As all organizations try to adapt to doing business in the COVID environment, it is crucial to understand that, without a doubt, the situation will continue to change. Different parts of the country will continue to be in various stages of reopening, loosening or revising restrictions as necessary. These phases will most certainly move ahead toward “green”—but it is just as true that some areas will go back too, reinstating strict guidelines.

Just as these regional snapshots vary, so do patients and customers. Some have pent up demand and are more than ready to come back to healthcare providers’ offices and public spaces, others are more risk averse and only comfortable with taking small steps to open their world up again.

Understanding this complicated reality is essential to creating social media messaging that reflects these fluid scenarios.

Anything but Business as Usual

The number one thing I see practices doing wrong is putting out content that sends a “back to normal” or “business as usual” message. This thinking is not grounded in the situational reality. It is not enough to post one video of the practice’s hygiene protocols and say, “we are open and it’s safe.” Blanket messaging is not effective and the long term has to be considered. A permanent “new normal” will not exist until a vaccine is available, which is likely several months—maybe even years—away.

Think about a long-term strategy by considering three-month increments. What is the three-month forecast, and what does that mean for content development? To do this, account for both the region and the types or personalities of patients. Assume there are three categories of patients: 1) individuals who are eager and not concerned about risk; 2) those who need to see a safety video and understand the practice’s cleaning protocol to be comfortable; and 3) the risk-averse patient who is not ready to come back and is leaning toward a virtual consultation.

Next, the challenge becomes creating content that speaks to each of these personalities. To be successful, all messages must therefore take the appropriate tone. Ultimately, social media content should provoke an emotional response on the part of the patient.

Situational Planning

Try to determine the likely scenario that will play out during the remainder of 2020. Local case counts will ebb and flow, which will affect restrictions and have an impact on messaging. For example, changes will occur as result of the recent civil unrest and protests, beaches are opening up, and other summer behavior is likely to have an impact. As fall approaches, there will be another shift in behavior and the likelihood of an uptick in viral activity. In the winter, potential for risk may increase further and be compounded by holidays, family gatherings, and more time spent indoors.

Take the temperature of the region and develop content that is in tune with the area. Stay on top of the local changes and create messaging that takes into account the potential for change. An area can surely slide from a green zone, for example, back to yellow. Any given town will experience a rainbow of scenarios. A new quarantine and another round of “stay-at-home” orders may be necessary. No matter what happens, the practice should have a plan for how to address and care for patients. They should be proactive and not scrambling to adjust messaging. By understanding the local reality, practices’ social media messaging can be sure to strike the right tone.

Be Proactive

Preparing for each eventuality means having a content plan that is ready to go with the ebbs and flows. Practices are currently very busy with reopening, schedules are booked. If staff must be reduced due to a backward slide and a quarantine window, the practice will be under stress. Having the social media messaging developed before this happens will alleviate some of that anxiety.

Practices should also think of themselves as having two locations: The physical office and the virtual location, that is video consultations. This means understanding individual patients as “in person” or “virtual” and assigning this tag to the entire patient base. For example, organizing what types of material the practice should be sending via e-blasts and to which patients in order to best cater to their individual needs.

Soliciting Feedback

A great way to gauge patients’ level of comfort visiting the office is to ask them questions directly during a visit as well as creating polls on social media. Use Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook to ask questions such as, “What concerns you the most about coming back in to see your physician?”

Physicians can also ask their peers what their patients are saying, then taking this information to create informative content. An example post could be, “In our Instagram and in-person survey, we found patients are most apprehensive of being in a crowded waiting room.” This way practices can answer patients’ questions, address their concerns, and then resolve their issues.

What Does the Content Look Like?

Consider the patient types and develop posts that cater to them, taking into account where they are emotionally. Have Instagram posts that speak to the not-as-concerned patients and ones for the semi-concerned patients. Highlight virtual consultations and other remote options for the very concerned patient. Ensure messaging effectively addresses each type of patient during every stage of reopening—or a return to restrictions.

All practices should have a video showing patients what it feels like to come to the practice. These should allow patients to actually feel what it will be like and answer all of the questions running through their mind. For instance, the video could have a staff member walk through the entire process, filming from pulling into the parking lot to getting back in the car. Consider every single question a patient will have, and understand that this scenario will likely change.

Tone Matters

Even amid the chaos, it is possible to keep social media lighthearted and at the same time respectful. Remember that when more strict conditions do come back, people will be frustrated having to once again give up everything from eating out at their favorite restaurants to having access to their healthcare providers.

Depending on what is comfortable for the practice or the physician, consider taking a less-serious tone. Messages can show that the practice empathizes and is in tune with patients, making them feel a little more okay. Reverting back to more restrictions doesn’t have to mean returning to square one—maybe it’s square two instead. Social media posts should be warm, welcoming and above all, empathic. The goal is to create a desire on the part of patients to come to the office.

What Else is Happening?

Along with taking the temperature of the local climate, it is just as important to assess the temperature of America. Today, all organizations should be putting their brand voice forward. From the ongoing push for racial equality to the pandemic, it is not a time to be silent. Just as relevant social media messaging mirrors the ebbs and flows of COVID, it must also be sensitive to the tone of current events. These two events in the country’s history run parallel to each other.

Taking current events into consideration in content development could mean sharing powerful and appropriate quotes or highlighting important figures and leaders. Some corporate entities may choose to turn off paid media, for example. Even practices can find ways to get personal and tell meaningful stories that highlight the diversity of their organization. Whatever the approach is, it must be genuine and sincere.