April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Social Media Guidance: Week of 4/20/20

This week’s edition includes:

  • The surge of good news in social media and tips for brands to join positive conversations now and in the weeks ahead
  • A new paid social model leveraging real-time COVID-19 infection data to improve targeting and reach audiences most open to communication from brands
  • The importance of modesty in social content and campaigns
  • Frictionless transactions post pandemic
  • Assessing social business platform needs
  • Adapting B2B social strategies for the age of Coronavirus

The Week Ahead: What to Expect

With net new COVID-19 infections declining in a growing number of markets, social media users are beginning to imagine life after the pandemic.

Though helpful information is still greatly appreciated in social media, brands find their customers increasingly open to content they’re more accustomed to from companies, with brands and products delicately reappearing in content and campaigns across a growing number of industries.

Social conversations are shifting towards more positive stories and topics, with more on the way.  Social media marketers are getting ready for what’s next.

The Week Ahead: What to Do

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

  1. Go for good.

Though plenty of hardship stories still appear in our news and social feeds, what people see and what they choose to engage with in social media is shifting.  In recent weeks, we’ve seen a reduction in media stories about the pandemic and COVID-19 social engagement.

Since the outbreak began, Golin’s data scientists tracked the daily number of COVID-19 news stories appearing in the United States. From peak in mid-March, overall media coverage about the virus has slowed considerably – with net new stories published each day down approximately 40 percent.

Over the same period, total engagements with pandemic-related content by U.S. social media users plummeted, with comments, shares and other actions down nearly 75 percent since mid-March.

Not only are your customers being exposed to fewer stories about COVID-19 from trusted sources, those stories are generating far fewer comments, likes, and shares in social media.  Indeed, it appears that the harsh realities of life during the pandemic have sunk in and people are beginning to look for something else.

But what’s that something else, and could it present opportunities for brands?

In recent days, we’ve seen a marked uptick in the amount of stories published and engagement with social posts about something good

According to a recent New York Times article, Instagram accounts dedicated to good news, such as @TanksGoodNews and @GoodNews_Movement, have seen follower counts skyrocket. John Krasinksi introduced a news network for good news on YouTube; within a week the channel ‘Some Good News’ had surpassed 1.5 million subscribers and racked up 25 million views. Google searches for “good news” spiked a month ago and have only continued to rise. And Upworthy has seen a 65 percent growth in followers on Instagram and 47 percent increase in on-site page views in March, compared to the previous month.

In the week ahead, consider opportunities for your brand to join the “good news conversation” growing in social media. Here are a few tips on how to engage online journalists and social influencers who are spreading positive stories:

  • Recognize the real heroes. They are essential workers on the front lines and those who are battling COVID-19 themselves. People who are helping those populations automatically get more attention. If your workforce includes essential workers who are making a difference on the front lines, you might have a story worth telling in social media.
  • Keep the focus on individuals, not brands. Right now, the majority of this news on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and media channels are about individuals, not companies or their brands. Even when brands are mentioned, they’re referenced in relationship to the individual. Now is not the time to boast about the check your company is sending to a charity in need.  But it could be a time to celebrate the amazing work individuals at that charity are doing on the front lines.
  • Good is all around us so set realistic expectations. Millions of Americans are volunteering in some way during this time. However, the sheer number of good people doing good things makes it difficult for any one person’s story to break through. If your story is inspirational but not entirely unique, consider local media, more niche influencers, focused social groups and online communities which may be appropriate venues for storytelling.
  • If your brand isn’t in a position to spotlight or reward real heroes directly, there are a growing number of opportunities to support the spread of good news led by third parties. As more online news resources and social handles spreading positive stories pop up — often without funding or material support — new sponsorship opportunities are appearing that present brands with new ways to help.

And while it’s great to see more positive stories emerging now, there’s even more good on the horizon, and even more opportunity for brands.  Over the next 8-12 weeks, expect social conversations to shift sharply from survival to personal experiences of recovery.  Following peak transmission levels in early-impacted markets like China, Golin teams saw social media users eagerly share their first steps into a more active life outside the home, and even back to work. That’s likely to follow with social media users in the U.S. and other Western markets, too.

Brands have a short window to plan for how they can support and be present in these important moments. In the week ahead, think about the “firsts” ahead for your customers and start brainstorming relevant and bold ways your company can be there, too, via social media.

The opportunities are endless. Millions of people will be celebrating missed birthdays, anniversaries, and even the lives of friends lost with others … in person. Singles who met online during the pandemic will venture out for their first date. Professional athletes will take to the field again and let audiences take part via TV and social streams. Restaurants will start welcoming guests, and cooped-up consumers may even hit the road for their first vacation in months.

Social media, which served as a lifeline for information and inspiration during the outbreak, will play an important role helping people plan and celebrate life’s post-pandemic firsts. The brands who identify these events and join their customers in relevant ways will win.

Golin’s creative team and social media strategists have developed a comprehensive guide for developing campaigns and content in recovery.  For more information or to find out how Golin can help you plan for your customers’ “firsts”, contact Golin’s North American creative lead Ron D’Innocenzo.

2. Improve paid targeting with COVID-19 data.

 To use paid social, or not to use paid social. That, during the Coronavirus outbreak, is the question on the minds of most social media teams.

Recently, we shared guidelines for companies considering paid digital campaigns during COVID-19. Brands that currently cannot tweak messaging to share helpful, entertaining or educational content should generally steer clear of conventional paid social campaigns at this time. For most companies, the environment is not yet conducive to direct response or sales-oriented campaigns.  But those with relevant content that’s appropriate for customers may wish to carefully utilize paid social to ensure messages are accessible.

Data is informing decisions made by healthcare workers and political leaders, and new data sets can also help social media marketers make better decisions and invest precious media dollars where they can make the biggest impact, without doing harm to the brand.

To help our clients navigate, Golin has created a new media buying model using COVID-related data inputs. It is intended to help brands with “safe” content keep appropriate digital campaigns in select markets, while avoiding distribution into geographies at moments when audiences are likely highly impacted and when they’re less likely to welcome or engage with branded content.

The model leverages projection data from sources including The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. IHME’s datasets are publicly available and include projections for when Coronavirus will impact certain geographies most significantly, which markets may be least impacted throughout the pandemic, and when locations will recover with net new infections reaching zero.

While many variables should influence paid media decisions and content appropriateness, this model provides additional perspective to assist social media teams.

Some regions such as New York state are currently severely affected, and brands that look to protect their reputation should exclude hardest-hit areas from their media programming, diverting spend to other areas, or pausing programs temporarily until conditions improve.

Our predictive model considers when the COVID-19 conversation will severely escalate in specific locations as markers for significant infection appear or daily death rates peak. These data points can help teams program media ahead of time to minimize risk, while maintaining media investments in places far less affected, or that are well past the peak point of the pandemic.  As the narrative arc starts to shift in each state, our media buying teams can also make smarter decisions to shift from social to placements where media is less likely to receive backlash and deliver wanted information, such as paid search which suggests content based on a user’s expressed interest.

The excerpt below provides a visual representation of guidance offered by the model, including considerations for paid investments for each state, day by day:

  • Green – generally safe; media planning teams should assess conversation and engagement levels with media in market
  • Yellow – likely at risk; media planning teams should plan to shift away from paid executions that have high risk of backlash to potentially less risky formats (i.e. video, CTV, programmatic, search)
  • Red – predicted peak point for individual state; media planning teams should consider pausing spend in this state and reallocate spend to less affected geographies

To download a 50-state snapshot, click here.

In the week ahead, consider how fresh data points like these can help you make more informed paid media decisions.

Many brands have a lot to gain from continuing appropriate awareness-based marketing, and our teams continue to dissect data during COVID-19 to provide counsel on how to best amplify appropriate messages in a safe and responsible way.  For more information, contact Golin media planning director Mario Quinones.

3. Embrace modesty in social content and campaigns.

 With social distancing in place, community leaders, celebrities, influencers, thought leaders and brands all share one common goal – keeping connections with their stakeholders strong. Whether to maintain brand reputation or even help reassure their audiences, social media has played a dominant role helping them stay connected.

To meet shifting content needs on social media, many brands are turning to creative solutions like recorded video calls, using mobile devices capture content, and producing executive and SME stories from their own homes instead of an office.  Social influencers and celebrities are also creating content for their own audiences from new locations. The limitations here range from equipment – working with what you have on hand or can be safely delivered – to experience – many in front of the camera have never had exposure to the technical nuance of production. The result is a scrappier, more creative content production mindset, one adopted by the cast of Saturday Night Live’s in last weekend’s webcam-based show, and the many conferences and real-world events companies have transformed into digital experiences.

Consumers are responding positively to “lo-fi” content in the current landscape. What brand content creators may see as limitations and hurdles, viewers experience as an intimate glimpse into the homes and lives of people they respect.

But this kind of intimacy comes with risk.  As the powerful and elite invite consumers into their homes, some of those consumers may notice a stark contrast.  The places where celebrities, content creators and the C-Suite are sheltering could stir up concerns about socioeconomic disparities between them, their employees, and their customers. As unemployment numbers grow by millions each week and some face housing insecurity, opulent spaces can elicit a visceral reaction. From the trending hashtag #guillotine2020 to the resurgence of the old phrase “eat the rich” appearing in social media, the pulse of social conversation may feel slightly reminiscent of the French Revolution. Decades-old unease about income inequality, brewing since the Great Recession, has blossomed into anger among some online.

Within a recent New York Times article declaring “Celebrity Culture is Burning,” reactions from consumers are chronicled, from pressuring celebrities to donate money to a simple comment about J Lo’s mansion: “we all hate you.”

This trend doesn’t mean we should stop creating or communicating. While remaining sensitive to what audiences are facing, brands should maintain their commitment to produce useful, timely content. Stories should be relatable and add value – in a very real way – to the lives of our audiences, offering entertainment, education, empowerment and more.

In the week ahead, scour your recently published and planned content for excess and embrace humility. A couple tips:

  • Production: Across demographics, content consumers have been understanding of the technological and geographical limitations of producing content during a pandemic. Rather than trying to immediately overcome these limitations, content creators should embrace creative solutions to craft relatable and authentic content. Audio, lighting and capture quality should still be considered, but through the lens of the current setting. With record demand for content, helpful presence trumps production quality.
  • Relatability: From subject matter to setting, content should feel relatable in the lives of stakeholders. Avoid backgrounds or at-home settings that flaunt wealth or perceived excess, opting instead for modest, relatable settings that reflect the dwellings of your audiences. Skip fireside chats in a 1,200 square foot living room and shoot in front of a simple, solid wall instead. Take cues from television celebrities who are embracing modesty – recently, Late Show host Stephen Colbert moved from his beautiful backyard to a modest basement studio to be more relatable to his audience.

4. Get ready for frictionless transactions.

Of the many changes ushered in and lessons learned from COVID-19, a renewed interest in a more frictionless, contactless way of doing business is among those with great future opportunity.

Over the last couple of months, millions of people who might have never ordered dinner with their voice or never used a mobile wallet did so for the first time.

For the restaurant and retail industries, the technologies and techniques to create a more frictionless experience have been an area of focus for the last few years in order to maximize sales among an increasingly mobile and active shopper base.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed us in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come, but it definitely underscored the value of a good digital experience. In a post-pandemic world, every business should look at where contact-free or friction-free touch points can improve the experience for every audience segment. Consider the impact of these four actions:

  • Give support a speed boost with a chatbot or voice skill. Imagine your business suddenly started receiving a sharp increase in care call volume—double or triple the norm. In these instances, and particularly when a timely response can help give your customers peace of mind, a fast, even automated response can mean the difference between a positive experience and a ruinous one. What basic questions and requests can you make accessible through a chatbot or Alexa skill? What tasks require a highly-trained specialist?
  • Get rid of the dirty, filthy cash. Strictly from a germ perspective, cash isn’t necessarily the cleanest thing to touch, but adding support for contactless payment methods has proven to increase sales. Whether it’s empowering the impulse buy or the convenience lift on conversion, finding places to support payment providers like Apple Pay and Google Pay give your audience a fast, safe and convenient experience that engenders trust.
  • Make your exclusive, in-person experience a virtual one. Those brochures, white papers, booklets and prime conference swag aren’t going to help move your business in 2020. Ditto for panels and talks if the audience isn’t there. More than ever, every organization needs to be nimble and inventive to get its message out. Consider how you might use an Instagram AR effect to visualize new data, how NFC stickers on packaging might better illustrate your sustainability or sourcing commitments. Even rethinking how you use QR codes.
  • Confirm your content is accessible to everyone. With a little luck, we’re emerging from this crisis with a greater sense of empathy for one another. As part of that, as part of the road to a new normal, there will be conversations about equality and access. Several months working from home has likely taught many organizations about some of the struggles that users with accessibility needs face each day. Websites may be invisible to screen readers for the blind, video content may not have been submitted without closed captioning. Of all the suggestions to take to start a path to a more frictionless environment, this is the easiest to begin with. Just make sure the content’s accessible to everyone.

5. Assess social collaboration platform needs.

 As work abruptly transitioned from office environments to homes last month, companies looked to internal digital and social channels to quickly disseminate critical operational news with teams in across the organization. The transition to work-from-home made more companies reliant on social business platforms, and usage skyrocketed. Last month, Microsoft’s Teams collaboration platform saw a 37% increase in daily active users, rising from 32 million to 44 million users worldwide. Similarly, Slack saw a boom in usage with an increase of 2 million users to more than 12 million people online.

As the hunger for company policy details and business updates grows, the need for efficient internal communication platforms is more critical than ever. Companies with modern channels in place are taking full advantage of virtual functionality to keep colleagues connected – everything from dedicated Work@Home communities and project team pages to CEO livestreams and real-time employee pulse-check polling.

Companies with outdated or inefficient channels are feeling the burn, and many are reassessing internal communications mechanisms to ensure avenues are in place to reach all employees at the company, regardless of job role.

The best way to determine the right fit? Conduct a formal channel audit to determine what’s working well (and what isn’t) and how new tools can support current and longer-term communications needs.

In the week ahead, consider a multi-faceted assessment that ladders up to existing and future strategic communications plans. A few tips:

  • Dig into current channel metrics to assess whether performance aligns with target adoption rates, engagement levels and/or intended use. Where are people going for information and collaborate? Does traffic and viewership match up with content development efforts? Have trends shifted over the years?
  • Survey your people (including frontline teams who work without ready access to computers) for input on what they like and what they want more/less of and to gauge user experience across various platforms. Ask about channel preferences as well as how effective, reliable and valuable they find each channel. Consider quantitative surveys supplemented with focus group discussions to allow for a deeper layer of context.
  • Assess communication plans and priorities to determine whether internal channels can meet current needs and future targets. Look for any gaps or duplication of efforts, discuss ways to improve value and enhance ROI.
  • Research options for new tools that can fill gaps or improve adoption and sustain engagement for the long haul. What capabilities will your organization need? Is there room to evolve in the future? Can tools integrate with other internal platforms teams us regularly (e.g., Workday, Salesforce, etc.)?
  • Build a plan to introduce new tools or processes. This is an exercise in change management. Carefully prepare rollout communications, trainings and metrics tracking to ensure a smooth process off the bat. Too many times, organizations put too little energy into the initial rollout and have to do damage control to increase awareness, understanding and adoption after the fact.

6. Adapt B2B social strategies for the COVID-19 age.

Now more than ever, it’s important to remember that B2B buyers are people living through a pandemic, too.

They are concerned for their health, their families and their jobs. With so many powerful B2B marketing vehicles like conferences, trade shows and in-person presentations gone overnight, the immediate solution was to shift everything online, creating a deluge of digital and social marketing messages for buyers to parse. B2B brands are fighting for the attention of professionals working from home, juggling those responsibilities with home schooling children and caring for their families. Be relevant in the moment, taking into consideration not only how your offerings solve business problems for your target market but also how your social content and engagement will personally impact the recipient. 

A few tips for B2B social teams in the week ahead:

  • Use social listening to understand what’s happening in your target market and industries. Are your prospective customers in cities or rural areas that are hotspots around the country? Have their organizations furloughed workers, instated salary reductions or already done layoffs? Everyone’s lives have dramatically changed, so you need to better understand the current reality of your target and adjust your message accordingly.
  • Review every piece of content through an empathetic lens. You may have paused brand publishing as the pandemic erupted. But now is not the time to simply turn it all back on without adaptation. Taglines, messages, videos and photos that previously accompanied posts may now trigger negative feelings among your target market.
  • Focus on the top of the funnel now to reap benefits later. The B2B purchase cycle had already increased in length 61% over 2018-2019, and now many businesses are delaying purchases as much as possible to free up cash to pay staff and handle other urgent expenses. Now is the time to concentrate on the top of the funnel. Focus on building awareness and consideration for your solutions during this period and nurture leads for conversion post-peak.
  • Turn digital browsing into digital conversations through valuable gated content. Every professional is looking for help right now navigating the current period. Consider developing high-quality gated content including guides, tools and checklists to help them do their job better. Put it behind a registration form to start a dialogue, but don’t make that dialogue too salesy. This is a moment to help, not sell. Your investments to supporting B2B customers and prospects now with a free hour of counsel will pay off when this crisis passes, and they remember who helped them.
  • Get involved in social media personally. Many professionals are using this moment to embrace social media in a way they never have before. Join online conversations to build your contact list the way you would work the room at a trade show happy hour.
  • Prior to the outbreak, 68% of B2B marketers used in-person events to generate leads. Digital lead-tracking and data consistency are now more important than ever. With a disproportionate share of sales and marketing efforts moving to digital channels, now is the time to evaluate your lead-tracking platforms. Those leads you pick up through gated digital content and social interactions may be your most effective path to B2B sales success in these troubled times.

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