Maintaining social cohesion during a crisis

Why sharing and keeping in touch are what businesses and the community need at the moment.

In the final instalment of an exclusive three-part series for PR Week, Weber Shandwick China President Lydia Lee outlines the vital importance of fostering social cohesion for employees, consumers and stakeholders in combatting COVID-19. Read part one and two.

In the wake of COVID-19, one growth sector has been online gaming. With many citizens confined to their homes, engagement in mobile and online video games has soared. For many, it's a way to combat boredom. But, for even more, it's a way to continue to socialise with friends, family, and loved ones.

When COVID-19 initially impacted our workplace, Weber Shandwick China committed to establishing two separate communications channels for our people. We needed a clear pathway for announcements, emergencies, updates, and information. However, I thought it was crucial we also allowed our people a platform to connect, joke, celebrate, and enjoy each other's company.

As I mentioned in my previous article, tt's important to remember that with COVID-19, we're not just fighting a biological virus. We're also fighting fear. We're fighting isolation, loneliness and uncertainty. We cannot fight these things through isolation. And, it's worth noting, a WiFi router and a webcam don't equate to connection. We may be connected to our workplace or our retailerbut we all need more than that.

In our previous instalments, we've seen how staying connected can prove essential for navigating and overcoming the current COVID-19 crisis. We've discussed how close collaboration between public and private sectors drives new solutions and how fostering new connections helps businesses and individuals to mitigate the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In today's instalment, it's about a more universal idealsocial cohesion.

It's well-documented that COVID-19 has impacts far beyond the human tragedy of lives lost. In recent weeks, we've seen global stock markets experience record declines. We've seen the travel sector face unprecedented challenges. We've seen panic buying almost overwhelm many retail brands. These impacts, however, are not caused by a virus. These impacts are caused by fear.

In times of emergency and crisis, we are tempted to divide ourselves. We limit ourselves to those closest to us and distrust anyone outside of our immediate circle. It's in these tiny, cloistered pods that we cultivate our worst fears, prejudices and poor decisions. By fostering connections in times of tragedy, we help combat some of the worst impacts of a pandemic.

In staying connected, we remain connected to the world at large and can better withstand the allure of panic and despair. It helps us stay compassionate, supportive, inclusive and invested in our local communities when they need usand we need themmost. In our workplaces and our businesses, we should be striving to provide opportunities for genuine connection.

Are there business benefits to such approaches? Absolutely. Weber Shandwick's research has shown that stakeholders are prioritising more human experiences. A similar report released last year found consumers were 70% more likely to purchase a product if the brand was perceived as more 'human' than their competitors. This doesn't even account for benefits to talent retention.

But, I believe our goals can be broader than just those dimensions. In fostering social cohesion, we're helping our communities stand up to fear, division, isolation, prejudice. We are fighting to ensure a fairer world. This is the heart of why the connection is so vital in combatting COVID-19; genuine connections build a stronger and more resilient world.

Whether it's connections such as countries sharing best practices, doctors sharing their diagnoses and findings, or simply our own commitment to sharing our experiences throughout the Weber Shandwick networkit's these connections that allow us to overcome and leverage our collective brainpower and commit to avoiding misinformation and misunderstandings.

There will be many innovations. Many challenges. Many temptations to isolate ourselves and forsake those around us. But, to truly withstand this crisis, we have to find new ways to reach out to one another and stay connected.

Lydia Lee is China president at Weber Shandwick


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