Expert Insights

Social Media Guidance: Week of 3/23/20

The Week Ahead: What to Expect
In many geographies around the world, the realities of living and working during a global pandemic are settling in this week. Work and life beyond it are supported by technology like never before, with social media serving dual purposes of gateway to information and lifeline to human connections as broad segments of the population practice social distancing.
The role of social media for businesses during the outbreak continues to evolve. The biggest priority remains delivering concise, helpful information in accessible ways, focused on the safety and unique needs of audiences adjusting to present realities.
But it’s time to start carefully considering appropriate ways to move beyond the basics… when the time is right for your brand and stakeholders.
In the week ahead, expect more social media teams to explore how to support more than just functional needs, identifying ways to provide even more emotional support and help beyond product availability, policies, and basic statements. Overt product promotion or brand building remains distasteful at this time, but opportunities are emerging for companies to slowly inject hope and positivity to social content by shining the light on good deeds of customers, employees, or other audiences which have existing and authentic connections to a brand.
And while it’s all hands on deck for brand social teams reacting to changing conditions each day, a growing number of social leaders are starting to map out how social activities will change once stakeholders begin to reemerge at work and in their physical communities. In some of the earliest-impacted geographies hit by COVID-19, segments of the population are already beginning to return to workplaces and resuming a few activities outside the home. Social media leaders would be wise to think ‘glocally’ and consider both the local and global context of content shared, given that different countries are at vastly different stages of spread or in some cases, slow recovery. In due time, we’ll see a slow return to cultural and community norms happen globally, and marketers need to plan now for an eventual pivot back to social operations which support both stakeholder and brand needs concurrently.

The Week Ahead: What to Do

In the week ahead, consider the following activities to improve social media marketing now and begin planning for a post COVID-19 future:

1. Articulate your brand’s social role during each phase of the pandemic.

Virtually every company in social media operates with a defined voice, visual identity and purpose. But COVID-19 requires brands to take a fresh look at their role in social media and help stakeholders understand a brand’s purpose for being present, what you’ll do and say, and what you won’t.
Consider crafting a short-term addendum to your social media playbook next week, clarifying how you’ll show up in the weeks ahead. Think in terms of what your position will be 1 day / 1 week / 1 month from now, brainstorming potential scenarios and impacts on your brand and those you serve which will color how your brand behaves online. Socialize your plans across departments inside your organization to let other company insiders know what you’re focused on at each interval, how they might leverage channels you control, and what content or engagement activities aren’t a fit for brand social profiles during each phase. Ensure you coordinate messaging and tone guidelines with web, email, and app teams. Develop clear criteria to help say no to off-topic, inappropriate, or ill-timed content publishing requests coming from various departments.
Tell your external stakeholders about your brand’s current role in social, too. Given the flood of information hitting inboxes and social feeds from friends, family members, and companies, clarifying the help, information, and resources you’ll provide in social media respects your audiences’ time and empowers them to interact with your brand on their terms, if and when it’s best for them.
It’s also a good time to remind employees about the appropriate use of social media when talking about their jobs, including on their personal channels. Reporters are actively combing through forums and public social posts for stories inside companies – both the good and the bad. Consider reminding your workforce of existing social policies governing discussion of their jobs and employers online.

2. Give your social listening a tune-up.

If you’re listening today the same way you did in Q4, next week is a great time for a tune-up. A few tips:
  • Focus on listening that informs short-term actions: Because ever-changing media and government mentions influence much of the social content reaching audiences, listening to shape future programming has little utility. Look at the most valuable data today which helps inform communications decisions for the next few days – not for programs planned for weeks away.
  • Examine non-Coronavirus conversation too: Much of the conversation happening on social is about COVID-19 but may not mention the virus directly. Those indirect conversations will be helpful and give you more insight into the struggles or interests of stakeholders now.
  • Go beyond social discussions: Consider using search and web traffic trends to help you understand what your customers are thinking about and what they want to know. Use this information to inform and validate planned and opportunistic content.
  • Think regional: Given the virus is currently sparking more significant action and regulation in U.S. coastal cities and urban centers, discussions in these markets will vary dramatically with what people are talking about in more rural or non-coastal communities. Use regional filters to help understand the differences and don’t assume one message will work for all audiences everywhere.
  • Embrace Native Search: Viral content related to COVID-19 is already showing up on channels that are more private in nature, therefore don’t assume listening will capture everything that’s generating engagement. Do more native platform-level searches and consider creative ways to analyze TikTok content.
  • Don’t Analyze the Internet: When social listening for conversations around COVID-19 that could be helpful to your brand, start with a research question or a key area of interest for your brand. Don’t use social listening to tell you what to care about, use it to focus on specific areas of interests or to validate hunches about audiences, relevant content themes, etc.

3. Give credit where credit is due.

While brands should remain humble and cautious about touting their own good deeds, another group might deserve credit in the week ahead: your customers.
In many industries, companies are discovering incredible stories of customers or other stakeholders like employees helping one another. At a time filled with so much negative news, consider identifying and spotlighting select stories of customers or others with connections to your company who serve one another in a challenging time. Keep the focus on them and their deeds and let any connection to your brand or products be made intuitively, not discreetly. Always ask for permission first before spotlighting the stories of individuals on brand channels.
While this isn’t the time for self-aggrandizing posts about the hard work inside a company, brands may find opportunities to shine the light on customers and inject positivity into social conversations next week.

4. Retool influencer marketing plans.

Influencer marketing and engagement is a staple of modern social media communication. But what’s the appropriate role of influencers in today’s environment?
Like people working in many fields, the pandemic has created a very uncertain time for influencers. Not only are they impacted financially with less sponsorship opportunities, but their overall social presence is being forced to pivot. For example, fitness influencers are doing more in-home workouts and travel influencers are struggling to stay relevant while completely grounded.
Many influencers have directly asked followers how they feel about ads right now, and the majority have responded positively. While sponsored posts are becoming less frequent, a few have continued to post planned brand content from fashion, CPG and beauty brands. While most influencers have modified their content to fit the current cultural context, some have received criticism for being tone-deaf.
  • Many influencers have pivoted to entertaining their audiences through live streaming, sharing what they are doing at home for themselves and with their families.
  • Influencers are sharing affiliate links to products they are using in their “quarantine kits” or even sharing their outfits on sale (e.g. Nordstrom) to maintain their regular content. With followers even asking to support them through their affiliate links.
  • Brands like Chipotle are activating influencers in new ways like their partnership with Zoom and ex-bachelor contestant Colton Underwood in which they shared promo codes through “Together Hangouts.”
  • Influencers are openly talking about COVID-19 and sharing their firsthand experiences getting tested, including Arielle Charnas (tested positive) and Camillestyles (tested negative).
  • Consumers are calling influencers out for sharing inaccurate information. For example, ex-Bachelor contestant Krystal Nielson suggesting a detox can protect you from COVID-19.
  • More consumers have tuned in to esports (up 75% this week) and streamers as sports have gone on hiatus, introducing new opportunities for brand integrations, product placement and sponsorship.
  • TikTok continues to boom and maintain its humanized, humor-driven content. TikTok challenges like #safehands use fun consumer and influencer videos to spread a serious and important message.
  • YouTube has changed its previous policy to demonetize all COVID-19-related videos and will enable ads on a limited number of channels of creators sharing accurate information.
  • A recent Mavrck survey polled 254 influencers and found that only 25% of influencers have decreased their presence on social media in response to COVID-19
  • IZEA conducted a survey with 949 US internet users centered on consumer behaviors during COVID-19 and found that 66% of participants’ social media consumption would increase with YouTube, Facebook and Instagram being the main drivers.
The bottom line? Proceed with caution this week for all influencer activities. Be aware of cultural context surrounding the pandemic and maintain as much flexibility as possible with influencer programming to accommodate the rapidly evolving situation and be mindful that influencers themselves are facing major disruptions to their livelihoods. Put kindness, authenticity, transparency and fairness at the center of engagement.
Evaluate content and partnerships at least two weeks in advance of go-live. Specifically:
  • ·When suspending or delaying campaigns, consult agency/brand legal department to review and/or update terms for contracts already in place. Be ready to negotiate with the influencer on payment, as they will likely seek compensation for work completed. To maintain a positive relationship with the influencer, consider partial payment now and fulfill the rest later during the campaign. Remember – this too shall pass and it’s critical not to sever relationships which may be important for the future.
  • When proceeding with and planning campaigns, be mindful of the current and potential future cultural context related to the pandemic and adjust messaging accordingly:
  1. Do not overtly sell or promote products, such as directly driving trial offers or in-store experiences. Instead, frame relevant messages in terms of the help your brand delivers to consumers.
  2. Do not encourage risky behavior (e.g. gathering in groups)
  3. Keep the context of what’s happening in the world at the forefront; contributing to the greater good with themes that center on uplifting touch points and no overt brand pushes.
  4. Many audiences crave educational and entertaining content now and are receptive to longer-form narratives. While short is usually sweet in social media, be more willing to offer deeper content.
  5. Vet prospective influencers for past controversial comments, backlash for other ads posted, and their reputation for authenticity and transparency.
  6. Include a clause in contracts for flexibility should COVID-19 problems escalate or continue.
  7. Take extra care to be thoughtful, respectful and kind when engaging with influencers as many are seeing their personal livelihood drastically affected.
  8. Expect to see influencers offering lower rates, but do not exploit them. Be fair.
  • When organically engaging influencers through ongoing social engagement programs or proactive efforts:
  1. Continue to reward loyal brand fans through positive social conversation.
  2. Be careful with brand mailers to celebrities, SMEs or other influencers right now. The best practice is to confirm with the individual their willingness to accept a delivery before proceeding given sensitivities about receiving things in homes. We recommend suspending surprise and delight activations for at least the next week.
  3. If influencer activities are put on hold, consider shifting to amplify more organic user-generated content and positive brand-related stories from consumers. Stories of “real people” are particularly heart-warming right now.

5. Go all in on virtual experiences.

Though plans for most in-person events and hands-on moments with products are being shelved, there’s still an opportunity to bring your people and products to stakeholders in impactful ways using virtual tools and technologies.
Harvard Business Review recently published a helpful article on “What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting”. Here’s a summary of a few tips for planning and executing successful online meetings and events:
  • Use Video. To make people feel like they’re all at the “same” meeting, use video conferencing rather than traditional conference dial-ins. Technology helps to personalize the conversation and to keep participants engaged.
  • Always provide an audio dial-in option. Video conferencing can work very well, but it relies on a strong internet connection that may not always be available. People need the ability to participate via audio, but make it clear that video-first is the new norm.
  • Minimize presentation length. The only thing worse than a long presentation in person is a long presentation during a virtual meeting. Meetings should be discussions. Background information should be provided beforehand. If someone needs to present, use screen sharing to guide the conversation, so attendees can literally “be on the same page.” But prioritize conversation to maximize the time people are looking at each other. Consider shorter bursts of discussion with more frequent breaks for virtual attendees.
  • Assign a facilitator. It’s usually harder to manage a virtual discussion than an in-person one. It can be helpful to assign one individual to guide the conversation, allowing the other participants to focus on the content. The facilitator can also use a polling system to “take the pulse” of the group on certain questions and ensure that all voices are heard. The facilitator should also be able to resolve basic questions on the technology being used.

And while scheduled virtual events can bring together the right people at the same time, some experiences are better delivered on an individual’s time and terms – enter AR world effects and lenses. Embedded as part of your brand’s app, added to your website, or delivered on platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, aspects of your planned real-world event or product experience can be recreated virtually for users to enjoy when they want, in the safety of their own homes. Though platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat struggled to deliver quick approvals for AR experiences last week, we expect them to be ready for the increased demands of brands relying on AR to replace real-world experiences.

Brands looking to deliver “real-time” experiences in the virtual world may also consider a a whole host of promoted options on platforms. For example, Twitter Event Page activations allow brands to engage target audiences in a series of activities online, all accessible through a consolidated page. The offering ensures a hero video of the brand’s livestream appears at the top of their target audience’s news feeds, and includes a heart to remind program, a custom emoji that lives on for 90 days and a promoted spotlight trend to help keep the conversation going during those “quiet periods” between scheduled event activities. The event page also allows for six sub-hero videos to be placed into a carousel, so the audience can watch replays of key moments at their convenience.
* If you have questions or are seeking counsel, please reach out to Jeff Beringer at