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?

Artificial Intelligence And Social Media. How AI Can Improve Your Job Not Steal It.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a buzz word that can be confusing and even scary. Some predict AI robots will replace humans, but in this article I will focus on what AI exists now and how it is helping or could be helping your social media strategy. AI empowered social media can assist in many areas such as content generation and optimization, 24/7 engagement, automated bidding and placement of social ads, enhanced audience targeting, automated analytics, personalization, and social listening.

AI and Big Data

Artificial intelligence is simply computer systems performing tasks that normally require human intelligence. In the world of big data AI comes in handy. Big data is the massive amounts of data so large and complex it can’t be processed with traditional data applications. This consists of structured data organized in databases and spreadsheets and unstructured data in free-form text, images and video in documents, articles and social media. IBM reports 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created per day and over 80% is unstructured with much of that from social media.

Algorithms

An algorithm is a series of steps performed by a set of rules to perform a function. We’re most familiar with algorithms as the rules that decide what appears in social media feeds. We try to determine social network algorithm signals to increase our organic reach. Alternatives include paying for social ad placement or influencer marketing. AI can improve social ad campaigns and improve influencer marketing. AI in influencer marketing can aid in finding and vetting ideal micro-influencers for brands.

Automation

Automation is software that does things without human intervention. Examples include Amazon tracking shopping history to suggest similar items to automate cross selling. Automated testing pulls data to generate scheduled reports. Automated reminders help employees and customers through alerts and notifications. Drip marketing automates sending a series of communications on a schedule or by consumer trigger actions. Drip marketing has used email for years but also now uses chatbots in Facebook messenger.

Machine Learning

Machine Learning is when computers learn from experience by modifying processes from new input. Machine learning can use algorithms to try random variables learning which work best to achieve a goal such as lowest cost per impression or acquisition. Programmatic advertising uses machine learning and automated bidding and placement for media buying. Deep Learning goes further with data processing on a neural network for faster more complex learning. Pattern recognition is a form of machine learning where a computer can be trained to detect patterns in text or visual data.

Natural Language Processing And Generation

Natural language processing (NLP) finds linguistic patterns to analyze and synthesize speech. This is how Hootsuite Insights determines sentiment of brand social media conversations. It can also help with crisis management. Dataminr uses NLP to monitor real time social conversations for crisis communication and real time marketing. Natural language generation (NLG) takes non-language inputs and generates spoken language. Phrasee uses NLG for AI-powered copywriting creating data-driven, human-sounding brand copy for Facebook and Instagram.

Image Recognition

Image recognition or computer vision is software that can recognize people, animals and other objects. Brandwatch has an image detection and analysis tool that finds images containing a brand to report how, when, and where consumers are seeing it. CrowdRiff uses image recognition to discover user generated images (UGC). They combine this with brand owned images and performance data for content optimization. Pinterest has AI powered visual search called Pinterest Lens. Marketers can purchase search ads to appear in that search and use Shop the Look pins.

Predictive and Prescriptive Analytics

Predictive Analytics helps understand future performance based on current and historical data. Prescriptive analytics helps determine the best solution among various choices. Salesforce’s Einstein uses AI for customer and lead predictions and recommendations. Einstein analyzes sentiment and intent to route social conversations to the right person streamlining workflow. IBM’s Watson uses AI for campaign automation and marketing personalization. Virtual Assistants add human interface to software. Watson Assistant replaces tedious queries and spreadsheets with simple questions such as, “How did social media perform this month?”

Chatbots

Chatbots use AI to simulate human conversation through voice commands or text chats. Chatbots can be used for drip marketing automation, lead nurturing, onboarding, renewals, confirmations, and engagement. AI-empowered chatbots can also help lead customers through the sales funnel (AIDA). For awareness bots can initiate conversation at scale communicating one-to-one with 5 or 500 people. At the interest stage bots provide 24/7 engagement at the moment of interest. In the decision stage bots supply information, answer questions and send content. For the action stage smaller purchases can be completed by the bot or hand off more complex ones to a human.

Social Care

AI-powered support can improve customer service via social media. ManyChat’s Facebook Messenger chatbots give customers convenience and speed. Simple chatbots spot keywords and respond with predetermined answers. AI-powered chatbots use NLP to create conversations like human agents. When problems get too complex chatbots can recognize this and hand off the conversation to a real agent. Some report chatbots could save businesses $11 billion in support costs by 2025.

Social Ad Optimization

Pattern89 uses AI to analyze billions of data points daily to discover what social ad dimensions drive customer behavior. Their AI analyzes every combination of placement, device, interests, age ranges, behaviors, demographics for custom optimization insights. Clinch provides personalized programmatic social media content across the customer journey. AI enables them to generate unlimited personalized ad versions with real-time optimization for text, image and video. Motiva AI works with Oracle’s Elogua marketing platform to scan campaigns and make performance recommendations, optimize time and frequency suggestions, run auto multivariate messaging experiments, and automatically discover new audience segments.

Privacy And Ethics

With the General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR) in Europe and new U.S. regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) marketers are concerned about compliance. Charles Taylor argues that AI could help with consumer privacy protection. For example, Anyclip AI identifies video events and actions for contextualized social media ad placement. Using this AI could allow custom targeted messages without accessing third party consumer data. AI could also improve targeting to insure ads don’t appear with objectionable content. AI can also help with issues like cyberbullying. Instagram is using AI to identify negative comments before they’re published asking users, “Are you sure you want to post this?”

For the social media professional AI can help improve your job.

Gartner describes AI as a way to automate manual time-consuming processes to free up time, so marketers can be more strategic and creative. Pattern89 sums up the advantages of AI saying “AI algorithms work quickly and thoroughly, and they understand more data than a human can analyze within a single lifetime.” According to Adobe, the top marketing uses of AI include analysis of data, personalization, optimization and testing, image recognition, automated campaigns, content creation, programmatic advertising, digital asset management, video recognition, creative work, and automated offers. How are you using AI to improve your social media performance?