How to manage social media during Covid-19

As the Covid-19 virus grips social media, brands need to tread carefully when it comes to messaging, but they can have a useful role to play during the pandemic

Brands and agencies are scrambling to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world and to develop appropriate communication strategies to connect with customers. And in times of national and global emergencies, social media has a more important role than ever.

The Pew Research Center in the US reports in 2019 over half of adults turned to social media for their news.  L&A Social founder and director, Gina Lednyak, said one key consideration for brands on social media is to always add genuine value. 

“You have the best opportunity to do this at a time where all eyes are on news feeds and our communities need us the most. Be careful though, as your content has to come from an authentic place, where you’re helping your community, not leveraging their vulnerability,” Lednyak said.

So how does this play out in the unprecedented crisis that is Covid-19? True Syd head of social, digital and strategy, Sean Szeps, told CMO there's absolutely nothing worse than a brand coming across as opportunistic during a crisis. 

“If you're keen on retaining customers through the Covid-19 virus, attempting to figure out ways to support them - even if it doesn't include your product - will result in longer-term loyalty and satisfaction," Szeps advised.

Underscoring the vital role of social media for many organisations, social media management platform, Hootsuite, is sharing information on its social channels as the situation evolves and is providing free access to its professional plan to non-profit organisations and small businesses most impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.
It is also set to launch a series of free online ‘social-first’ workshops for healthcare, financial services, higher education and government organisations managing complex communications issues during the pandemic. 

WP Engine CMO, Ellen Dugan, told CMO brands need to be consistent and frequent in their messaging during this time, and take the format, timing and distribution channel of the message into consideration with every engagement. 

And while communications must align with the brand's mission and vision to ensure authenticity, people seek connection during times of uncertainty. 

“Brands that engage with their customers effectively and empathetically are those that will resonate the most during and after a crisis,” said Dugan. “In times of uncertainty, open and transparent communication is the key to retaining loyalty and trust.”

Publicity For Good's Heather de Santis said there are good reasons why brands should continue to post on social media during Covid-19. In particular, it’s OK to share imperative information on making a difference during this health pandemic.

“Consumers are going to be more willing to resonate and respond, or even share your information as well. There’s a significant need for ways that everyday people can help during times like these. Be sure to share your message on all platforms,” said de Santis.

However, one of the downsides of social media is that it can also be used to spread misinformation and the current pandemic is testing the ability of social media to contain it. Social media platform, Sprinklr, recorded 19 million mentions of Covid-19 across social media, blogs and online news sites worldwide alone on 11 March and not all came from legitimate sources. By contrast, mentions of US President, Donald Trump, numbered roughly 4 million for the same day.

In resposne, social media and tech giants are endeavouring to do their bit with platforms including Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Reddit and Linked last week issuing a joint statement confirming they’re working together to combat fraud and misinformation, elevate authoritative content and share critical updates coordinated with government healthcare agencies around the world. Video platform, Tik Tok, has also teamed up with the World Health Organisation to publish information about the virus and hosted a live stream on how to prevent the virus from spreading and answering questions from viewers.

WP Engine's Dugan said it’s important to update customers on the details of your business. But it’s just as important to tell them in a way that shows confidence and concern for their circumstances. 

“In times like these, brands and marketers must leverage social platforms to provide helpful information to customers,” she said.

“In a crisis, information is only helpful if it's relevant and accurate. This may range from crucial business announcements on changes to operations, updates on specific company initiatives dedicated to individuals/communities affected by Covid-19 or any concessions made to the purchase process to better accommodate the customer's situation.”

Social media monitoring, Brandwatch, has analysed posts from platforms around the world on the topic of Covid-19 and coronavirus and, not surprisingly, has found them overwhelmingly negative. In particular, it reports mentions of the phrase ‘out of stock’ have gone up as panic buying has been reported in supermarkets. The number of press articles mentioning coronavirus stockpiling or hoarding was lower than organic social mentions. At the peak of toilet paper stockpiling in early March, a peak in news mentions of stockpiling came just before a spike in social mentions of the practice.

One way de Santis suggested being helpful and informative for entrepreneurs and companies wanting to be constructive at this time is to promote certain charities to highlight positive ways to give back and be a source of good news to be a counterpoint to all the bad news

“Put the attention on something positive that will also catch people’s attention. Your customers want to know about the good news you have to share,” she said.

And after putting the customer at the centre of communications and considering their experiences in regard to brand social media posts, it’s vital to review all creative and content for appropriateness in light of the current situation. 

Szeps advised brands not to be unafraid to pause social media efforts while auditing and doing a market analysis. But it’s critical to act quickly and review all content currently in the market to determine how it will be perceived through the lens of the crisis. 

“If words like ‘stocking up’, ‘coughing’ or ‘ill’ are included, you should cut your ties with the creative and never look back. Have an ad campaign that shows a group of people at a concert? Save it for 2021," he said. "Remember: This isn't about you or your product, it's about them now. So if you can't provide value during this time of uncertainty, then bow out gracefully."

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.


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