How Local Businesses Should Prepare for Coronavirus

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Note: In light of current events and the need to communicate relevant information quickly and broadly, this column is being shared both on the Brandify Blog and here at Street Fight.  

A quick Google search on this column’s headline reveals a large number of sites offering recommendations to businesses large and small about how to prepare for the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak as it moves into pandemic territory. Articles on Inc.Fast Company, and the World Economic Forum echo a common theme: Businesses need to develop a plan of action for containing the spread of the illness, as well as contingencies that allow normal operations to continue as smoothly as possible.

In the sphere of digital presence management, key players like Google, Nextdoor, and Facebook are offering recommendations to help businesses develop plans and communicate effectively with consumers who need to access their products and services. The advice comes at a time when business operations may be modified or interrupted by multiple factors such as quarantines and supply chain interruptions.

For example, the Google My Business team published a new help page this week that outlines several steps businesses can take to provide customers with relevant, up-to-date information during the outbreak:

Change your business hours. Google wants to ensure that businesses who may need to close offices or change their operating hours due to COVID-19 are reporting these changes in their Google My Business profiles. Hours of operation are, according to our recent consumer search study, the most important data point in listings for many consumers.

Manage your information. Google recommends using the merchant description field in Google My Business to communicate important changes in business operations to consumers who interact with your online profiles. You can review Google’s guidelines for business descriptions here.

Create a Post. Google Posts show up in the Knowledge Panel and elsewhere as a prominent, attention-grabbing feature. Google is recommending that businesses consider using Posts to make sure consumers see updates that are especially important. Posts can contain one or more photos as well as a title, description, and call to action, and can be set to run for a specified length of time.

Update your phone number. Businesses actively managing their online profiles may think of this as a given; however, it’s important to remember that, in the era of zero-click search, many consumers treat your Google My Business profile as the primary source of information about your business. This means that any out-of-date phone numbers are likely to misdirect a large number of consumers, who may need to call you to ask a critical question or access your services.

Google has also begun emailing businesses to convey the same recommendations. The email goes on to recommend and provide links for updating your business description, creating a Post, and updating your phone number.

Google My Business Coronavirus Email

The popular neighborhood-based social network Nextdoor has published a set of guidelines titled “How Your Local Business Can Prepare for Coronavirus” that speaks more generally to the steps businesses should take to get ready for changes that will impact operations. Their recommendations include:

  • Stay up to date with the latest developments, especially for businesses with international employees.
  • Develop policies to keep employees safe, both during normal working conditions and in case someone gets sick.
  • Share your plans with customers, including the steps you are taking to ensure facilities visited by customers are properly disinfected.
  • Coordinate with others including local businesses, local customers, and community organizations.
  • Contact local government authorities so you understand their plans and align properly with them.

Similarly, the Facebook for Business site has dedicated the front page of its Business Resource Hub to content under the heading “Managing through and building resistance during the COVID-19 outbreak.” Their recommendations echo those posted by Nextdoor, with two additional tips:

  • Move events online. If your business hosts events with customers, prospects, or partners, consider switching to virtual meetings for the time being. The company points out that both Facebook and Instagram have tools to organize virtual meetings.
  • Prepare an FAQ. If you anticipate — or are already receiving — questions about changes in policies or operations due to COVID-19, you can post an FAQ on Facebook so that customers can more easily access the information they need.

Facebook notes that posts on your business pages containing important, timely information can be pinned so that they stay at the top of your feed. This feature is, of course, also available on Twitter. Moreover, several of Facebook’s recommendations can be carried out using tools from other publishers —for instance, your FAQ content can also be posted to all of your GMB profiles via the Questions & Answers feature.

For that matter, all of Google’s recommendations for updating your Google My Business profile should be carried out where appropriate on your landing pages and your other profiles on sites like Facebook, Yelp, Bing, and Apple Maps.

Remember that direct impact on your business is not the only signal you may need to respond to in the coming days; indirect impacts are important as well. For instance, several colleges and universities have recently announced preemptive closure of campuses to help contain the spread of the virus. For many communities, the local college or university is supported by dozens of “satellite” businesses, from local cafes and restaurants to grocery stores, retailers, and more, all of whom may need to contemplate a change in operations in light of the closures.

At Brandify and Street Fight, we care about your health and safety as well as the overall health of the communities where you do business. Business preparedness is just one aspect of that larger picture, but it’s the area where we’re best positioned to help and provide relevant information. Please reach out with any questions or concerns as well as additional resources you feel we should share with the larger business community.

Damian Rollison is Director of Market Insights at SOCi.