How (not) to write social distancing pages

As a freelance copywriter working with businesses in various industries, coming out of the Covid-19 lockdown has almost been as weird as going into it. Every business that’s opened up again has had to do so with new Covid-19 procedures in place, typically revolving around a term that would’ve been alien to all of us this time last year: social distancing.

And those businesses that are customer-facing have all had to hastily put together new copy for their websites and social media pages about their social distancing policies.

Sure, these are unprecedented times and none of these businesses had to think about protecting their customers and staff in this way till now. And unlike other marketing messages, where there’s usually plenty of time to put thought into why and how something is being said, social distancing messages have had to be rushed out fast. Government announcements on reopenings have come on a week-by-week basis, giving businesses barely enough time to institute a social distancing policy, let alone create copy describing it.

And that’s why some of the social distancing copy that businesses are churning out is utterly dreadful.

I get it. This virus is a scary thing. In some cases, the people in charge of these businesses are just as scared of what’s going to happen when they reopen as the customers they’re trying to entice back through the doors. But that fear is coming through in some of the copy I’ve read. And it ain’t pretty. I’ve seen some copy that would, if I were the business’s customer, make me turn around and never come back.

Some of the basic tenets of good copy are being forgotten, such as: it’s not about you, it’s about your customer. I’ve read social distancing copy weighted heavily towards keeping the business’s staff safe. Let’s not mince words here. Your customers care more about their own safety than they do about yours. All social distancing copy should be based on this assumption. After all, the customers are your target audience. They’re the ones you’re trying to entice back. If you want to succeed, you need to show that you’re putting their safety first.

Plus, when you talk too much about the safety of your staff, you make the customer feel like they’re a threat, like you’re scared of them. Like you’re saying, “We don’t really want you here, because you’re diseased, but please do come back because we want your money.”

Another consequence of rushing the copy out is that it doesn’t accord with the values of the business. Most customer service-oriented businesses want to be seen as friendly and welcoming, but I’ve seen social distancing copy that is neither. Assure the customer that the measures you’re putting in place are for their safety, and the safety of other customers. Be gentle. Don’t shout orders at them like a military commander. I’ve seen copy that lists series of ‘do nots’ in capital letters. There is absolutely no need for capital letters; it makes you look aggressive. You’re asking your customer to adapt to a new way of shopping with you, so just be nice about it.

So, here are my dos and don’ts when writing social distancing copy.

Dos

  • Make the copy about keeping your customer safe and comfortable while shopping with you.
  • Be nice, friendly and assuring when asking them to adapt to a different way of shopping.
  • Be positive and emphasise that the measures are temporary while we wait out this pandemic. Stress that you are following government guidance and that your measures may change as and when the guidance changes.
  • Match your social distancing copy to the values of your brand. So if you’re a company that prides itself on being “open” and “welcoming”, your social distancing copy needs to perpetuate the same.

Don’ts

  • Don’t talk about the safety of your own staff. The measures you’re putting in place will protect the staff as well, but that’s not your customers’ chief concern. Concentrate on how the measures will protect them.
  • Don’t give people orders. Give them instructions, replete with pleases and thank yous and other niceties.
  • Definitely don’t use capital letters for emphasis when giving instructions. Respect that your customers can read.
  • Be careful not to rush out a social distancing page without checking that it matches your brand values.

Remember, social distancing policy descriptions are marketing messages like any other. They’re designed to promote and sell your products and services by reassuring customers that they can come and visit you safely.

If you need any help refining or warming up your social distancing copy in a way that entices customers back, contact me on 07411331721 or christopherberrywriter@gmail.com.

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