The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global anxiety, crashed the economy and overwhelmed the news media. How can conservationists and public lands advocates continue communicating about their work in this troubled, confusing time? In short, carefully. Resource Media offers the following suggestions.
- Meet people where they are. In this case, it’s crucial to recognize that people are worried. They are afraid for their own health, the lives of loved ones, and for their own ability to make mortgage payments and pay the bills. When reaching out to your members and constituency, acknowledge that up front. We are all in this together.
- The time is wrong for discussing more troubles. There will be a time to discuss problems like extinction, habitat destruction, and the loss of favorite wild lands. But this is not that time. People are feeling overwhelmed and have little to no appetite for more downer news. Contrived attempts to connect our organizational issues to the pandemic will be rejected as cynical. At best, such messages will sound tone-deaf. At worst, those messages will be hurtful.
- Connect nature and the outdoors to values of local family and health. Now is not the time to lead trips or encourage travel and tourism. In fact, we should actively discourage any kind of travel that increases risk. Gateway communities are reporting major stress as visitors arrive, strain their infrastructure and potentially increase community transmission of the virus. At the same time, local, dispersed and family- or individual-level outdoor activities such as birdwatching and walks in the park are allowed even under “lockdowns” and are good for mental health over the long haul. Consider encouraging your audience to forego travel, but safely enjoy nature as best they can, given their local circumstances and restrictions. Even if it’s just out the window.
- Use images of public land, water and wildlife to share feelings of calm, beauty and serenity. We all enjoy nature for its soothing impact on troubled souls. This is more pertinent than ever. Fill your social media with images of laughing kids at play, tumbling streams and beautiful wildlife. It’s reassuring to remember that, as all seems so chaotic, the natural world is carrying on its everyday miracles.
- Provide “news folks can use” about public lands. Visitor centers, ski resorts, some urban beaches and facilities are closed. Changes are coming fast. Your followers will appreciate accurate, timely and up-to-date information on these changes.
- Offer thanks. Now is a great time to offer gratitude to the workers, service providers and other “helpers” who are doing so much for others, at no small risk to themselves. In the big picture, it’s timely to remind folks of the value of science, experts, and institutions that knit society together. Emphasize the importance of being good neighbors, even global citizens. After all, we are all in this together.
In short, it’s no time to be quiet. It is time to be thoughtful, careful and encouraging. Let’s set aside the doom-and-gloom and show a path to a better, healthier future.
If you have any communication challenges – regarding COVID-19 or otherwise – remember that Resource Media is here to help. Please reach out any time.
— Ben Long, Senior Program Director