5 tips to increase trust in the COVID-19 era

With anxious, overstimulated audiences, being able to speak from a position of strength is essential—so how can you foster good will?


Trust matters more than ever. COVID-19, economic uncertainty and social justice movements have elevated truth and transparency as communication prerequisites.

This is especially the case in social media, where misinformation is rampant. Here are some tips to help amplify your authentic communications online and beyond:

1. Don’t step back—step up. It’s important for brands to serve as reliable sources of information in times of uncertainty when feelings can range from uneasiness to fear.

“Your customers want to have their questions answered so they can feel better informed—and less uncertain,” says David Johnston, director of social media at the Transportation Security Administration.

“If your brand isn’t engaging and making itself available, other sources will attempt to ‘fill in the blanks’ for you,” he says. “That leaves your communicators and leadership to clean up a trail of misinformation.”

2. Focus on action—not words. “Lead with what your organization is doing in response to the crisis,” Johnston says. “Giving customers ‘just the facts’ creates a sense of trust and honesty, even if it seems out of step with your normal voice.”

And don’t be afraid to tell your audience to tell something they may not like. “They may not like a policy or procedure,” he says, “but they will respect you for being transparent.”

[Discover more timely best practices in our Aug. 6 Ragan webinar “5 Major Changes Reshaping Communications” with speakers from the TSA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Porter Novelli, Walmart and De Beaumont Foundation.]

3. Seek to assist—and amplify. Like a good civil servant, now’s the time to help others. Let a sense of service guide your communications, especially on social media.

“Our strategy during this time blended our normal desire to be helpful to travelers with recognition that very few people were actually flying,” says Johnston. “So we focused on what we felt would be the most helpful to everyone in the current environment.”

Being helpful doesn’t always mean providing your own updates.

“Sometimes, that means curating, reposting and sharing the resources of others,” Johnston says. “For example, we used our social media channels to amplify important messaging from the CDC, FEMA and other expert sources.”

4. Adjust tone—and frequency. “We made the decision to pull back on our humorous tone, recognizing the seriousness of the situation,” says Johnston.

“We also limited the number of times we posted, choosing to prioritize importance over frequency,” he says. “Our posts shifted to include the latest information on changes to security screening operations and how passengers could travel safely. We wanted them to understand that we’re prioritizing their health and that of our team members.”

5. Be human—and available. Now’s not the time to simply push posts and hide behind your social feed. It’s time to be available and involved in online discussions. 

“People respect the fact that you’re willing to be part of the dialogue, even if they don’t always like what you have to say,” Johnston says. “For example, our AskTSA Customer Care Team has been available each day to answer questions and respond to comments.”


Brian Pittman is a Ragan consultant and event producer.


Discover more timely best practices in our Aug. 6 Ragan webinar “5 Major Changes Reshaping Communications,” featuring speakers from the TSA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Porter Novelli, Walmart and De Beaumont Foundation.



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