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?

The Marketing Funnel Is Dead, But The Customer Journey Is Alive and Well

Social media has an important role to play in a new customer centered marketing cycle.

Google returns over 3,000 articles saying the marketing sales funnel is dead. Pronouncing a classic principle dead is helpful to attract attention and signify a big change. What is not helpful, is throwing the bath out with the bathwater believing there is no longer a path to purchase. Mark Ritson in Marketing Week appropriately said, “Reports of the death of the sales funnels are greatly exaggerated. Consumers might be bombarded with media and marketing from all angles, but markers must still understand how to influence their journeys towards a purchase.”

The original marketing funnel, also known as a sales, purchase or customer funnel is based on a hierarchy of effects model indicating consumers move through a series of stages to make purchase decisions. Known as the AIDA model marketing, advertising and sales people have been trained to move consumers through the stages of awareness, interest, desire and action. It is illustrated as a funnel because the number of potential prospects decreases with each stage and tactics change from branding and mass media advertising to sales promotion and personal sales.

The problem with the funnel is that it stops at purchase and does not map out post-purchase customer stages that influence repeat purchase and referral. McKinsey found that now two-thirds of the touchpoints during the active-evaluation phase of purchasing involve consumer-driven activities such as Internet reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family – post-purchase consumer activity not accounted for in the funnel.

Post-purchase stages are now more important to consumers and marketers.

This social media fueled feedback loop has shifted power from seller to buyer. Search and social has enabled people to create their own paths to purchase via dozens or even hundreds of touchpoints. Google has found that no two journeys are exactly alike. The consumer is at the center of their own unique customer journey. Derek Thompson in Hit Makers describes this consumer revolution saying, “The gatekeepers had their day. Now there are simply too many gates to keep.”

The marketer has lost control over much of the information about their products and services. What’s more, the brand messages they do create are less trusted than content created about the brand by consumers. Edelman reports that 74% of consumers use one more advertising avoidance strategies and 63% trust what influencers say about brands much more than what brands say about themselves.

This doesn’t mean consumers don’t want marketing and marketers have lost all influence. Salesforce State of Marketing report indicates 79% of customers are willing to share data in exchange for contextualized engagement, and 88% will do so for personalized offers. Its no longer about being a gatekeeper it about joining the community of consumers who already talking about your brand.

Customers today demand connected journeys through more personalize marketing.

Salesforce research has found 84% of consumers say being treated like a person, not a number is very important to purchase decisions. And 70% say connected processes, such as seamless handoffs, situation specific engagement, and needs anticipation, are important to their customer journey. In other words, consumers are looking for relationships. We need to put the “social” back in social media.

Many experts have seen this coming and describe the shift in various ways. Mark Schaefer in Marketing Rebellion calls for human-center social media marketing. Joseph Jaffe argued for conversational marketing and a move from corporate centric to customer centric marketing. Seth Godin says marketing now needs to be relevant not loud. Shoving declining mass advertising into the top of a disappearing sales funnel is making less and less sense.

Consumer engagement is key in a new customer centered buyer journey.

In our digital era the marketing funnel is more like a circular system. The consumer is at the center controlling much of their own buyer journey while influencing other consumer’s on path to purchase. The marketer joins the conversation via engagement as a guide not a gate keeper. This can be seen in the marketing cycle illustrated below.

The customer journey no longer follows a linear path of predictable marketing tactics that move consumers down a funnel of awareness to purchase. A Facebook ad or blog post may appear in the consumer’s feed or search results to generate awareness or could be the touchpoint they engage with right before conversion. A customer service interaction with a current customer on Twitter may recruit a new customer as a customer rating and review on Amazon or Trip Advisor my influence a conversion.

The engagement in the middle of this marketing cycle can impact any part of the journey at anytime. Positive or negative interactions and comments can pull more customers in or push more customers out entering any stage of this new circular path to purchase. The customer is at the center of this journey, but the brand can still join in and help guide the path. Google research reveals a mixture of paid, owned and earned media is consumed via unique paths to purchase with dozens or even hundreds of touchpoints.

After purchase customers use the product or service, form an opinion and share that experience through social media. This user generated content (UGC) is found by perspective customers via search and social networks feeding back into the marketing cycle influencing their awareness, interest, consideration and conversion stages.

Marketers must shift from a control mindset to one of engagement.

Seth Godin says to be seen marketers must learn to see. This begins with social media listening. The focus is on creating meaningful and relevant experiences at the appropriate time and place. The brand engages with potential customers through varied touchpoints along the journey from prepurchase awareness, interest and consideration to purchase conversion followed by postpurchase use, opinion and sharing.

These touchpoints become the tactics of social marketing strategy. A social media measurement plan can reveal which tactics and strategies are producing positive interactions pulling potential customers towards the next stage and which are creating negative experiences pushing them off the marketing cycle path to purchase.

HubSpot calls this moving from a funnel to a flywheel where the marketers role is to add force to the areas that have the most positive impact, and decrease friction in areas with the most negative impact. Doing so will increase size of your flywheel adding more customer promoters. A flywheel uses the momentum of your happy customers to drive referrals and repeat sales. It brings customer relationship management to social media marketing where your own customers become part of your sales force.

Engagement with the connected consumer can’t be one-size-fits-all.

The shift from marketing funnel to marketing cycle has left many marketers confused. Social Media Examiner’s Industry Report reveals that the top question social media marketers face today is how to best engage their audience. Uncertainty may come from trying to view the connected consumer as one audience.

Brian Solis argued that there is no one audience. A target audience is made up of audiences of audiences representing varying roles of the social consumer. In a marketing cycle you must reach the right person in the right stage and touchpoint with the right message. Solis says, ” It is our responsibility to assume the role of digital anthropologist and sociologist to understand the needs and wants of people within each network and to design programs around these discoveries.”

Uncertainty may also come from trying to meet these varying consumer needs with a one discipline team. Different team members from various departments are best suited for engaging with consumers in different buying stages. Marketers are great at brand building, PR pros are relationship experts, sales people know how to close, and customer service gets problems solved. Marketers can lead, but to succeed social needs to be a cross-discipline team of marketing, sales, public relations, advertising, corporate communications, customer service and human resources.

This uncertainty and needed new approach can be seen in the executive summary of the latest Salesforce State of Marketing report. It identifies how marketing is evolving around the new connected customer. In this new model “marketing becomes the cross-functional glue of customer experiences.” Data unification, real-time engagement and consumer trust becomes the goal. Artificial intelligence (AI) offers an opportunity to help make it happen through personalized marketing.

Trust is a deal breaker in buying decisions.

In a recent Trust Barometer report 67% of consumers said they would stop buying from companies they don’t trust. How do you build trust? Edelman’s research found that the best way to build trust is to lead with peer (UGC, influencers, etc.) and amplify with owned, social and paid. In other words, to build customer relationships marketers must remove themselves from the command of a marketing funnel and put consumers in the center of a new marketing cycle. Trust starts with listening in a customer centered social strategy.

Trust built through connected consumer relationships has its rewards. Edelman also found consumers that trust brands reward them by buying their brand first (53%), staying loyal (62%), advocating (51%) for the brand and defending (43%) the brand. Social media and the connected consumer disrupted the sales funnel where marketing people played gatekeeper, but marketers still play an important role as guide in the new customer empowered journey.

Are you still thinking of the customer journey as a funnel? Does putting the consumer in the center of a marketing cycle change your social media marketing strategy?