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?