Weekly Social Guidance: Week of 4/13

This week’s edition includes:

  • Guidance on audience acceptance of branded content in social
  • Safe ways to re-establish your brand’s voice during the pandemic
  • How to optimize YouTube channels and content for current audience needs
  • A new measurement model to assess brand helpfulness during COVID-19
  • Emerging opportunities with audio
  • Creative tips to craft social campaigns with relevance

The Week Ahead: What to Expect

With glimmers of hope appearing more often in many geographies, the needs and mood of social media users continue to evolve around the world, as does the place for brands.

A growing body of research fielded in recent days is helping to clarify what audiences want most in social now, and illuminate appropriate roles for brands at this moment.

In its latest COVID-19 research report published this week, Global Web Index underscores the need for brands to continue providing “practical information and tips to deal with the situation” – with nearly 90% of respondents supporting this kind of communication from companies. But there’s more to the story.

Respondents from 13 countries surveyed see a more diverse role for brands during the pandemic.  Nearly 3 out 4 respondents (72%) approve of brand advertising that supports customers impacted by COVID-19.  And more than half now approve of “normal” marketing unrelated to COVID-19.

It’s hardly business as usual, but as we inch towards Coronavirus peak and eventual recovery, there appears to be a new openness among consumers to broader communication from brands. Among the content people want more of today? GWI’s research puts entertainment like films, memes, live streams of bands, and even videos to learn new skills at the top of the list.

Expect many social media marketers to steadily shift from solely delivering functional information to a more balanced mix: a steady stream of helpful posts complemented by campaigns and content which deliver more than just functional information. This transition will help brands begin to restore their authentic voices in social in social media –voices which had been respectfully muted in previous weeks.

The Week Ahead: What to Do

Are you responsible for social media at your organization?  Consider the following actions for the week ahead:

1.)  Reestablish your brand’s authentic voice through 1:1 social engagement.

Over the last few weeks, companies of every type have treaded carefully in social media, delicately balancing the need to deliver messages in a somber tone with a desire to stay true to legacy brand voice.

Brands that have traditionally showed up in a social as more irreverent or lighthearted have had to shift most, as few want to see a post in their social feeds humorously promoting a product couched between messages from friends and family expressing concern or sadness. Pushed social content targeting large blocks of customers that’s overtly promotional can come across as tone deaf at best, and offensive at its worst.

So if your brand has historically embraced a humorous or lighthearted voice in social media, does this mean you have to abandon that aspect of your personality until the pandemic is behind us?

No, not completely. Care must be taken with outbound posts, whether paid or organic, to respect the conversational context in which they may appear. But your brand personality can and still should show up when it comes to engaging directly with your fans.

In the week ahead, ensure your brand’s community managers are equipped to keep the voice you are known (and loved) for alive and well in 1:1 conversations and replies to brand fans.

Even in the worst of times, people value levity and a good laugh to get them through. If a fan posts a comment or tweets at you, a good community manager knows how to engage in kind. That’s what reading the room is about. If a customer or other stakeholder is tweeting or posting to (or about) you in a way that invites some levity, take the opportunity to make them laugh or smile. Give them the brand voice they came for and expect – they probably need it now more than ever.

Though having a 1:1 conversation addresses an individual’s needs, most of these conversations appear publicly and others can see them, too. This is a good thing. Those who appreciate your brand voice will still be able to see a glimmer of it, but they’ll also recognize you applied it in a context that has given permission to deliver it. Remember that reading the room isn’t an all or nothing approach. It’s a right time, right place approach, and that should be something that brands should always pay attention to in the worst or best of times.

2.) Tune your YouTube channel and content for the times.

As social distancing and self-isolation continue during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise consumers continue to spend more time online each week. People aren’t just logging on to social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok more often, they’re also behaving differently, communicating more regularly through video chats, shifting when they’re engaging in social media, and relying far more on streaming video.

From March 9 to March 16, total streaming time grew to 156.1 billion minutes per day in the United States, compared to 127.6 billion minutes during the last week of February, according to Nielsen. YouTube accounted for 20% of streaming minutes during that same week, second only to Netflix (29%). And while both Netflix and YouTube serve as entertainment platforms, YouTube is unique in that it provides many more genres of content, serving more of each person’s varied needs every hour of the day.

With trending news updates, how-to videos, helpful information from businesses, and inspiring stories, the streaming video platform has become a vital resource during the pandemic. In March, YouTube viewership for U.S. based content jumped up 63% vs. March 2019, according to data analytics firm Tubular Labs. The top 5 categories seeing increased demand on YouTube in March 2020 vs. 2019 were:

  • Sports: +20%
  • Music: +57%
  • Health & Fitness: +63%
  • People and Lifestyle: +9.5%
  • Arts & Culture: +29%

Consumers’ daily routines have been disrupted during COVID-19, driving them to seek out “at-home” options for everything from workouts, DIY projects, and educational learning for their children. YouTube says personal activity videos with the terms “at home” or #withme increased in views more than 500% on March 15, compared to the daily average the rest of the year.

These shifts create opportunities for brands in the week ahead to develop deeper connections with customers on the platform and serve up more of what people want most.  But what’s the best way to make sure your brand’s channel and content is best positioned for this moment?

It’s not as simple as just uploading a few more videos next week. Over 300 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute. For a brand to stand out and meet audiences on their terms, their presence needs to be optimized at both the content and channel levels.

Here are a few YouTube optimization brands can implement quickly to boost performance for new and existing videos during COVID-19:

Utilize YouTube “Search Suggest” to Identify Engaging Video Topics 

YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine in the world, and its “search suggest” feature can be a powerful tool to discover highly-engaged content topics related to your brand. It can generate keyword lists for improving organic search visibility of your content on the platform.  And it’s also a source for creative inspiration, helping brands consider topics for new videos audiences will care about.

Many keywords like “DIY” which were popular on YouTube before the pandemic are now helping users discover health-related content specific to COVID-19.  If you’re a brand that’s published DIY videos on YouTube in the past, the tool can help you understand what consumers searching for DIY content are looking for most now, and consider alternatives to show up appropriately in organic search:

To figure out alternative keywords with the least competition, enter each search term into Google followed by “site:youtube.*” to find the total number of results and chose one that has lower popularity, making it easier for your video to rank higher in results.

Explore YouTube’s Learn@Home and #StayHome Channels

To help its global audience find useful content during COVID-19, YouTube has developed three new discovery resources focused on the three most popular content areas: wellness, learning and entertainment. Check out: 

  • Learn@Home: A resource for families with children of different ages and areas of interest. Recommended channels and content are organized by age group or by learning subjects such as math, science, etc.
  • YouTube Learning Channel: A spot for teens and adults to discover quality learning content. From playlists to learn a new skill or help study for a test, the YouTube Learning Channel makes it easy to find something new to learn.
  • #StayHome #WithMe Channel: This YouTube-led initiative taps into the popular #WithMe video category to underscore the important of staying home and being safe, while still having fun.

The content featured on each destination is based on user search habits across Google and YouTube and is continuously updated based on changing needs of audiences. In the week ahead, familiarize yourself with the content spotlighted here to help your brand:

  • Develop new content concepts, based on featured playlists and video types that could be an organic fit for your organization’s content.
  • Determine if parts of your brand channel’s current content library could be grouped together into a new front-end playlist, aligning with any of the featured categories, and relaunch the fresh playlist(s) on your channel.
  • Create unique videos for a featured category by leveraging and remixing existing content housed in your library. For example, best of sports moments or product tips and tricks related to physical or emotional health and wellness.

Optimize Video SEO to Improve Performance of New & Legacy Content

There are some simple steps you can take to ensure every video your brand publishes to the platform can perform at its best during COVID-19 (and beyond).  The following optimization can help quickly boost performance of new uploads and your brand’s existing content library, leading to better overall channel performance:

  • Front-load your target search term/keyword in video titles: YouTube puts more weight on first words in a title, so make sure it’s your primary search term.
  • Create succinct video titles between 40-50 characters: A study by Justin Briggs discovered that videos with titles under 50 characters ranked best in YouTube Search. Less is more with titles.
  • Utilize the MVC Formula (Main Keyword, Variations, Category) for including meta-tags to your video.
    • M – Main keyword goes first; this is your title keyword and what you are looking to rank for (1 keyword)
    • V – Variations of the main Keyword, alternatives of the target keyword (2-4 keywords)
    • C – Category keywords that describe your topic, genres or industry (2-3 keywords)

  • Upload CTR Driver Thumbnails: Include video thumbnails strategically designed to get more clicks from YouTube Searches. Be sure to:
    • Use non-YouTube colors in your thumbnail to standout (Green, Blue, Purple, Grey, Orange)
    • Include big, bold text that describes the video in under 30 characters
  • Aim for a video description copy length of to 150-200 words, including the keyword in the first sentence
  • Upload video transcript to increase search rank on Google
  • Add your video to a minimum of 2 featured playlists, with one shown on your channel front end
  • Add a video end screen: This interactive YouTube feature allows brands to promote a recommended video from its channel, link to a website or subscribe to the brand channel. Always add video end screens to keep viewers engaged with your channel, increasing session time on YouTube.

 3.) Rethink social measurement during COVID-19.

Translating social media views, likes, comments, sentiment, click-throughs and shares to indicators of business value has been an aim of brand marketers for nearly a decade. Over that time, social media pros have refined and customized measurement models for consumer brands, sales-driven B2B organizations and healthcare companies. At our agency, we offer clients an advanced measurement and analytics capability that is not only descriptive, but prescriptive and predictive.

And while measurement has come a long way in recent years, brands communicating during COVID-19 find themselves struggling with the need to assess performance against very different business priorities.  These days, companies in virtually every industry are trying earnestly to realize a purpose beyond profit.  (Note: Golin has provided a guide for how to act with purpose during COVID-19.)

As the brief has changed towards establishing more purpose-driven content and campaigns, so have the requirements for measurement. Instead of asking about business outcomes like how responding to customers’ questions in social media impacts attitude toward the brand, social media marketers are being asked how to gauge the effectiveness of their purpose-driven social content, media buys, influencer outreach and community management. They want to know “are we being helpful?”

Golin has developed a new measurement framework for social media pros to answer that very question. The framework outlines a customer journey of sorts, but instead of the goal recognizing the brand’s effectiveness at selling a product, it’s to realize helpfulness.

1. Measuring the helpfulness of social content

Key question: When our brand publishes a post, does the target audience find it helpful?

  • Exposure: Is our helpful content reaching the right audiences?
    • What to Measure: Targeted reach of paid media; organic follower audience reach
  • Consumption: Are our audiences paying attention to our helpful content?
    • What to Measure: Click-throughs from social posts to more in-depth helpful content; video completion rates
  • Appreciation: Are our audiences telling us they find value in our helpful content?
    • What to Measure: Likes and other positive reactions to our posts; comments containing phrases like “thanks” or “is helpful”
  • Utilization: Are our audiences using our content to help others?
    • What to Measure: Shares of our posts

2. Measuring the helpfulness of proactive engagement / influencer outreach

Key question: When our brand publicly and proactively responds to or mentions an influencer, does that influencer find it helpful?

  • Response: Have we earned the attention of the influencer such that they take the time to acknowledge or respond?
    • What to Measure: Response rate
  • Appreciation: Is the influencer telling us they find value in our helpful content?
    • What to Measure: Likes and other positive reactions to our mentions; responses containing phrases like “thanks” or “is helpful”
  • Utilization: Is the influencer using our content to help others?
    • What to Measure: Shares of our post

3. Measuring the helpfulness of reactive engagement/ community management

Key question: Are we being helpful to our customers and other stakeholders when they tell us they need our help?

  • Response Rate: Are we responding to our customers and stakeholders?
    • What to Measure: Response rate to engageable mentions and comments; absence of complaints about non-response
  • Response Time: Are we responding in a timely manner to customers and stakeholders?
    • What to Measure: Time to response for engageable mentions and comments; absence of complaints about response time
  • Appreciation: Are we providing helpful information and solving problems for customers and stakeholders?
    • What to Measure: Likes and other positive reactions to our mentions; responses containing phrases like “thanks” or “is helpful” or “you solved my problem”; absence of complaints about unresolved issues
  • Utilization: Are customers and stakeholders using our responses to help others?
    • What to Measure: Shares of our responses

Like everything right now, the situation for brand marketers in social will continue to change as we progress from peak to new normal. As customer and stakeholder needs change, brands will continue to evolve their social content, engagement and measurement to meet them.

4. Explore the role of audio for at-home audiences.

Many Americans are commuting far less due to working from home. With this change comes a shift in music and podcast streaming habits as audio can serve as a reprieve during challenging times. While there are certainly fewer streaming audio listeners overall, there are new consumption trends emerging on platforms like Spotify, such as:

  • Device diversification: More people are streaming across devices like computer desktops, TVs, smart speakers and gaming consoles.
  • Collaboration for connection: Spotify is seeing an increase in collaborative playlists where users connect over curated music. On TikTok, the #shareyourplaylist trend is today’s digital mixtape – users screenshot a collection of songs on Spotify curated for a specific mood to share with their followers.
  • Craving calm: Listeners are adding more “chill” song selections, meaning more acoustic, less danceable and lower energy, to their playlists than before. Streams of yoga, nature sounds and meditation playlists are up.
  • Partner for parents: To keep kids entertained, there is an increase in the streaming of Kids & Family specific content, especially music to help kids sleep.
  • Need for news: To stay knowledgeable on the changing world around us, users are more regularly turning to news podcasts.
  • Fitness focused: More people have been listening to podcasts in the Health & Fitness and Lifestyle & Health categories in addition to an uptick in creating and following more workout playlists than they were a month ago.

Spotify’s New Offering for Brands During COVID-19

Spotify recently expanded its self-serve Ad Studio to 18 markets around the world – a tool which can help companies deliver relevant messages ahead of streaming content on the platform. Brands large and small can upload a script and Spotify will turn around a fully-produced audio ad with background music and voiceover for free within 48 hours.  Spotify Ad Studio allows advertisers to target audiences according to interests such as comedy, cooking and technology.

Remember, context still matters. Even with listening happening all in one place, relevance is still critical. If a user is listening to a focus playlist while working or a news podcast in the morning, the ads she or he hear should still be contextually relevant with the right message and the right time.

5. Focus on creativity with context.

In happier times, creatives who dream up ideas that shape or shift culture ask a lot of questions. Most of them start with “what if?” — an exercise that suspends reality. Asking “what if” enough often leads to the best, most original ideas. What if the holiday lights in a shopping center pulsed with the rhythm of a child’s heartbeat? What if, instead if being used to measure the state of the economy, McDonald’s Big Mac could actually be used as a real currency? At first, plenty of ideas sound impossible. And then we make them possible.

Asking “what if” leads to progressive ideas during times of health, peace and prosperity, but the practice also helps brands figure out how to show up in relevant ways during times of distress.

Here are a few contextual realities creatives at Golin have discovered that can fuel creative exploration for social activations:

People want to come together. They really do, now more than ever. The entire city of New York — every single burrow — erupts in applause and horns for the front-liners every night at 7pm. In Italy everyone came together to make music from their balconies. Even when we can’t physically assemble, the human condition is to find a way.

Social media connected us. Then it divided us. Now it connects us again. It’s important to ride the social, cultural wave, because you can’t change it. Right now it’s at its best. People are joining groups on social at a record pace. They’re completing quizzes. Challenging each other. Sharing memes. Finding ways to thank front-liners. Sharing content that makes us smile.

Digital has become less of a plus-up, and more of a necessity for all brands. We’re in awe of how the world has so quickly adapted and adopted new ways to assemble. Zoom meetings allow businesses to carry on, wine clubs to still meet, and friends to lean on each other — virtually face-to-face. FaceTime and video calls help people battle loneliness. DJs hold hours-long sessions on Twitch. Bands live-stream their music. As folks spend more and more hours in their homes, they game more often. And share their daily steps as a new form of friendly competition.

So, what does all this mean? Brands that are used to in-person stunts and video shoots are finding themselves challenged by processes that have ground to a halt. Even when shelter-in-place orders lift, many of the large events and cultural moments that ideas are anchored to are going to take place in abnormal conditions. To succeed, creative must be participatory from home.

Quite simply, the new normal for the week ahead, and for months to come, is to move our activations, our announcements, and our launches to where virtually everyone has already moved. Social and digital. Over the past few weeks Golin clients have hosted their first virtual press events. From the first days of social distancing we partnered with client teams to create troves of ideas brands could activate without physical proximity, embracing tactics such as social AR.

As you explore creative ways for your brand to show up in social in the week ahead, consider:

  • Brands have to dig deep inside and know what they stand for. This is more important than ever. Re-center on your north star and stay there. Consumers develop relationships with brands based on shared values, not just transactions. Stay true to your voice. Brands known for their sarcasm or jokes on Twitter are delicately staying the course — but as always making sure they’re not tone deaf. The key is to remain authentic. Always. Stakeholders have their guards up. They’re skeptical. If you say or do something that doesn’t feel like it’s true to your story, they will reject it.
  • Be bold or be invisible. Do you have something to say? Do you have a new way to say it? Whether it’s a simple post, emotional content, a new way to reach gamers, a new social filter, if it doesn’t garner attention it’s invisible. Getting noticed for the right reasons now should fuel every brand’s creative engine.
  • Be inclusive. Always make sure your idea can be approached by people from all walks of life. Whether you’re delivering helpful how-tos or comedic relief, practice inclusion in social.
  • Is this creative campaign or social post helping or harming? Seize the moment. But don’t take advantage of it. Don’t be overtly promotional. As we emerge from the pandemic, the receptiveness of audiences may come and go. Studies reveal people are increasingly open to lighter content, but how you will be remembered in these transitioning weeks and months is crucial. Did you connect people? Did you offer assistance? Did you empathize? Did you help them cope, either directly or by providing welcome distraction?

It’s every social team’s responsibility to make sure its brand remains culturally relevant and adapt whenever that changes. When COVID-19 is behind us, every brand will hustle to announce, activate, and launch across all media, including social. Brands which start thinking creatively again right now will be better prepared to earn attention and delight their audiences in social media in not-too-distant future.

*If you have questions or are seeking counsel, please reach out to Jeff Beringer at jberinger@golin.com.