Content strategy while under attack

200 rockets were fired at us last night and they’ve continued through the morning. All public bomb shelters have been opened and prepped and schools are running drills and confirming that all processes are in place. My 4, 5, and 8 year olds have 90 seconds to get to safety when the warning siren goes off, and that’s a long time; my friends closer to the border have 15.

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Sarah Richards and Content Design London regularly publish content around a medical use case, where a panicked parent whose kid has a high fever in the middle of the night, for example, jumps online for information and that information needs to be accessible, not because of physical impairment or the other barriers to access that we generally include under the umbrella of “accessibility”, but due to panic. When panicked, our ability to digest content is severely impaired and content designers need to write with that in mind.

Unfortunately, panic is hardly the only barrier to accessibility we’re dealing with when getting out vital information while under attack. A significant percentage of the population does not have smart phones or even access to internet (out of choice, not affordability or any other barrier that needs solving).

And to top it off, we don’t have a single official national language, we have two: Hebrew and Arabic. Furthermore, huge swaths of the population speak ONLY English, or ONLY Russian, or ONLY Amharic.

With that context, how do content strategists get the word out about drills and actual attacks at a time like this? How can Homefront Command let everyone know when a siren is a drill and when it’s real? How can municipalities get out updated information about local safe spaces and protocols? Snail mail won’t get the job done. Door to door is not an option. Even phone calls aren’t scalable and fast enough, even with a robocaller.

Different brands and products focus resources on the channels where they believe their users are, but certain messages, life saving messages, need to get out to the channels that reach even a small percent of the target group. If I’m aiming to get viral adoption of a new gaming or even financial app, it makes sense to build my content strategy around where Millennials and other specific target segments tend to go for content.

But when you’re saving lives, you can’t afford to leave any channel untapped. You can’t say, “Most people watch television, so let’s run public service announcements during every commercial break. We’ll make the announcements really eye-catching, compelling, and memorable.” Well, I don’t have a TV. Really. So the most brilliant TV PSA will not do me any good. It might literally leave me in harm’s way. I’d suggest rolling back the TV PSA production to save budget for other channels because certain messages call for quantity over quality.

You might not think of children as carrier pigeons, but the truth it, kids can take messages from the school system to their homes and back without introducing any novel tools or processes. There is a communication flow already in place, it’s organic, and widely adopted. We can lean into that. Homefront Command, the municipalities, and whomever else need to get out public safety information can package the messaging for teachers to communicate to students and students to bring home to their families.

If I were to ask your average content strategist where they disseminate messages, they’d say online, push notifications, maybe outbound calls, and more. But I doubt many would come up with “tell the kids at school”. And that’s fair enough because it’s a pretty unique channel which makes sense in a pretty niche use case. The point is that when we need to get the word out about an important message, it’s worth thinking beyond conventional channels and looking for undiscovered existing channels to lean into.

My grandmother missed her COVID vaccine appointment because the information was emailed to her and she can only check her email every two weeks when my aunt visits and helps her. Why wasn’t she called? I can imagine a content strategist saying, “Look. I have a limited budget and I need to go for quantity over quality in this case, and email is cheap and fast. Let’s do that.” I can’t blame them. That makes sense. Except that it doesn’t because my grandmother is 91 and needed her damn shot.

Doubling up on channels is not necessarily a waste of resources; sometimes it’s the only ethical way of getting a message out. It was great that my grandmother got an email because it got to her fast and had it arrived closer to my aunt’s biweekly visit, it would have been highly efficient. But it didn’t. Adding a phone call, even a robocaller, and/or snail mail, would have better covered the bases and saved my grandmother 2 extra months of high medical risk (and isolation and the mental health risks that come with all that).

In the face of danger, leaders emerge. I’m not talking about people in positions of authority, I’m talking about the ICs of society who rise to the challenge out of a personal calling to contribute to their communities.

There’s a Facebook group that is very popular in my area amongst people who speak only English. Volunteers have taken it upon themselves to translate and publish in the group PSAs about vaccine drives and rocket attacks disseminated by official bodies that come out the national languages only. These people are not getting paid, they are under no obligation, and eventually, I imagine they will get tired. As content strategists, if we can identify and support these people, they can amplify our work and expand our reach and effectiveness in ways neither we, nor they, could achieve alone. If I was a content strategist working for the government at this time, I would want to include collaboration with undiscovered leaders in my roadmap.

Innovation is often born from adversity and while I wish these first-hand lessons on no one, I hope reading them here helps others spread the word, whatever that word is, wherever it needs to get.

UX writer specializing in complex products. Passionate about making tech accessible to mass markets. Also a proud em dash enthusiast.