How Should Social Media Strategy Change During COVID-19 Or Any Crisis?

Coronavirus has changed our world unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Personal lives have been devastated. Businesses and organizations have been impacted in enormous ways. Yet there is hope of returning to a new normal someday. Once emergencies in business operations are dealt with the question of social media brand communication will probably come up. The social media plan you had in place before Coronavirus needs to be rethought. How should it change?

Examine how social media use has changed by channel, content and time.

First look at how social media use has shifted. In Statista’s graph below you can see estimated social media use increases due to people being at home. Sprout social has found that engagement has changed as well. People are on social media at different times and average posts per industry have shifted.

Statistic: Share of social media users in the United States who believe they will use select social media more if confined at home due to the coronavirus as of March 2020 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

Consider the difference between a traditional crisis and social media crisis.

As PR professor Karen Freberg distinguishes, some crises originate offline, some originate online because of social media conversations, and others can be a combination where a traditional offline crisis is handled poorly in social media making the crisis worse.

Of course, the opposite can be true when an offline crisis is turned around with the way a brand responds in social media. This was the case with the Crock-Pot brand responding to their product killing a favorite character in a popular TV show. While a fictional story, people had real emotional reactions and Crock-Pot and their PR firm Edelman treated it that way.

Coronavirus is a real offline crisis causing real deaths. The way a brand responds online could also turn it into a social media crisis. Crock-Pot learned to respond appropriately with empathy while communicating the facts, in the channels where people were speaking by opening a Twitter account for the first time, and engaged their brand followers who crowdsourced a hashtag that would help turn the crisis around for the brand.

Remember that a business on social media must act like an individual.

Practice good personal skills, the same that would be used in a face-to-face conversation. Encourage social media employees to think of the customer first and try to treat them the way they would want to be treated. It is important to follow brand standards, but in social media brand voice is especially important to understand.

Brand voice is the personality used in brand communication that usually remains consistent. This is different than tone which can change. Tone is an attitude that comes across in a specific situation. A brand can have an overall tone of playful or witty that matches a casual brand voice. But in certain circumstances the tone might need to adjust to being more serious and empathetic in a national crisis or with a specific angry or upset customer.

A social media brand voice is the brand’s personality or character, which shouldn’t change, but tone should change based on the situation. You might want to consider how brand character can stay consistent with the mission of the organization, but might need to be expressed with a different tone, language and purpose for a period of time. We have seen some examples of tone deaf brands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Follow good crisis communication best practices that work in any situation.

For any crisis Steve Goldstein and Ann Marie van den Hurk suggest social media responses should be personal and polite and never dismissive. Quick response is also important, but be sure to listen and take time to really understand reactions and feelings first. This can be especially important during COVID-19 where something like this hasn’t really happened before. After 9/11 many companies had to pause to understand the mood of the nation and their customers before going back on air with ads.

Consider how different audiences on different platforms call for variations of message and tone. LinkedIn may require a different message and tone than Twitter and Instagram. Customize message, language and purpose for each channel. Social platforms have unique communities and expectations – customize content to fit the environment. For COVID-19 some social platforms may call for health and safety messages, others could call for encouragement and celebration of front line workers, and some may need more of a business, jobs and economy message.

Consistency in crisis response is important, but the official statement given on the website should not simply be copied and pasted on every channel over and over again. You don’t want to be seen as robotic. Show you care, but be careful not to come across as opportunistic. There is a difference between relevant and appropriate communications to add value to conversation and trendjacking a sensitive situation.

Make adjustments to the uniqueness of the current situation.

Joshua Spanier is Google’s global marketing VP for media and offers suggestions on how his teams are navigating the COVID-19 outbreak. He says that context has become more important than ever. With every post or campaign ask yourself if the message is right given the current situation. Also think geographically. The answer could vary by market or country if you operate globally. For example, a post appropriate for New Mexico where restrictions may have been lifted may appear insensitive in a hot spot like New York.

Planning is good, but during this time you may have to operate more on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. Constantly reassess campaigns and messages. What you planed a month or even two weeks ago isn’t necessarily appropriate today. Facebook reported a 70% increase in usage of all of its apps in the month of March. People are turning to these apps to keep entertained, connected, and informed while they’re spending more time at home. Social media use has shifted in multiple ways and social strategies must adjust.

Consider all aspects of the creative message. The words may be right, but when combined with a certain image or appearing in the wrong place could make appropriate words insensitive. Stock images of people close together and in large groups may not be helpful when your audience can’t do these things themselves. Or scheduled evergreen images and posts not explained in context could be perceived as your organization not following safety guidelines. Until there are social distancing appropriate stock-images you may need to invest in creating your own situation specific images. Some brands are getting creative by crowdsourcing home photo shoots.

Time and budgets might have to shift to the areas of most need. This applies to the type of content people are searching for and where people are spending their time with new schedules and routines. Your audience’s most popular social media channels three months ago may not be where they are spending their time today. Their favorite types of content may have switched as well. You may also need to pivot what you do to meet their changing needs or find new customers that now need your services that didn’t before.

Above all, think about how your business can be helpful no matter what business you are in. Look for moments of need and ways you can contribute. Someday we will return to a new normal and the people you help now will remember what you did during this time. The best way to ensure you are sending the right message is to do the right thing – be relevant to current needs with products and services and communicate that relevancy. As Megan Pratt, from AdRoll suggests “Focus less on you, more on them.”

Change social strategy and tactics to build your brand and engage customers.

Lauren Teague on the Convince & Convert blog provides some more social media strategy and tactic specific suggestions. These are especially helpful for social media managers on the front lines of COVID-19. What should you do now and in the weeks ahead with plans and activity?

Teague suggests pausing all scheduled posts. Take a step back and review your content calendar. Is what you have planned appropriate considering the guidelines and suggestions we’ve already discussed? During this time it is also harder to predict what will come out in the news on a day to day basis. To avoid tone deaf posts you may need to pull back on social media scheduling for the moment.

Yet pausing scheduled posts doesn’t mean pausing social media communication. It means you may simply need to do more posting in real-time. Jump into the social media channels live and gauge the conversation. Use social media listening tools to discover the overall tone and topics. Scheduling can still be helpful, but be mindful of getting too far ahead and keep an eye on response. If you are using any AI or chat bots in Facebook Messenger or other messaging apps, you might want to review scripts and monitor for new questions that may require new and appropriate responses.

It is always good to emphasize engagement in social media, but now it may become even more important. At the end of the day, you are still in a business and need to drive results but certain CTAs and more direct selling messages may still feel inappropriate at the moment. Click based ROI may need to take a back seat for awhile. Now is an opportunity to build brand community through conversation and amplification that can lead to revenue rewards down the road.

Finally, don’t forget that you are not alone. You have a community of fans that still love the brand. Reach out for ideas, content and support. Ask them what they need. Encourage customers to share how their lives have changed. Crowdsource new business models and delivery methods to solve the problems you are facing together. Also, work with other departments and partners. Changes in brand marketing, PR, advertising, corporate communications, HR, sales and customer service departments and agencies need to be reflected in social media for consistency of message and action.

Concluding Thoughts

As stated at the beginning of this post, Coronavirus has changed our world unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. This doesn’t mean all business communication is inappropriate and must stop. People still have needs and businesses and organizations are here to help. Some have had to shift what they offer and to whom they offer it. That needs to be communicated. Now is the time not to be forgotten as a brand. Yet communicating in a crisis, even a sustained one like a health crisis, does require adjustments. As a recap:

  • Examine how social media use has changed by channel, content, and time.
  • Consider the difference between a traditional crisis and social media crisis.
  • Remember that a business on social media must act like an individual.
  • Follow good crisis communication best practices that work in any situation.
  • Change social strategy and tactics to build your brand and engage customers.

How have you seen organization’s adjust and what best practices do you believe are appropriate?

Free Social Media and Digital Marketing Certifications: What’s Available and What’s Valuable?

Today, there are many online training and certifications to help you learn social media and digital marketing skills. If you are a professional, student, or a professor it’s hard to know which ones to earn yourself and which to include in your courses. Below is a guide and links to certifications and additional training resources. Most are free or have minimal costs and represent a short time commitment.

Free Online Social Media and Digital Marketing Courses and Certifications are easily displayed in your LinkedIn profile.
Professional Certifications award badges that can easily demonstrate specialized skills online such as in LinkedIn profiles.

Why are these professional certifications and online learning resources valuable? A Marketing Hiring Trends Report indicates that 69% of marketers are hiring and 59% want digital marketers, yet only 19% of people with those skills are looking for jobs. This represents a 30% digital skills gap creating high demand for people who can demonstrate those skills.

8 Recommended Social Media Certifications

Facebook blueprint is Facebook’s free online courses and paid certifications for marketing on Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. Over 87% of U.S. marketers use Facebook and 75% use Instagram for social media marketing. Recommended certifications include:

  • Facebook Certified Digital Marketing Associate (8-9 hours) teaches entry level marketing skills and foundational advertising concepts on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. The online courses are free to prepare for the exam which is $150 and requires scheduling in person testing.
  • Facebook Certified Media Planning Professional (9-10 hours) teaches what you need to create, place and measure effective Facebook, Instagram and Messenger advertising campaigns. The online courses are free to prepare for the exam which is $150 and requires scheduling in person testing.
  • Additional Facebook blueprint certifications include Media Buying Professional, Ads Product Developer I, II and III. Note that Facebook blueprint is updating their curriculum including a new education portal available in May 2020.

Hootsuite Academy is an online education site offering free and paid training courses and professional certifications. This popular social media management software is used by over 18 million people at top brands. Recommended certifications include:

  • Hootsuite Platform Certification (3-4 hours) teaches you how to use this popular social platform to publish and engage in social media while tracking results with analytics. It is useful to understand this platform but also how many social management platforms work. The online course is free. The certification is $99 for professionals and free for college students when professors enroll their course through the student program.
  • Hootsuite Social Marketing Certification (6-7 hours) teaches social media marketing skills to grow followers and increase engagement. It teaches social strategy needed to meet and track business results through both paid and earned social media tactics. The online course is free while the certification costs $199 for professionals and free for college students through professor enrolled with professors who apply through the student program.
  • Additional Hootsuite online courses and certifications include Advanced Social Advertising, Social Media ROI, and Social Selling and require payment ranging from $249 to $299.

HubSpot Academy is an online education site offering free and paid training courses and professional certifications. HubSpot is a top marketing, sales, customer service and CRM platform used by over 15,000 businesses. Recommended certifications include:

  • HubSpot Social Media Certification (5-6 hours) teaches effective social media strategy to drive conversation, build loyalty and attract customers. The online course and certification is free.

Snapchat Explore is Snapchat’s free online course and professional certification. Over 33% of U.S. marketers use Snapchat for social media marketing. Recommended certification is:

Twitter Flight School is Twitter’s free online training courses and badges for marketing on Twitter. Over 66% of U.S. marketers use Twitter for social media marketing.

  • Twitter Video Badge (2-4 hours) teaches how to create video and run video ads on Twitter. The online course and certification is free.
  • Additional Twitter Flight School courses include Twitter Ads Manager, Audiences, Campaigns and Reporting.

Cision University Program is Cision’s online training program for college PR classes. The curriculum teaches this popular Cision PR software through college courses that apply for accreditation Recommended certification:

12 Recommended Digital Marketing Certifications

Google Analytics Academy is an online education site offering free training and professional certifications for Google Analytics. Over 88% of search traffic worldwide occurs on Google. Recommended certifications include:

  • Google Analytics for Beginners Certificate of Completion (4-6 hours) teaches the basic features of Google Analytics for creating accounts, tracking, basic reports, goals and campaign tracking. The online course and certification is free.
  • Advanced Google Analytics Certificate of Completion (4-6 hours) teaches advanced Google Analytics features for data collection, processing, configuration and more complex analysis and marketing tools. The online course and certification is free.
  • Google Analytics Individual Qualification Certification (3 hours) is the exam to become professionally certified based on skills learned in the two courses above. The online study guides and certification exam are free.
  • Additional Google Analytics Academy courses and certificates of completion include Google Tag Manager, Data Studio, and Google Analytics 360.

HubSpot Academy is an online education site offering free training courses and professional certifications. Recommended certifications include:

  • HubSpot Inbound Certification (2-3 hours) teaches the HubSpot Inbound methodology for driving customer acquisition from a marketing, sales and service perspective. The online course and certification is free.
  • HubSpot Content Marketing Certification (6-7 hours) teaches a strategic content creation framework for creating and repurposing effective content for search engines and customer engagement. The online course and certification is free.
  • HubSpot Inbound Sales Certification (2-3 hours) teaches specific skills useful to sales people. It explains inbound approaches to personal sales for identifying new prospects and connecting with them. The online course and certification is free.
  • Additional HubSpot courses and certifications include Inbound Marketing, Growth Driven Design, and Email Marketing.

SEMrush Academy is an online education site offering free training and professional certification for search engine marketing. Over 5 million marketers use the SEMrush online visibility management platform. Recommended certifications:

  • SEO Fundamentals Certificate (4-5 hours) teaches the essentials for search engine optimization. The online course and certificate is free.
  • Keyword Research Certificate (2-3 hours) teaches the basics of keyword research. The online course and certificate is free.
  • Mobile SEO Certificate (2-3 hours) teaches the specialized knowledge for mobile website visibility. The online course and certificate is free.
  • Technical SEO Certificate (5-6 hours) teaches the essentials for the technical aspects of search engine optimization. The online course and certificate is free.
  • Additional SEMrush courses and certificates include SEMrush platform functions such as SEMrush Site Audit, SEO Toolkit, Competitive Analysis, Keyword Research, Technical SEO, Link Building, Rank Tracking and Backlink Management.

Amazon Advertising learning console is an online education site offering free training and professional certification for Amazon Advertising. Over 54% of product searches start on Amazon. Recommended certification is:

  • Amazon Sponsored Ads Accreditation (3-4 hours) teaches Amazon Sponsored Ad types, targeting, strategy, reporting and optimization. The online course and certification is free.
  • Amazon Stores Accreditation (1-2 hours) teaches Amazon Store, benefits, features and how build and promote an Amazon Store. The online course and certification is fee.

Institute for Brand Marketing is a collaboration between Adweek and IBM Watson Advertising to provide free online courses and badges to teach brand marketing with technology.

  • Advanced Marketing Technologies (4 hours) introduces you to innovative marketing technologies such as machine learning, AI and blockchain and how they can drive business success. The online course and badge is free.
  • Monetizing Engagement (4 hours) covers ways companies can monetize engagement across social channels to measure ROI by attributing sales and other KPIs to marketing efforts. The online course and badge is free.

10 Recommended Non-Certification Online Learning Resources

Academy of Influencer Marketing by Traackr influencer marketing platform. It offers courses teaching influencer marketing skills, strategy and measurement. The first course is free. Advanced courses are $495.

Adobe Creative Cloud Tutorials is an online education site offering free training for Adobe Creative Cloud software including Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere, After Effects, Illustrator, Adobe XD, and Adobe Spark. Over 90% of the world’s creative professionals use Adobe.

Adobe Education Exchange is a free learning program and community for educators to ignite creativity in thier classrooms and leverage Adobe software.

Canva Design School is an online education site offering courses from the popular graphic design platform Canva. Free online courses include Graphic Design Basics, Social Media Design, Branding Your Business, and Presentations to Impress.

Code Academy is an online education site offering courses that teach how to write code in popular program languages such as HTML, CSS, Python, JavaScript, Java and SQL. These program languages are useful for web development, data science and design. Basic classes are free. There a $19.99 per month fee for Pro support.

ConvertedU by Leadpages is an online education site offering free and paid training and professional certification for conversion marketing. More than 40,000 small business use Leadpages to build landing pages, pop-ups, alerts and websites. Free online courses include Email List Building and Leadpages Launchpad. Paid courses include Conversion Marketing and Drip Marketing Certifications.

Google Academy for Ads is an online education site offering free courses in Google Ads, Google Marketing Platform, Google Ad Manager, and Google My Business. Google Ads Certification is available, but you must work for a Google Partner business and use that business email to take the exam.

How to Use TikTok for Business by Later is a free 35 minute video course. The course gives insights into creating viral videos, understanding TikTok’s algorithm and using TikTok ads to reach new audiences.

Pinterest Academy is Pinterest’s online education site offering free training courses for marketing on Pinterest. Over 35% of U.S. marketers use Pinterest for social media marketing.

Social Media Examiner Training Videos is a YouTube channel by this popular soical media publication and conference. Their channel offers short training videos by social media experts. Videos are updated often and are usually 5 to 15 minutes long.

YouTube Creator Academy is an online education site offering free courses that teach setting up YouTube Channels, YouTube Content Strategy, Video Production, YouTube Channel Optimization, Money & Business, on YouTube, and YouTube Policies & Guidelines. Over 53% of U.S. marketers use YouTube for social media marketing. A YouTube Certification is available, but only for those with a YouTube partner manager or access to Content ID.

11 Additional Online Learning and Certification Options

Other online courses and certification options include AMA Digital Marketing Certification (Exam), Blogging University (WordPress), LinkedIn Learning (Wide Variety of Subjects), Marketo (Marketing Platform), Meltwater Masterclass (Social Management), Microsoft Advertising (Ad Platform), Microsoft Dynamics 365 (Microsoft Business Applications), Moz Academy (SEO), Salesforce Trailhead (Salesforce CRM), Trading Academy (Programmatic Ad Buying), and Yoast Academy (SEO).

Whether you are a professional, student or professor I hope you find these recommendations to be useful. Even though I’ve highlighted 40 free and low cost online learning courses and certifications I may have missed some. What online courses and certifications have your used that your find to be valuable?