The Week Ahead: What to Expect
Social brands continue to be deluged with questions from customers, employees and other stakeholders. Many will look for ways to scale up social engagement and customer care resources, giving internal social teams much-needed support (and even a little rest).
The appetite for useful information continues to grow. Brands once opposed to publishing organic content are reconsidering their social distribution strategies, balancing both paid and organic publishing in order to meet customers’ expectations for information when and where they need it. To communicate with a human touch, expect more companies to elevate executives and internal subject experts to be message bearers on social media.
Recently paused paid social investments will be re-evaluated, as more and more examples of appropriate and relevant boosted content appear across virtually every industry. Expect more companies to test and slowly scale up promoted content this week, also bolstered by historically low CPMs on social platforms.
Bad actors continue to emerge online, peddling life-saving products needed by healthcare professionals, or pushing misinformation. Leading social networks, technology companies and brands are joining a global fight to defeat them. New security risks in the form of digital leaks from remote workers, virtual meetings and shared documents also arise, creating reputational issues of their own.
Social platforms will continue to adapt their offerings and improve experiences for users logging on during the pandemic. Key themes for new features include tools for collaboration, simpler content publishing, fact-finding, community building, and even fun.
Though community spread continues across many geographies, expect social conversation to start slowly shifting towards longer-term solutions. With US Congress sending the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) to the White House for signature, more companies and their constituents may talk more about recovery, as well as survival.
At the same time, the initial shock of remote distancing and working from home has subsided in a growing number of locations and individuals will increasingly look to social media for entertainment, inspiration, etc. – creating new opportunities for brands to communicate more than basic emergency information… if they can do it with the right tone.
The Week Ahead: What to Do
1.) Make sure your brand is open for conversation.
Companies are receiving more questions in social media than ever before, and a growing number are finding themselves ill-equipped to respond quickly or reply to enough stakeholders.
Social automation tools can play an important supporting role, delivering fast answers to most frequently asked questions and add conversational interaction with stakeholders when resources are tight inside. Brands can use bots as a helpful resource on their websites and respond to questions via Facebook Messenger, Twitter DMs or even on voice platforms. Automated social response tools can deliver information on demand to many, while triaging people with more complicated or sensitive questions to human responders for nuanced replies.
Consider updating scripts for engagement teams or automated platform each week with the current 10-20 most frequently asked stakeholder questions. If your internal social engagement or social care team is running on empty, also consider how to activate other internal employees who know your business and can be trained up quickly. Agency partners who know your voice can also help.
2.) Take a fresh look at organic publishing.
With many brands pulling back on promoted content, organic content has a better chance of appearing in your audiences’ feeds. When algorithms can’t fill space with promoted stories because fewer brands are advertising, it’s more likely we’ll see organic content published by brands (and engaged with by their audiences) appear more prominently in social media.
Consider revving up your social content engine to provide more bite-sized, helpful organic content to audiences. Social listening and customer care data can identify the questions stakeholders are asking most – and answering them via short organic posts on brand pages and profiles can deliver help on demand and keep audiences engaged.
Organic content is low risk. Similar to SEM, organic publishing delivers information to audiences actively searching for it who visit brand owned pages and channels directly. Be sure your handles are full of useful information, even if you aren’t promoting all your stories with paid. Consider platform-specific cuts of information. For example, instead of social posts linking to a lengthy COVID-19 FAQ on your website, make policies and news bite-sized and publish them natively to each platform.
3.) Activate execs and SMEs to humanize social content.
Whether organic or promoted, content delivered with a human touch is highly effective during the pandemic.
In recent years, executives and business leaders have begun to embrace social media, with a growing number establishing their own footprints in social media. With transparency and brand values playing a bigger role shaping brand perceptions, executives and internal SMEs are putting themselves out there by appearing in content published on their own channels or brand handles. Their participation demonstrates a willingness to be more transparent.
As COVID-19 spreads across the world, brands are trying to assure stakeholders they’re committed to safety and well-being of customers and employees. Customers and workers thirst for leadership, but too often during the outbreak, “the brand” makes a statement and a disconnect occurs. A brand is an entity, not a person. The result? Today’s “spamdemic” — brands posting and sending a flurry of sterile emails about commitment to community that don’t feel genuine.
In the week ahead, brands should strive to show a personal commitment, including social content with reassurances from leaders and SMEs inside. If your executives and subject experts have been waiting for the right opportunity to participate in social media, now is the time. Real people can deliver information with empathy and authority. This is the time for leaders to rally employees and the communities they serve, be visible, and humanize brand values.
Production quality is less important than showing up in the week ahead. Worry less about picture-perfect shot framing, lighting and wardrobe, and more about authenticity and timeliness of message. Numerous examples of executives and SMEs appearing in iPhone-shot videos eliciting positive response prove that presence trumps perfection today.
4.) Move paid social budgets from the freezer to the fridge.
For brands with appropriate content, there’s a great opportunity in the week ahead by taking advantage of historically low social CPMs to begin testing and slowly scaling up paid social investments. Social advertising can be less expensive now for two simple reasons: more people are spending significantly more time on social media sites and apps at home, just as many brands around the world are running fewer ads.
While lower funnel, direct response brand messages aren’t yet appropriate in many geographies or for companies in many industries, top of funnel promoted posts featuring helpful information, tips, or inspiration can be tested without breaking the bank. If your brand has frozen its paid social budget in recent weeks, consider thawing in the week ahead and test-to-resume without a huge investment.
Proceed carefully but don’t be paralyzed. Though the current climate is not favorable for brands looking to use paid media to sell every product or service, it does yield opportunities for brands to communicate and demonstrate understanding of customers’ current needs, to empathetically showcase helpful information and to keep customers engaged by championing their communities.
Promoted Content Considerations
In times like these brands run a much higher risk of being perceived as insensitive or seeking to capitalize on the pandemic. Consider promoting activities and communications that can show how the brand is responding to and caring for their community via special discounts, or provide resources that help existing customers/followers during this difficult time. Consider the following:
- Re-evaluate all paid content in market. Be mindful of tone in messaging, staying clear of topics that could allude to negative emotions. If possible, rework content and creative to stay on point with general CDC guidelines, ensuring copy and creative showcase social distancing or activities that people can carry out on their own. Do not force-fit your brand’s messaging to comply with these guidelines – inauthentic content will perform poorly and receive backlash.
- Avoid topics around social gatherings and economic futures. Unless it’s the industry your brand is in, avoid promoted messaging that relates or alludes to topics about travel, sports, public gatherings, future economic implications or branded social causes/partnership that are not focused on COVID relief. These are topics that currently yield low relevance and/or are considered volatile.
- Keep a close eye on sentiment. If promoted posts are receiving lots of negative comments or angry reactions, pause the media and re-assess content/creative for the campaign. Consider halting the campaign altogether if there is not an authentic and helpful angle that the brand could provide.
- Plan ahead. Opinions vary about when the outbreak might peak in the U.S., and when life might “return to normal” for most citizens. However, we can anticipate certain inflection points across the arc for when the narrative will shift. Brands should be prepared to shift their promoted content focus to match those moments. Consider shifting the focus of what your brand communicates to its customers via paid media, depending on where we are in the arc of the pandemic:
- Ramp-up (daily infection rates are increasing exponentially): focus on communicating your plan to maintain product supply, meet consumer demand, and support affected employees.
- Peak (daily infection rates have reached their greatest volume): focus on showing your brand is thinking ahead and transparently report product availability issues or achievements. Continue to promote content that helps users in their new day-to-day environments. Consider spotlighting heroic work of your employees or customers without taking credit yourself.
- Post-Peak (daily infection rates are declining): communicate your brand’s recovery plan to return to normal service levels. Consider “sneak peeks” at future products or policy changes.
- New Normal (daily infections are at or near zero): Show gratitude for your community’s support. Promote content about your brand’s recovery plan and progress against it. Larger brand and product announcements can safely resume.
Targeting & Placements Considerations
People are spending much more time at home, with ~45% of North America consumers spending time browsing online, ~39% utilizing streaming services and ~35% using social media applications on a daily basis. While it implies a great opportunity for brands to reach their target audience online, it also provides opportunities to re-evaluate placements where content will be most effective, and that are safe for the brand’s message.
For example, brands that have a strong and personable message that is not directly related to COVID could look to placements like programmatic and CTV to amplify their message with minimal risk of backlash. Brands can rethink how to be helpful and responsive to their communities FAQ’s by leaning into paid opportunities on placements that can both inform and automate responses to their customers with specific questions, such as messaging apps, promoted threads or video series.
Consider the following to assess brand risk across various placement types:
- Promoted social: safe if topic is related to providing helpful/relevant information around COVID. All other campaigns should exclude COVID terms.
- Search/SEM: safe if topic is related to providing aid around COVID. All other campaigns should exclude COVID terms.
- Programmatic/Native: low risk of backlash for both COVID and non-COVID campaigns.
- CTV: Safe for video awareness campaigns and a highly relevant video placement given the uptick in streaming services. Low risk of backlash for both COVID and non-COVID campaigns.
- Messaging Apps: Safe if topic is related to providing helpful/relevant information around COVID. All other campaigns should exclude COVID terms.
Along with re-evaluating where the brand’s message will appear, it is important to be equally cautious of who the message is delivered to. For all messaging and campaigns that are not related to COVID, consider applying our suggested list of terms to exclude from your targeting.
Anticipated Paid KPI Shifts:
The COVID landscape has shifted digital behaviors from both users and advertisers, which has different implications for advertisers running paid digital campaigns. In an environment where it is virtually impossible to disassociate from COVID entirely, advertisers will have to do right by their messaging and targeting strategy, while being cognizant of KPI and cost implications. Generally speaking, campaigns that exclude COVID terms should expect to see higher costs in the coming months. While advertisers have pulled back spend across channels, many of those in market are being very cautious around brand safe terms. This will make the (already limited) ad inventory that is not related to COVID highly sought after and competitive, like causing a future rise in costs. On the flip side, if brands are able to market useful content without having to suppress COVID associations, there is a plethora of placements and available ad inventory, which in turn will help brands reach more users in their target audience at a significantly lower rate. This suggests that usual key performance indicators will also be less expensive.
Finally, there are other paid metrics brands should consider now beyond cost per results and engagement/click/video view rates:
- CPM (Cost per 1,000 impressions): Can indicate whether it’s more/less expensive to deliver impressions to those a target audience. This metric can also help infer how competitive the social media ad environment might be.
- Reach (number of unique users reached): Keeping an eye on this metric over time will indicate if your brand is reaching more/less people at a given point in time.
- Frequency (how often a user sees the ad): The “frequency” metric can help indicate whether a targeting strategy needs to be modified.
- Result Rate (the rate at which you are achieving your KPI’s). This is an indicator of whether or not the creative and social content is resonating with the reached target audience. If the cost of reaching an audience increases and we are able to deliver less ads, results rates can still help us determine whether the ad is being effective or not in producing the desired action.
- Quality Ranking (feedback on the ads and the post-click experience): The ad is ranked against other ads that competed for the same audience. This metric can help brands better understand an ad’s effectiveness in comparison to competing ads, as an indicator to improve/modify ads in market for a better experience.
In order to maximize campaign performance, brands should focus on marrying appropriate content with highly relevant targeting and placement strategies, in order to maximize media budgets and achieve cost-efficiencies throughout the COVID-19 narrative arc. Brands that are willing to be flexible with their content marketing can adopt a ‘testing’ approach to their existing and planned campaigns, by designing campaigns with multiple audience segments and creative asset options that can allow for fluid optimization. A ‘testing’ mentality will allow for less interruptions to campaigns and will provide key learnings of the messages that your brand’s target audience is receptive to in this ever-changing COVID landscape.
5.) Beware of Digital Security Threats
Last week, the Trump administration took steps to loosen privacy requirements for doctors treating patients over phone and video apps during the escalating coronavirus pandemic. While a helpful and necessary action to protect public health, it softened barriers previously in place to stop hackers looking to take advantage of a workforce that’s working from home more heavily to prey on company and individual data.
Digital platforms and applications we’ve used to keep us connected as we hunker down in home offices are now more susceptible to security vulnerabilities, and companies must be mindful of the ways they are sharing confidential and business-critical decisions, particularly as the current crisis requires changes to business operations, impacts financials and creates a need for difficult staffing situations.
As we continue to work virtually in the weeks ahead, take extra care in both the setup of your meetings and in how the information is shared within them (and instruct colleagues to do the same). There are vulnerabilities identified by some colleges through online/distance learning that can be applied to more frequent virtual business meetings remote workers now host.
A few tips to keep your brand and sensitive information safe:
- Where possible, avoid creating public links for secure documents and presentations. Instead, invite users to collaborate on documents by email to ensure only approved users have read or write access.
- Keep confidential information and business decisions to a small, trusted group. If specific messages must be delivered to a broader set of leaders or employees (e.g. financials or furloughs), lean on individual phone calls or encrypted communications platforms (e.g., iMessage).
- For important staff and team announcements, stick to your organization’s approved videoconferencing tools. Though other tools are useful for social purposes, keep in mind these may not have been fully vetted for your organization’s cybersecurity requirements (e.g., Google Hangouts on Air).
- Take steps to keep large group meetings as controlled as possible by using an invite-based link, making use of the waiting room feature, limiting screen share capabilities, muting participants who do not have speaking roles and disabling chat functionality.
- Remember: Just as emails can be forwarded, all video meetings regardless of technology/tool can be recorded and shared on personal social channels, with media, etc simply by snapping a video on a mobile device.
6.) Watch for Changes to Major Social Platforms
Social networking companies are seeing record use of their platforms, apps and tools as millions of people stay at home. And they’re taking advantage of this increased use to launch new offerings and improve experiences of users. A few timely examples:
A Flurry of New Features on Instagram
The past week has seen a number of new features debut on Instagram, with others reportedly under development. They include:
A new co-watching feature to help users connect amid COVID-19 lockdowns – Instagram is adding a new ‘Co-Watching’ feature which aims to help users connect via video chat with multiple friends and offers users the capability to simultaneously search and share posts with the group. Not only does this feature lean-into the increased desire for collaboration and connection due to the current pandemic landscape, it also enables participatory engagement on Instagram content. Instagram is reading the (virtual) room and building out experiences its users are leaning on other popular apps (like Houseparty) for – while still keeping its offerings true to its platform. We’re closely monitoring announcements for this feature’s roll-out date, as well as the first wave of influencers/users who utilize it for brand marketing.
Stay Home Stickers to Link Shared Stories – Using a sticker in an Instagram Story can now land you in a recap viewable by all your friends. Late last week, Instagram turned on the “Stay Home” sticker, a new kind of sticker that pins Stories into a collection at the front of a user’s story feed. Though it’s unlikely Instagram will open branded versions of these features, it does signify that Instagram is leaning into opportunities to offer users posting options tied to cultural moments. Brands planning future events might consider adapting content for added reach. This feature is built off of previous election stickers to drive voter participation.
Promoting Discovery of Creator/Brand Pages – Similar to its “Discover People” feature, Instagram is preparing “Discover Accounts“ – which would offer users the capability to see recommended brand pages and high-tier creators based on their interests. Details are unconfirmed, but we expect Instagram to recommend accounts using similar methodology to how it populates the Explore page: based on the types of content and hashtags a user likes, searches for, lingers on, shares or explores in more detail. This provides the brand with an opportunity to get in front of new stakeholders who do not currently follow it.
Coming soon: a disappearing messages option. This week, Instagram confirmed it’s working on a new disappearing messages option within its Direct tools. The new option, at least at this stage, would make all messages in your chat window disappear after you read them, and would store them in another area on the app. This isn’t a huge surprise since this is a feature being tested in Facebook and WhatsApp as well. The fact that Facebook, WhatsApp and now Instagram are all testing this feature gives room to believe that this is laddering up to the eventual convergence of all three under the same messenger platform.
Facebook’s Response to COVID-19
The world’s leading social platform is taking several actions to support its users during the global pandemic:
- Making sure everyone has accurate information. It’s launching a Coronavirus Information Center on the platform. Working closely with ministries of health and the WHO, CDC and UNICEF, it is showing credible and timely information at the top of the FB newsfeed, and also the IG news feed (in some countries). If users search for COVID-related information on the platform, they’re served up educational pop-ups. And they’re expanding access to Facebook local alerts for local governments, emergency response organizations, and law enforcement.
- Actively halting misinformation and harmful content. They’re removing debunked myths and conspiracy theories. Ads for hand sanitizer, PPE like masks, and COVID test kits have all been banned. Specific to healthcare products, Facebook is also prohibiting product ads that promise fast resolution or cures, or create a false sense of urgency (e.g. limited supply messages).
- Putting skin in the game to support global health efforts. Facebook is matching $20 million in donations to support COVID-19 relief efforts. They’re providing free ads for global health organizations. And they’re also making use of anonymized location data to help researchers develop smarter models for projecting virus spread.
- Helping small businesses. Facebook is also doing a number of things to help suffering small businesses. It launched a $100 million cash grant and ad credit program, and is providing tips and how-tos in a newly-launched business resource hub.
Apple Releases COVID-19 App and Website based on CDC guidance
Late this week, technology giant Apple announced a new website and app for iOS to deliver information and address concerns about personal health. It includes a new screening tool and voice-delivered resources, based on the latest CDC guidance.
In the United States, Siri users can ask, “How do I know if I have coronavirus?” to access guidance and resources from the CDC and a curated collection of telehealth apps available on the App Store. Additionally, the company began pushing notifications to travelers at select airports with special guidance from the CDC reminding them to stay home and monitor their health after visiting various geographies.
Reddit Launches Polls
Reddit recently added Polls, a new way for Redditors to engage with content on the platform.
The fresh option appears in its app, which enables Redditors to pose questions to their audiences, helping to boost on-platform engagement, and activate the many people who scroll through the site’s content but do not post themselves.
Polls can be open for up to one week, and the end-time must be selected at the time of posting. Then, it’s simply a matter of posing a question, listing up to six answers for the community to choose from, and allowing the conversation to unfold.
If Reddit can help to boost user engagement and make it easier for more people to participate in each discussion, it might increase app popularity and reuse. Depending on the success of Polls, it could be a helpful customer survey tool down the road.
Anchor Expands “Record with Friends”
Anchor, the podcast creation app acquired by Spotify in 2019, is beefing up its “Record with Friends” to support up to four remote participants at a time. Previously capped at two participants, guests can now record from a browser on desktop or mobile, or through the Anchor app itself.
Like video calls, podcasts have been a hot topic around how people are connecting and filling time during COVID-19 isolation and social distancing. Particularly as we move into the next phase of social distancing and isolation, it’s worth keeping an eye on how this space develops and what surge we may see in podcast listenership – as well as creation.
7.) Consider Mental Health
During this period of social distancing and job insecurity, mental health organizations are warning that people may experience fear and anxiety, depression and boredom, anger and frustration, and stigmatization due to their illnesses.
Furthermore, because people are spending more time at home, they are also spending more time in front of computers and phones. According to comScore, time spent on digital news sites has increased to 46%. Online behavior continues to shift toward increased participation in local groups online, too. In Italy, Facebook group calls soared by 1,000%.
Aware of these behavioral shifts, mental health experts are expressing concern about the dangers of spending too much time on both news sites and social media. While social media can help people stay connected, several organizations like the CDC, American Psychological Association and UNICEF are recommending that people moderate and balance their time online, as too much time online can amplify anxiety. Expect more articles and conversation around mental health and online use in the coming weeks.
Brands should take into consideration the potential state of their audiences’ mental health. Now is the time to take a step back and rethink creative beyond tone, focusing on how/if the brand can provide content that encourages healthy online and offline behaviors. For example, #Safehands on TikTok sparked mass user creativity and Warby Parker asked users what they wanted to see from the brand.
* If you have questions or are seeking counsel, please reach out to Jeff Beringer at firstname.lastname@example.org.