultaneously sharing new ideas with the world and spreading misinformation and useless content.

This is especially relevant to examine in a crisis like this pandemic. Because we’re all stuck at home and everything is up in the air, we’re turning to the internet’s fount of information. And we often look to our most trusted sources first – e.g. our employers or businesses whose services we use regularly.

During these uncertain times, businesses have a duty to keep their customers informed without causing more panic. So, they need to be aware of the advantages and drawbacks of the information they are sharing online during this time.


Pros of the internet during a crisis:


1. It’s a great place for information.

Companies should take advantage of all their owned channels to communicate effectively with their customers and stakeholders. They will look to sources they trust, and you want to be (and should be) one of them.

2. It helps people stay connected. 

In the time of “social distancing,” online communication technologies have become a lifeline. Leverage technologies like videoconferencing or audio recording to stay connected with your audience, through virtual events like webinars or podcasts. You’ll keep your audience engaged at a time when they are worried about the future – and might be bored. And since everyone is intentionally going online to connect with friends, family and colleagues right now, they are sharing more information. Provide valuable content that is created well, and people will share it.

3. It allows for information-sharing in real time.

Online communication channels also provide the opportunity to keep your audience updated as new information comes. Just as you now have to call your mother every day with updates, treat your clients and stakeholders the same way. Touch base more often than you have in the past so they are current on the latest news and the company’s status.

4. It allows people to do many activities remotely. 

If your services are still up and running remotely, make sure your customers know that. If your offices or stores are closed, continue to guide them toward the resources that they can access and use. Keep them engaged any way you can.

5. It can provide much-needed distraction.

Normally this would be considered a con, but in a crisis, some distraction is welcome. Share the wins and good things, too, so clients and stakeholders know that you have things under control and that you’re still moving forward.

During these uncertain times, businesses have a duty to keep their customers informed without causing more panic. So, they need to be aware of the advantages and drawbacks of the information they are sharing online during this time.


Cons of the internet during a crisis:


1. It’s also a place for misinformation. 

Just as we can stay highly informed by checking the web every day, we can also be seriously misled if we come across the wrong information. I mean, when’s the last time you looked up a weird health symptom and diagnosed yourself with cancer? (or coronavirus?) Our sometimes blind trust in what the internet tells us makes us susceptible to misinformation. 

Keep this fallibility in mind when you are crafting important messages to your audience. As your customers’ trusted source of news, be very careful to only share information from reputable sources, such as the CDC or WHO. You definitely don’t want to be the ones perpetuating this trend.

2. We are dependent on it. 

Let’s face it – we rely on the internet to a clear fault. If our internet goes out, even just for a few minutes, we’re sent into an immediate tailspin. A global health crisis only exacerbates this reliance. So, keep in mind that your audience will be expecting regular updates. Decide to go radio silent, and you could cause your audience to panic.

3. We are addicted to it.

We can’t stop looking at the bad news that’s circulating right now. But the constant negativity can further fuel our negative emotions. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to stay as neutral as possible. Don’t “spin” anything. Share factual information for the sake of informing – no opinions needed.

Most importantly, “read the room” when it comes to communicating with your audience. What do they normally need from you? How does that translate to a stressful time like this? Once you have that figured out, make sure your methods take the above pros and cons into account. You are a trusted source of information, so don’t let your audience down.

Click here for more resources on communicating during the COVID crisis.

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