Social media influencers fanning the flames of coronavirus misinformation. Asos ads that use a facemask-clad model to promote offers. Celebrities complaining about quarantine from inside their beautiful mansions... While many brands have navigated this tricky time as best they can, some digital content over the past few weeks has been more than a little off-key. Too much time on all of our hands alongside a lack of social media savviness means you can see those slip ups coming a mile off.

Even if the above instances are done with good intentions or to promote conversation, with the ever-increasing bombardment of news and information, now is not the time to throw your hat in the ring unless you have something valuable to say. Some of these missteps might have slid under normal circumstances but because emotions and stress levels are running high, it’s understandable that people are more sensitive. This all adds up to a big responsibility - and challenge - for brands to adjust messaging accordingly.

Navigating the situation

Why is it so important to change our content now? After all, we’ve had well-thought out strategies in place for weeks and they don’t mention anything insensitive, right? There will be a time when this is all a distant memory, when the world resembles a more familiar place. And when that time comes, consumers will remember those brands and companies who looked after them during this period of uncertainty.

The fast food chain who delivered hundreds of hot pizzas to frontline NHS workers. The local farm shops who kept our cupboards stocked with fresh produce. The alcohol manufacturers who began producing hand sanitising gel. Taking care of each other, in whatever way we can, is what we should be doing first and foremost. And if brands aren’t able to make a physical contribution, they can still make a tangible difference through relevant, helpful messaging.

Being able to navigate this situation in a timely, coherent way goes back to having a rock solid content strategy. Defining the goals of your content, knowing your intended audience, and selecting the most appropriate format are the three fundamentals of this.

According to data insights company Kantar, consumers are expecting brands to help them in their everyday life with practical and realistic advice (30%). Use a reassuring tone (69%). Use their knowledge to explain and inform (22%). And understand their concerns to help reduce their anxiety (18%). And although it goes without saying, 60% of consumers iterated that brands should not be exploiting the pandemic to promote themselves.

One of the biggest mistakes brands can make during this time is to continue business as usual on social media. Even if pre-planned campaigns steer clear of anything controversial, it’s still extremely odd for a brand to not acknowledge what’s happening. It’s all anybody is thinking and talking about.

Pivot hard and fast

When it comes to content during this period, we’ve had to pivot hard and fast for both ourselves and our clients. Social media and digital content plans were paused and new ideas drawn up to reflect this sensitive, rapidly changing time.

When it comes to reading the room on social media, remember...

  • Be open

How is your brand helping its customers or adjusting to this new normal? Lift the curtain a little and let them into your way of thinking.

  • Be empathetic

Listen to your audience and understand their feelings, thoughts, fears, and joys. This will help you create content that is both useful and appropriate.

  • Be flexible

Time to throw those plans to one side. Things are changing every day so your ability to be reactive could set you apart from everyone else.

Based on your strategy, and learnings from previous content, you’ll know that your audience will have come to expect and need certain things from you. While it may seem like you should follow trending themes and start sharing home workout plans or banana bread recipes, if that’s not what your brand’s known for then steer clear. You wouldn’t expect to see Halfords creating content around home office spaces however, they could easily post relevant and handy comms about cycling or car maintenance during periods of not driving.

Show your purpose and demonstrate your worth. You know your niche better than anyone and your actions now should reflect your brand’s DNA, so with that in mind ask yourself:

Why will our audience care, and why now especially?

Do we have a voice in this topic, in what ways are we credible?

What content will resonate with our audience?

Brands that are getting it right

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Those who have got it right on social media during this period are those who know their usefulness, know their audiences, and know how to connect the dots between the two.

Pret used their social platforms to announce free hot drinks and 50% for all NHS workers.

Boohoo turned their Instagram into a hub of activity with Lives scheduled throughout the week, including yoga classes and DJ sets.

Gousto began sharing meal ideas on Instagram, acknowledging that even though they can’t fulfill the high volume of orders, they can still share their favourite recipes with audiences.

Airbnb launched Airbnb Online Experiences, a place for Airbnb Hosts to present wine classes, tango concerts, or magic performances from the comfort of their own home.

Joe Wicks, The Body Coach became the globe’s PE teacher, sharing daily kid-friendly workouts and bagging a YouTube award along the way for surpassing 1 million subscribers, with 2.2 million and counting.

And, as we’ve come to expect from the behemoth brand, Nike did good too. With store closures inevitable they embraced digital sales and marketing instead, making their Nike Training Club app free (it usually comes with a monthly subscription fee) and launching the Play Inside campaign. In China, the weekly active use of their fitness app rose by 80%, which correlated with engagement on their commerce app too.

Reading the room doesn’t just mean making heartfelt gestures either. It means being conscious and cautious of your marketing efforts. Nobody wants to be seen as profiting from the crisis, which is behind the reason that many hygiene companies have put a halt on paid social advertising. Facebook has also done its part to help brands encourage audiences to stay at home, by removing the Store Location option as an advert marketing objective. Similarly, Google has restricted advertisers from buying certain keywords stating “Some healthcare-related content can’t be advertised at all, while others can only be advertised if the advertiser is certified with Google and targets only approved countries.”.

Social media remains king

Over the past month our media usage has, understandably, shot up. Internet browsing, social networking, and emailing remain king as we rely on them to stay in touch with friends and family. But also, with so much time on our hands there’s an increase in the desire to learn and experience new things.

Knowing that parents are possibly juggling homeschooling their kids, while working from home themselves, Chester Zoo hosted a Facebook Live, entertaining viewers with educational tours of giraffe, elephant, and penguin enclosures. The zoo clearly knows their audience and are aware of their potential pain points right now, so offered a solution that is both beneficial to them and relevant to the brand. How could your brand do something similar?

Above all else

But above all else, talking authentically with your audience will always stand you in good stead. The rate of change across news, sectors, and platforms shows that even with the most well thought-out playbook, curveballs will need to be dealt with.

As long as you keep your audience in the loop with empathetic messaging, you’ll be able to avoid controversy and navigate this tricky time, adding value along the way.

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