We know that if you're managing social media accounts, whether you are a business owner, a freelancer running accounts for your client's or in-house social media manager, you may be wondering how you should be handling things in the midst of the current Coronavirus crisis. So we’ve pulled together some of our recommendations to support you during this time. It goes without saying that there is no one-size-fits-all approach and that it’s up to you which of the following recommendations you take on board - you may not agree with them all and that's ok.
If you’re the business owner you will have control over all of the below. If you’re just handling the socials then you can use the below to provide recommendations to your client/your boss.
1. Press pause and reflect
While we don’t advocate giving up your social media marketing efforts at this time we do recommend just pressing pause and reflecting for 24 hours before moving forward. It isn’t business as normal because nothing about the Coronavirus is normal. It’s an unprecedented acute health crisis never before seen in our time.
What you should do during this 24 hours includes:
- Preparing a statement for your customers.
- Checking all of your scheduled posts carefully, with a Coronavirus lense (it’s also a good idea to check your scheduled marketing emails or automated email sequences).
- Preparing a specific crisis management policy for Coronavirus related issues.
- Having a business strategy and planning session to reevaluate your products, services, and overarching marketing messaging.
We will touch on these in more detail later.
It’s useful to put yourself in one of the following 3 categories as this will help guide some of your social strategy over the next few months. We will refer to these categories throughout this article and yes we do know they are highly reductive, but they will serve a purpose so bear with us!
Brand gain | There are many brands that may see an uplift in sales during this time. This is a list off the top of our heads but there will be loads more; toilet roll; cleaning products; hand cream; virtual meeting software; health supplements; grocery shops; supermarkets; brands providing indoor entertainment; homeschooling providers. If you sell something that could potentially be more in demand you fall into “brand gain” for the purposes of this blog post.
Brand neutral | Many brands won’t see a significant uplift or a downturn in sales in the short term, although they will be likely to see an impact in the long term as most businesses will. But if you offer something that feels very unconnected and tangential to the Coronavirus crisis you fall into “brand neutral” for the purposes of this blog post.
Brand loss | There are sadly some businesses that are likely to face significant and possibly catastrophic consequences in the short term, particularly small businesses that often don’t have the cash to rise out significant storms. Again off the top of our head this includes; travel companies; travel-related providers such as hotels; travel-related providers such as brands selling sunglasses; pubs; cafes; restaurants; cinemas; theatres; music venues; events; conferences; classroom-based training. If you offer something that is either now impossible or difficult to offer during the crisis, you fall into “brand loss” for the purposes of this blog post.
Which category your brand falls into will probably impact your strategy to a certain degree.
2. Get into the mind of your customer
The more empathy you can have for your community at this time the better. Really get inside the mind of your customer before moving forward. Make a list of everything you think they will be most worried about based on what you know about them. Of course, most people are concerned about health impacts, but try to get more granular than this. How will their day-to-day lives be impacted?
For example, we predominantly support mothers and we know that they are very concerned about the likely impact of school closures. They are also usually the ones supporting ageing relatives as well. So one of their biggest concerns is the stress of having to manage the children at home, managing working from home with their partner also working from home and also struggling with supporting their parents/in-laws. Understandably, they have concerns about how they'll manage and are pretty seriously stressed right now. We also support a lot of freelancers, so if all those things weren't already enough then the added anxieties around their clients reducing budgets is whatever the opposite to the icing on the cake is. They will struggle with finding the time to study online during this time. They may also have additional financial concerns over threats to partner's salaries. Our alumni community of social media marketing experts are also worried about how to handle things over this crisis period, particularly managing their client’s social media channels during this time.
The more you know about your customers, their concerns and how they are likely to be specifically impacted by the crisis the better you can respond on social to their needs. If you struggle to write this list do some research on social media to see what they are talking about.
3. Tackle Coronavirus head on
Obviously, we aren’t talking about taking on the virus itself, what we mean is the last thing you should do is carry on as normal and pretend Coronavirus isn’t happening. While “under the duvet” is the best place to be from a social distancing perspective it’s the worst place to be from a business strategy perspective.
We recommend putting out an official statement on social as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.
This is an abridge version of ours:
There is no such thing as “business as usual” at the moment. There is nothing “usual” about the unprecedented crisis our society is in. However, wanted to reach out to our community to let you know that we will be active throughout the Coronavirus crisis period and to update you on what we are doing.
Our priority is to do all we can to add value over the next few months to support you. We are sharing helpful content to support people to work in new ways given the challenges you will face over the coming weeks and months. We have updated our Work That Works Group to specifically focus on supporting you to work in these challenging times. You can join this here. We offer free courses and lessons and will be exploring additional free support over the next few months.
Ultimately, we would still like to be here to support you to learn and find rewarding careers when this is all over so we will be offering our normal portfolio of paid courses over the next few months and will be promoting and sharing them on social media.
While this may feel strange, and potentially uncomfortable, we do have to do all we can to sustain our business, our staff and our customers.
We’re not going to tell you that this is a great time to do online learning. That feels odd given everyone’s concerns around individual and family illness, school closures and potential loss of earnings during this time. However, our courses are 100% online and designed to be completely flexible, digestible and bite-sized should you wish to build new knowledge and skills over the next few months.
Finally, we want to let you all know that while we all have to carry on, now is not the time for stoic resolve. Please let us know how you are feeling, air your concerns. We truly believe that a problem shared is a problem halved. We also have an incredible community of women with a host of skills and knowledge so please do also share any ideas and solutions, whether here or in our Work That Works Group.
We recommend having a full statement on your blog/website, and if it’s too long for Facebook/Instagram then create an edited summary. On Twitter you can either do a Twitter thread, or you can just summarise in a tweet and link to the full article online. It’s also a great idea to create a video statement or even go Live on your channels. For all platforms it’s a great idea to pin to the top of your accounts.
If you really are in crisis mode at the moment we have seen some "brand loss" examples where businesses are using statements to reach out to ask their communities and customers to help them at this time if they would like to see them survive. This is a valid tactic, particularly if you have built a strong relationship with your audiences.
4. Make sure you have a crisis management plan
It’s not unlikely, given the levels of anxiety and stress, that you might have some backlash on your social media accounts as you start moving forward with your marketing plan. We have already seen negative comments on posts and tweets from brands promoting their products and services. We know you have to run your business still, but try not to let it irk you. Try to have extra empathy for everyone and recognise that for some this might seem shallow. In fact, having extra empathy across all customer services, community management and crisis management activities is a good idea all round.
Here are our tips on handling any backlash around continuing to trade during this time.
- Acknowledge. It probably goes without saying, but responsiveness matters. Make sure you monitor your social media notifications regularly from your phone. Your first response should always be “thank you for sharing your concerns with us”. Acknowledgment does not imply culpability, but getting ahead of the problem allows you to be proactive.
- Point people to your Coronavirus statement. Refer people to your pinned Coronavirus statement post to explain why you are still on your social accounts. This will allow you to respond to questions with a link instead of an answer. This will save time and prevent misinterpretation of your responses.
- Respond with kindness. Once you have some information, you should respond first on the platform that someone first complains on, but be prepared to pick it up on other platforms if necessary. Again you will do well to remember that everyone is stressed and some people will be highly anxious so dial up the empathy. It's useful to imagine the most stressed friend/family member you have and pretend you are talking to them. And it can be scary to see negative comments aimed at you and if you're stressed it can also make you defensive. But remain calm. At least it’s out there in a space you have control over. You WANT people to vent on a venue you control whether it’s your Facebook Page, or comments on your blog as opposed to doing so privately with who knows how many friends.
- Take it from public to private as soon as possible. Social media crisis management isn’t about winning an argument, it’s about damage control. Some people will be so angry that you’re not going to convince them of anything. Do not get in an online tit for tat, ever (and certainly not in a crisis scenario). Keyboards embolden us all, and sometimes the best course of action is to offer your phone number or email address and encourage the person to contact you that way. Will it take the kettle off the boil? Sometimes, but even if it doesn’t, the rest of the community sees that you went the extra mile and provided an olive branch. That matters. Crisis management is a spectator sport. Remember the rule of threes. Never send a third reply. A third reply is an argument, not an answer. If you feel you must respond a third time simply reiterate your previous post pointing to your statement and an offer of a call/email with someone.
- Keep the team updated. Businesses should update employees about the situation. People know where everyone works, because it’s listed on their Facebook and Linkedin profiles. So, with social media in the mix, every employee is a potential spokesperson. If your managing accounts on behalf of clients or your boss then let them know that if the ‘shit hits the fan’ they should probably email all employees to warn them, so they are more (or at least not less) knowledgeable than the average member of the Twitter public. Fingers crossed it won’t’ come to that, particularly if your statement is well crafted, but it’s always better to be over-prepared.
5. Continue running your social accounts
We have seen lots of questions online about whether people should continue marketing their products and services or even running their social accounts at all and we say yes you can and yes should. There is no reason you should have to stop and let's face it, businesses need all the help they can get and social is often a key marketing channel.
So yes, do continue, but you do need to be more mindful of your strategy, messaging and tone of voice. We have covered these in more detail below.
6. Be more human
During this time brands need to be more human. We’re not convinced that people want to connect with faceless businesses that feel impersonal at the best of times, given how social media has evolved, but particularly, at the moment we advise adding more personal elements to your marketing.
For example, by showcasing the people that work in the business and the stories from the business at this time you’ll make more genuine connections, which feels like the right way to go based on the current social media climate. Here are some of our recommendations:
- Have more open conversations and be transparent and honest.
- Have senior leaders and employees be more present on social, particularly the founder if possible.
- Do more live video as that’s a rich two-way communication tool.
- Share more behind the scenes business stories than usual, including what you as a business are doing around the crisis and how you’re feeling.
7. Add value
If you’ve fallen into the “brand loss” category then this will be an extremely challenging time to try and add value to anyone. You’re probably just firefighting and in crisis talks so feel free to skip this section.
If you’re “brand gain” then you should really be focusing on trying to add as much value as possible. It may be that your product and services actually add value at this time in and of themselves. For example, a rich hand cream specifically designed to support skin to recover from drying antibiotic hand gel. If this is the case then you are incredibly lucky. But consider where you could add additional value - free samples for health workers for example. Or it could be that you do all you can to support your suppliers who may be struggling, perhaps by paying them in advance or paying them early.
At Digital Mums we consider ourselves to be in the “brand-neutral” category but really it’s a bit more “brand-who-bloody-knows” as we really aren’t sure how this crisis will impact us. We deliver online training and it’s bite-sized and flexible but we have no idea whether people will be more likely to learn, less likely to learn or just as likely to want to learn. Like many businesses, we have spent the last few days in Coronavirus emergency planning. But given we aren’t currently in crisis ourselves (not yet anyway) we have also spent time reflecting on how we can help our community during this difficult period.
We believe that this is the right thing to do from an ethical and moral position. We’re a social enterprise so morality comes at the top of our list every time. But you might be more motivated by the persuasive argument that we don’t think history will be kind to brands that look like they are profiting from the current crisis. Introducing inflated prices for in-demand products or coming up with novel product ideas to capitalise on people’s biggest problems might make short-term cash but you could seriously damage brand reputation long-term. While we aren’t saying don’t develop novel solutions to help people, just consider the profit margins you’re making and don’t be tempted to overcharge.
So what are we doing?
We are brainstorming loads of different ideas. This includes:
- Pulling together this article, to help our alumni and small business owners that study on our social media courses, to get social right during this tricky period.
- Sharing top tips with our alumni on how they can turn their existing classroom-based workshops to an online setting.
- Turning some of our lessons on remote working into freely accessible blogs and shared those with our community as well as sharing our useful existing podcast on keeping mentally well when working from home.
- Hosting a Coronavirus coffee break virtually with our alumni to check in as they all work remotely and are dealing with a lot of stress.
- Exploring how we can offer more free online sessions to support, teach or even entertain our community.
Our advice is to get some post-its out and brainstorm some ways in which you can add value that makes sense for your brand and won’t place too much of a strain on your business. If you're a personal trainer how about running online bootcamps for kids via Zoom? Or perhaps a brewery could deliver drinks and host virtual beer tasting? Think outside of the box. I mean who would have thought a gin distillery would start producing hand sanitiser?
8. Engage in Coronavirus conversations
This is another very common question we are seeing. Should you engage in Coronavirus conversations?
Well everyone is talking about Coronavirus. All. The Time. Social has blown up with conversation about it. So our advice at this point, and you don’t have to take it, is to engage in the conversation. Not everyone agrees but that's how we feel. In our opinion, it’s silly to think you can carry on running your social accounts in a vacuum.
The questions is how do you engage around Coronavirus as a brand, particularly if your brand isn’t particularly relevant? And should you be specifically posting updates and news?
We don’t advise posting Coronavirus facts and updates if it has nothing to do with what you do as that is just well random. So that’s the first thing to say. So what should you be doing?
Well, again it depends on your brand. But there are some simple things most businesses can do as a starter, such as put out your statement and specifically have a conversation about this and also check-in with your audiences to see how they are, how they are feeling and send arm rubs (and possibly toilet roll if you’re Andrex). If you have done a good job of thinking about ways to add value at this time then of course, talk about this.
If you have a fun, cheeky and light-hearted tone of voice then you can engage in some humour if you do it well. Innocent have really nailed this. We have fallen in love with an aquarium that has had to close, particularly their video of the penguins having a tour of the space due to it being empty. You can also see below how we have handled this with some more light-hearted posts. If you feel like your brand can use some light-hearted humour to raise people’s spirits this could be a great option.
Giving kudos to the key workers keeping the country going is always a good way to go. Whether shoutouts to shelf stackers, discounts to doctors or love for lorry drivers you can’t go wrong there. I mean who doesn’t want to hug a hero!
Again Innocent on top of this trend.
However, it's important that don't be seen to "jump" on Coronavirus to sell products and services. I'd love to think that this goes without saying but if someone is having a conversation about Coronavirus don't interrupt them and try to sell them your e-book on hand washing.
10. Reconsider your advertising strategy
Increasing your advertising budget is the obvious thing to do if you’re a “brand gain” but again craft your advertising copy carefully, being mindful of everything we covered above. Now is the time to get in front of your target customers, add value, sell products. Win-win. Spend us much as you can afford.
If you’re currently “brand-neutral” do consider investing in paid advertising if you feel like you have something compelling to sell, or if you feel you need to offer sales or discounts to bring in short-term cash. To get sales messaging in front of your target audience in the right way at the right time then paid social is the way to go.
If you’re “brand loss” and in crisis, you may see paid social as throwing good money after bad but unless you’re in dire straits like music venues or pubs you never know. It could be worth speaking to an ad strategist just to understand what paid social could do for you at this time.
So that’s it. Our ten top tips for managing your social media in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. At the time of writing, experts are predicting serious interventions for 3-6 months with potential reintroduction of stringent measures if cases increase (which seems likely). So it looks like we are in this for the long haul until we can deploy vaccines at scale. So business and consumers need to pull together for the good of society. And social media will be the key channel to make this happen. Use it wisely.