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April 16, 2020   |   9 min read

COVID-19 Demands Going the Distance with Social

Julie Sablar   |   Director of Social Media

As COVID-19 continues to change our daily lives in unprecedented ways, consumer mindsets are shifting in ways marketers simply aren’t prepared for. They’re scrambling to find the right strategy, content, and tone for their audiences. And not only has there been a change in mental mindset—there's been a physical one, too. People across the globe are social distancing at home, with more time to consume social media content. According to Global Web Index, 80% of consumers in the U.S. and UK say they have consumed more content since the outbreak. 

That makes this a time of importance for brands to be in front of their fans like never before. There’s a collective longing for support, reassurance, and even distraction as we navigate the ongoing uncertainty together. Many people are turning to online communities for this reason. Consider that most people are experiencing the loss of social interaction—through work, school, everyday errands—and how this loss of community connection leaves a significant gap at a time when people need to feel connected the most. Online communities fill this void and are essentially becoming virtual meeting spaces (Source: Social Media Today).

Align Your Strategy with Evidence 

If you’re a social strategist, some key challenges should be on your mind right now. Social Media Today evaluated which channels are surfacing the most COVID-19 content and engagement. It found that Twitter is the most used platform by brands choosing to talk about the pandemic. On Twitter, there's also a clear divide between people interested in hearing about the virus and people interested in social distancing advice. Instagram is the preferred platform for social distancing advice posts. Facebook finds most discussions focusing on information about COVID-19 versus social distancing. Additionally, Sprout Social’s featured listening topics are tracking the conversations during this time to better understand what consumers’ challenges, needs, and concerns are. During March, we saw:

  • 800,820 messages discussing layoffs and unemployment
  • 13.3 million social messages referencing quarantine policies and social distancing
  • Messages about helping others began to spike around March 12 with 19.5 million messages within the month
  • The hashtag #Wfh was used in 1.56% of all messages sent around COVID-19 while #RemoteWork was used in 1.14% of all conversations
  • 40% of 6 million #StayAtHome messages came from individuals aged 55 years and older
  • There were 453,000 social messages around the various activities people engaged in during the pandemic like: cooking, baking, fitness, video games, and happy hour (the latter of which rose to the top of the conversation and drove 3.7 million engagements)
  • Curbside pickup and delivery accounted for 790,000+ messages
  • The conversation sentiment in March hit a high of 50% positive but there was still a 67% negative sentiment in conversations about consumers buying in bulk

This social listening evidence shows the progression of the five stages of the pandemic, starting with denial and working through anxiety and adjustment. As consumers move through each of stage, their needs will change. With careful social listening and monitoring, brands can better understand their communities’ conversations and needs, ultimately to hold an authentic role and respond appropriately at each stage.

Wearesocial   (Source: We Are Social)

Social Moves to Make Right Now

So, where do companies start in this new world of social? Here are some things that your brand can do right now to connect with fans while your social strategy is being reconfigured to adjust for each phase during and post pandemic.

Set up Social Listening Trackers

Using tools such as Crimson Hexigon or Brandwatch, set up tracking streams that pull in content from each social channel, as well as the entire digital space. By pulling in this content, you’re hearing directly from your customers about what they need and want in this time—allowing you to develop insights that can drive your content strategy. Don’t forget to look beyond your brand and evaluate what’s being said about your competitors and industry at large. Having a holistic view of where you can play is what counts.

Create Content Driven by Brand Truths 

After understanding the human truth through your social listening and data, take a pause and reflect on what’s important to your business and what you can offer during this time. Think about how you can position your content and messaging strategy to reflect consumers’ changing needs. Possibly highlight creative ways to use your product or service in times of working remotely, homeschooling kids, or just passing time. 

Re-evaluate Your Paid Media Plan

Brands across all regions have consistently posted fewer pieces of paid content in 2020 and social ad spend has decreased by 23.5% in the last two months. It’s central to note that a large chunk of Facebook advertisers are small businesses—those most at risk during the expected COVID-19 economic slowdown (Source: SocialBakers). It’s never been so crucial to make your budget stretch as far as possible and get your message across to the greatest amount of current and prospective consumers. 

Facebook’s CPC (Cost Per Click) has decreased, anywhere from 19-33%, making the cost to advertise much lower. Similar to cost per click, there’s been a 49% drop in CPM costs. Some brands are still seeing decent conversion rates, while a small amount even report increases (Source: SocialBakers). That means there’s a possible opportunity for brands that have the budget to make their message go to a wider audience than it normally would.

Develop an Organic Content Plan

Audiences are embracing organic content in unprecedented fashion and organic posts have increased slightly across all regions since the start of the year. Consumers are going to company social channels to get their news and understand how they’re responding to the current situation. While engagement took a dip at the beginning of March, we’ve seen it at an all-time high the last 3 weeks. As people are engaging more with organic content than paid, the CTR for all Brand accounts has declined by 17.2% since the new year as well (Source: SocialBakers). This trend is expected to continue as businesses look for less costly alternatives to engage their audiences. An opportunity presents itself for brands to strengthen their organic social and channel strategies to push more strategically driven organic content out on the right channels at the right times. This type of content is seen as more authentic and reliable during the pandemic and will deliver for companies in the long-term. 

Leverage Online Video

A key shift amid the lockdowns is video interaction, and in particular, the rise of traditionally social and external events being streamed online. Broadcast TV and online video streaming are winning more screen time as primary mediums for all generations and genders. For example, the number of users watching live video on Facebook has increased by 50% since January. Twitch has seen a 31% increase in viewership. TikTok has seen a spike in users and downloads, with over 1 billion downloads on Google Play Store and 115.2 million installs in March compared to 6 million in February (Source: Sensor Tower). Not only is it becoming a mainstay in our everyday routines, but we will see brands benefitting from this new surge of users. For example the World Health Organization now has 1.2 million followers on TikTok...practically overnight.

Users on YouTube are searching for uplifting and mood-enhancing content, while TikTok fans are creating content making light of COVID-19 and the precautions most people take as they self-isolate. Brands are viewing this behavior and looking to find a way to connect with their Gen Z audiences authentically. P&G partnered with influencer Charli d'Amelio to start the #DistanceDance, which are simple, lighthearted videos of people dancing while self-isolating. P&G promised donations to two nonprofits—Feeding America and Matthew25—for the first 3 million videos uploaded to the platform tagging #DistanceDance (Source: AdWeek).

But if you’re looking to connect with Gen X, Millennials, or Baby Boomers, TikTok is not the optimal platform. Consider online video options like Facebook and Instagram Live, Facebook Watch, and YouTube for more success and engagement.

Adjust Your Tone

Now is neither the time to push sales nor to explicitly highlight the relevance of products and services to situations caused by COVID. So much so that social channels like Facebook and YouTube are banning any content that would be construed as playing into the fears of consumers. This is a time to be clear, calm, and consistent in messaging. 

A few ways brands can go wrong during this crisis is by coming across as tone-deaf, like by touting their generosity and messaging to the negative aspects of what consumers are going through. Remember, consumers are scared and unsettled. They’re looking for normalcy and encouragement with good will. Steer clear of seeming opportunistic with post ideas and messaging like “We’ll donate $1 for every share of this post,” as it just comes across as boastful and can damage your reputation.

Engage & Empathize

Just because you adjust your tone doesn’t mean everything posted needs to be serious. Just focus on being empathetic to your community’s needs. If they usually look to you for distraction, keep things light. Share the important messages such as CEO comments and reactions to the virus in a way that’s human and encouraging.

Companies can use social media for commercial purposes or for communal purposes. In other words, companies use social media to brand, sell, and market their business (which is close to traditional marketing efforts using mass-media). On the other hand, social media is used to connect with and co-create with customers by providing a platform where they can bond (Source: HEC Paris Business School).

The brands that are being proactive and making contributions to their communities and employees have seen the most engagement on Facebook and Instagram. Showing gratitude in this time helps fans feel connected to a brand. Now we must come together and lean into the #InThisTogether movement. Many brands are focusing on the gratitude aspect and showcasing and thanking first responders and front-line heroes.

Community Manage with Care

Take the strain off with extra community management time and related support content. Your goal is to keep customers and communities engaged during periods of restricted contact. Customers are expecting quicker response times and to be able to speak with actual people. They want help and answers. Going the extra mile will prove to benefit brands long-term. Give that extra discount, free shipping or track down an out-of-stock item to accommodate the struggles consumers are facing. It’s these acts they will remember the most once the dust settles.

We must also Empower Community Managers with the tools they need to succeed. A community management playbook of key topics and responses, including a crisis and escalation plan along with social response tools like Sprinklr or Social Report, will help them provide the support customers are seeking. Even consider making a COVID-19 FAQ page that Managers can direct fans to. For larger companies, it’s recommended that responses to high-visibility topics—like how the company is supporting their workers or what safety measures are being taken—be approved by your legal department. Remember, once it’s out there in social, you can’t take it back. Deleting a tweet or post after the fact doesn’t mean it wasn’t captured in a screenshot and already circulated.

Consider Investing in Influencers

The online community has become a stronger place to connect about common interests. With 92% of consumers shifting to buying almost everything online right now, influencers may be more valuable than before. Conflicting studies are showing whether influencers are actually on the rise during this time or on the decline. A recent survey from Influence Central shows that 36% of influencers are seeing a significant increase in impressions and engagement within their Instagram and Facebook audiences. At the other end, Rival IQ says influencers have seen consistently declining engagement rates since COVID-19 started hitting hard in North America. This conclusion really comes back to the industry that you are in and whether influencers have a voice in it. But it may be important to note that if there is any decline, influencers are likely willing to work with brands they trust for smaller budgets to bolster personal monthly incomes.

Influencers are at the forefront of engaging with communities at every stage of the crisis and can provide brands with insights, authenticity, and ways to create content to meet increased demand. 70% of the influencers are reporting that their audiences are turning to them for guidance during the crisis (Source: Influence Central). Developing a roadmap and plan for influencer activations during this time can be tricky but beneficial if done in the right way. Remember, it’s not about selling but connecting. Find common interests with influencers to create stronger authenticity. They can help you surprise and delight fans with products or gift cards, create DIY content, or even partner with any philanthropic efforts the company is taking on during this time.

Still Need Help?

This time is unprecedented and there is no history map to guide us. But when brands listen first, act second, and monitor third, they will be able to develop the strategies that work best for their business and communities. The community is telling you what they need, so define your role for each stage of the crisis and create value-added content for fans. 

If you still need help, we’re here for you. Our social experts are hard at work tracking the ever-evolving changes on each channel and the opportunities that come with them (take a look at our monthly Social Synopsis to see the channel updates during COVID-19). We’re also developing content, media, and influencer strategies to assist our clients. Contact us with your questions or concerns and we can partner in delivering social success during this difficult time.


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