This post is the first part in a multi-part series outlining ways small businesses can more effectively plan and communicate online. 

 

COVID-19 is changing the way businesses communicate and operate, and we’ve been working with local, regional, and national companies to help them plan and execute their communication effectively.

There are a few core components we’ve found many companies implementing or inquiring about that we wanted to share.

Video Conferencing

Our staff has worked remotely for about a month now and regularly uses video conferencing to connect both internally and with our clients. There are a lot of programs out there to consider if you’re not yet using one, but here are our top three:

Google Hangouts

This is our go-to for a couple of reasons. We already pay for it through the G Suite, which powers our email and cloud storage, and it’s natively integrated within our workflow. That means when we create new calendar invites, we just have to click a button to create the conferencing link and number. If you have a free Gmail account or you are paying for the G Suite, this would be our first recommendation. 

If you plan to share the conference link with users outside of your organization or with users who do not have a Google account, they can still access it. It will just prompt them to enter a name and will notify organizers that those users want to join the call.

Zoom

Similar to Google Hangouts, Zoom only requires the organizer to have an account, and other participants can access it via a link, making it easy to share with people outside of your organization. 

Our favorite thing about Zoom is the ability to upload background images and videos for use on your conferences. You have no idea how much time we’ve spent playing with researching those. We’re a creative company, after all. Seriously, just do a Google image search for “zoom backgrounds” and say goodbye to the rest of your day.

While Zoom is a ton of fun, there are some very serious things to keep in mind when using it. Zoom is not end-to-end encrypted despite being marketed that way, and it has other security issues. We’re not experts in software security, but we’ll say this: If you plan to use it, especially if you are discussing private information, do your homework on the platform before implementing it. 

UberConference

UberConference has the same major features you’d find with Google Hangouts, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and some of the other big companies, but it feels more modern. You can use video, share your screen, and, more importantly, you can choose your hold music (Rick Astley, anyone?). Our favorite feature, though, is playing Buzzword Bingo, where you check off a square anytime the buzzwords come up on your call. A two-hour conference call isn’t so bad when you’re playing a game along the way.

Internal Communication

Wingard, as an organization, uses Slack for internal communications and has been for a couple of years. We can confidently say that working remotely right now would be more difficult without it. Slack is like a combination of email, instant messaging, and texting, as well as video chat and screen share tools that aid in collaboration. 

For internal communications, it’s great for chatting with an individual or a group in real-time, and it keeps your inbox from getting cluttered. You can upload and share media and create public channels (within your organization) and private channels (only viewable to specific people) to group conversations together.

If you’re looking to streamline your internal communications now, Slack may help. It has a free plan available with some limitations, but even the paid plans, in our opinion, are a worthwhile purchase for remote teams. 

Slack isn’t the only option out there worth considering, especially if your organization uses Microsoft products. In that case, we’d recommend checking out Microsoft Teams, which seems better geared toward large enterprise networks, but if included in your subscription, it is certainly worth looking into.

Email Marketing

For most companies, email marketing is the channel with the highest return on investment because of its low cost, opted-in audience, and relative ease of execution. However, email is more than just a marketing channel. It is a crucial tool right now for actively communicating updates to your audience. Now really isn’t the time to sell — it’s the time to offer updates, suggestions, and helpful information. We would encourage you to update any automated emails to take COVID-19 into account, as well as updating your tone in any emails going out. 

We’ve been working with organizations that are using email to keep in touch with employees who have been laid off, investors who want to stay up-to-date on product lines, and suppliers who may have experienced a supply-line disruption.

What if I just create a new email in Outlook and place all my recipients in the To field? Well, yes, you could do that, but it’s a bad idea for a few good reasons. 

  1. Email marketing software is set up to handle mass email lists. The companies that power the software have strong relationships with Internet Service Providers to ensure your emails are delivered safely and legally. The software also provides robust reporting tools, protects your data, and provides users on your email list with much-needed control over how they receive communications.
  2. Sending out mass emails through a program like Outlook, or abusing email marketing software, can cause your IP address, domain, or host to be blacklisted. If you think you might be in trouble, you can see if your domain is affected using MX Toolbox.
  3. Adding your email list to a To field in Outlook would hurt the privacy of everyone who is receiving it because it will allow all the recipients to see the entire list and potentially take that data for their own use. We know what you’re thinking; you could BCC everyone, which would protect the list. However, the first two issues listed above outweigh the benefit.

If you’re not sure what email marketing service is right for you, let us know, and we can make a recommendation based on your needs. Most of our small business clients use MailChimp because of the ease-of-use and price point, but there are many other great options available.