Updated: Sep 24, 2021
This week has been a monumental one when it comes to small business communications in Ontario.
On September 22, the provincial government officially mandated that many non-essential businesses will require proof of vaccination before clients can enter their establishment. The rules themselves are complicated - for example restaurants looking to dine indoors will be required to show proof, but those simply coming to pick up take-out will not. Essential services such as grocery and health care will also not require proof of vaccination for customer access.
Naturally the decision has not been without controversy, and this article will not be wading into those waters.
From a communications perspective though, it has been fascinating to see how businesses are communicating their new policies, and how clients have been reacting over social media.
The government mandate put businesses into a tough spot. While many may not have had anything resembling a communications strategy before, they were now forced to share broadly how they were implementing the new mandate, and what customers and clients would need to do to gain access to their services.
Some small businesses chose to take a political stance on either side of the issue, which naturally elicited frenzied reactions from commenters. There were entrepreneurs who touted the new measures, expressing gratitude that it would keep their staff, clients, and ultimately their business continuity safe.
There were also businesses who publicly took an opposite view, with some being openly critical about the new requirements, and many outwardly and proudly refusing to comply. Others decided to remain closed for the time being, noting that they did not want to expose their staff to public harassment for following the law. Naturally both approaches were met with a fervor of comments of all extremes - some cheering decisions to openly flout the law, others in full support of the safety measures.
Yet it is fair to say that neither of these approaches were the norm. For the most part, small businesses across social media introduced how they were implementing their new rules, and humbly asked for their customers' patience and mercy as they figure out how to move forward.
Likewise, most customers responded with kindness. They commented that they understood businesses were struggling, and noted that they would do what they could to offer support through this period.
While there is still much discussion about the government's vaccination policies, there are some key lessons to be learned from this experience from a communication perspective.
The pandemic has been difficult on all of us. Small businesses do not have an established guidebook of how to navigate an ever-changing situation, and most are simply trying their best to stay afloat.
While the squeakiest wheels may get the most grease on social media, but that does not mean that they represent the majority. While a few irate voices might rant against something that the business has little control over, hundreds of more customers and clients recognize your efforts as a business owner, and are willing to offer support.
Open and honest communication is KEY. The new rules can be confusing, and businesses need to successfully communicate exactly what they expect out of their customers and clients, and what those customers and clients can expect in return. A lack of information can create frustration - clear delivery of whatever information is available, and an honest acknowledgement that things may change quickly as required, can go a long way.
Lastly, and while I no longer provide any legal advice I will say this - if you and your business are going to proudly refuse to comply with the law, it may not be best to do so openly on social media.