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Communicating with Empathy

On Tuesday, April 7th, M13 partners hosted virtual office hours to discuss pressing challenges facing startup leaders today. We are former founders and operators, have successfully navigated periods of economic downturn, and have been sharing strategic approaches to finance, talent, data, digital marketing and more.

Our Partner and Head of Brand & Communications Christine Choi shared best practices on communicating with empathy, the playbook for internal comms, and how to think about your brand’s voice during crises. Read Christine’s insights and watch her office hours below.

Every company has sent a COVID-19 email, if not multiple. How should founders be communicating with their customers during this period of uncertainty? Are there general best practices for this?

Before anything else, turn inward and ask what your company is doing for your customers, partners and community right now that is positively contributing to their lives. Every single person has been impacted by COVID-19. So what you do now can ensure that you won’t be tone deaf when you’re communicating with your stakeholders because you’re engaged and know what’s going on. It will also allow you to show your true character as a brand. On bad days, your company’s true character really gets exposed, so you want to lead with your best foot.

“Lead with your best foot by being a positive, engaged contributor to your community. While you’re running your day-to-day operations, think through and ask your employees to help you understand what you are uniquely suited to do to engage in problem solving.” – Christine Choi

Are you partnering up with local organizations to help the medical community or frontline workers? Are you finding ways for your customers as well as your staff to help local businesses keep their doors open? Thinking through these things and mastering a creative expression of your brand will result naturally in stories that bolster your employees and also inspire your customers.

This is not to brag about the things you’re doing; this is to first demonstrate the values of your brand, and from there find relevant storylines and meaningful opportunities to talk about.

What about internal communications? Does the playbook for thinking around internal comms change?

To echo Matt’s session, people are working from home who are not equipped to work from home, so it’s more important than ever to consistently show up for them. Reach out to the people who may be quiet on Zoom. Ping them and check in with them and also share what’s going on in your own life.

That viral BBC interview where the children walked in… that was obviously an accident, but it was such a surprise, heartwarming, and also very real. We’re all dealing with stuff in the background. Try not to hide from that. It’s a reflection of what you’re juggling and that you’re making an effort to show up for your team.

People are struggling with pain; if you can offer something to help alleviate the stress, do it. Launch that brand, launch that product, that helpful blog — whatever it is that may be helpful at a time like this.

“Share moments of levity and humanness because we could all use uplifting moments.” – Christine Choi

Is now the time to be extra thoughtful about your brand’s voice? Should you consider changing that voice?

Seek to find a balance in the voice you have used and one that is reflective of today’s health and economic crisis. Tonally, showing authenticity is really important. When you’re dealing with an issue and/or need to share bad news, start to map out how you’re going to share this information and list out all your stakeholders because they don’t want to be caught off guard. They don’t want to be in the dark. That means you’re going to have to be upfront and show that you might not have all the answers, but you know what processes you’re going to take in order to get them. And that requires a certain level of seriousness.

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