Expert Insights

Weekly Social Guidance: Week of 4/27

This week’s edition includes:

  • Fine turning social strategies for what’s next
  • Privacy concerns and sharing your brand’s responsible data use story
  • Recreating in-store magic in social feeds
  • Short form content’s day in the sun
  • Using social to shape post-pandemic purpose
  • Communicating helpfulness as only your brand can

The Week Ahead: What to Expect

With a few states taking first steps to open businesses and reboot their economies in the week ahead, social media leaders navigate a tricky time when they need to support needs of two vastly different audiences: those who remain at home, and those who are venturing out for the first time in a long while.

Pre-pandemic polarization reappears, and brands need to show care and support in social media for audiences with vastly different perspectives on what governments and businesses should do 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. Add flexibility to your social media strategy.

Brands relying on social media to communicate with national or global audiences are challenged by constantly-changing conditions, especially shifting guidelines around commerce and social gatherings.

As U.S. states and municipalities update policies in the weeks ahead, slowly bringing brick and mortar businesses online and easing social distancing requirements, audiences will shift social media use too. Brands must be prepared to amend their social strategies in a hot minute.  It’s the new normal for any social media manager.

In the next phase of the pandemic, how will transactions take place?  Will digital ordering and delivery still play a central role in how we secure products and services?  Will brick and mortar businesses start to open over time? Which ones, and in which geographies? And if they do, will shopping ever look the same, or will physical locations serve as drive-up fulfillment spots for many consumers?

What about entertainment?  Once restrictions on gatherings ease, will the 16 million new subscribers Netflix added keep watching at home, impacting how movie studios and theaters operate? Will people look to brands that appear in their social feeds for both information and even more entertainment in recovery?

There are more questions than answers, and while the Internet is full of pundits (including  authors of this advisory) wielding predictions, the best advice for social media marketers is to keep your options open and add flexibility to your social strategy.

In the week ahead, here are a few tips to make your brand’s presence in social media more adaptable for what’s next:

  • Be amenable to impact across the customer journey: Be a little less myopic in your CTAs and value all manner of connectivity to customers across the journey, from awareness through to advocacy. If the opening of stores or the availability of certain products remain in question, be prepared to provide honest information about scarcity or inability to transact, not just information to support selling.  Lean on your website to provide updates as well as responsive social customer care to help.
  • Develop A, B, and C versions of creative: Consider developing slightly modified versions of each piece of social content. One in which a) your customers still cannot give you their business, b) another if they can, but in a temporarily modified way, and c) one for when they’re ready to begin making transactions with you in more traditional ways. A bit of prep now will make sure your social content fits the context.
  • Get granular with targeting: If your audience is spread across regions with varying guidelines, fragment your paid social campaigns accordingly and develop geo-specific targeting strategies to deliver more relevant content to consumers, wherever they might live.
  • Reserve resources for quick pivots: Make sure your internal team and agency partners have room and resources to adapt quickly in the weeks ahead. Rather than setting up campaigns for 30 days, program for no more than a week ahead. Be ready to shift budget allocations, swap out creative, and recalibrate targeting. Set it and forget it isn’t tenable in today’s environment.
  • Spend your money when people can spend their money: And lastly, if you are in an industry or location where your consumer cannot make transactions with you, continue awareness and consideration campaigns but think about shifting budget to heavy up when your customers are ready to buy again.

2. Tell customers how you’re using their data.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered many aspects of our everyday lives, but a surprising number of these changes are less novel than we think. While it’s easy to feel like we’re in uncharted territory, in many cases changes we see accelerated today have already been in the works. Coronavirus just accelerated them and shined a brighter light on changes in our relationships with each other, and with technology.

As the U.S. pivots to focus on mitigation amid a more open environment, many are getting their first glimpse at efforts like contact tracing and biometric passports and feeling fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about what’s ahead in our digital future.

More often than not, fear about geographic tracking and anonymized data analysis comes from not recognizing how common many of the digital mitigation practices already are, both in the U.S. and abroad.

Starting later this month, Google and Apple will launch a privacy-focused, opt-in method of tracing and alerting individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Launching first with one approved organization (e.g. the CDC in the U.S., the NHS in the U.K.) and coming to iOS and Android themselves in a May software update, the software giants will use anonymized, private and rotating Bluetooth identifiers to help notify users if someone they came into close contact with has tested positive for COVID-19.

Some may mistake these moves as increased and unwarranted surveillance, but the truth is Apple and Google are creating a much safer, more temporary and private version of the location tracking that’s already happening every day—without user consent—through ad tech used by millions of businesses around the world.

Those “We graded states based on how well their citizens are social distancing” maps we’ve seen in recent weeks? The majority aren’t using any clinical data. They’re using location data based on where people were using their devices. They’re triangulating where users were, where the WiFi or cell signal was coming from, while they browsed the web, launched an app, or just checked the weather.

Writ large, plenty of players in big tech don’t have the best track records with informed consent on the user data they collect. That’s the big reason why legislation like the GDPR and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) exist today.  And most businesses today collect volumes of consumer data and use it for a variety of purposes, but how and why they’re collecting and using that information isn’t always communicated clearly.

FUD comes from misunderstanding and miscommunication of the what, how and why data is collected. Imagine if you had paid for an ad-free tier of a streaming service and then found out it was sharing the number of times you, individually, have watched “Tiger King” with advertisers. How would you feel? If you discovered that your favorite weather app was logging the contents and number of contacts in your phone for ad targeting purposes, would you be upset? Surprised?

A privacy scandal, large or small, can be one of the most damaging crises for any brand—regardless the size of their digital business. Fortunately, disarming consumer FUD about how you responsibly use data is as simple as telling your data and privacy story clearly, plainly and as fully as you can.  In the week ahead, consider these tips:

  • Know what data you collect, and why. Create an inventory of what user data you collect. Simple, right? Your organization has probably already done this as part of GDPR and CCPA preparation, but do you know why that data’s collected? It’s more important than ever for marketing and PR pros to understand data use inside their own organizations.
  • Know what your tools and partners collect. Do you understand what information third-party ad or analytics tools used by your brand collect? Or where those tools share that information? Or what that information is used for beyond your own reporting? Zoom recently learned that offering a login button for Facebook delivered data to Facebook on users who weren’t signed in with Facebook.
  • Tell your data story in your own words. Privacy policies are important compliance documents. We hear our friends in legal and respect why they need to word things the way they do, but consider annotating or summarizing the legalese of compliance documents with simplified versions. Need an example? Twitter offers an easy to understand list of key points at the top of its privacy policy.
  • Offer a clear way for consumers to request their data or opt-out. Chances are, you’re already required to do this for users in Europe or for California residents. Many leading brands are doing this for customers across the board. Regardless of your size or scale, consider how you’re communicating changes to your privacy policy to consumers.
  • Get consent. Mobile platforms have (rightly) conditioned users to expect that software can’t access private user information without consent. Respect this across touch points. Abuse of cookies and trackers have made for a weary, cautious user base. Be clear about what you’re collecting and why. Does a contact form really need to track someone across the web?

In times of significant change and uncertainty, transparency is more important than ever.  Be ready to tell customers how your brand is collecting and using their data responsibly. COVID-19 is making privacy and technology topics more relevant than ever.

3. Replicate in-store magic in your social feeds.

With much of the country observing shelter-at-home ordinances, retailers and lots of other businesses have shifted to online order fulfillment or curbside delivery. In doing so, one of challenges they’ve faced is how to maintain the magical experience inside brick and mortar locations at a time when customer interaction has shifted to purely transactional, with limited (or zero) in-person interaction.

One of the advantages brick and mortar businesses have always enjoyed is their associates’ ability to provide personalized on-the-spot expertise, advice, and interaction with customers. Everything from counsel on what to buy, usage tips and their own personal experiences with a product or brand. But with most retail locations temporarily shut down or severely restricted, how does a brick and mortar business maintain a personal connection that keeps them top of mind when customers can’t walk in and ask for help?

Social media can fill that gap. Brands have long recognized the ability of social to build brand affinity.  Social platforms are where brands engage consumers to build brand love. Many companies have also relied on social platforms to solve customer service issues and are doing so even more during the pandemic.  Customer support giant Zendesk recently reported a global spike in customers asking for help online. Looking at data across more than 20,000 customers, they’ve seen a 13 percent increase in companies’ average customer support inquiry volume since late February of this year.

This is a time when every company with storefronts should double down on community management—not just to provide witty banter or share an 800 number when a customer complains— but to replicate the real-time 1:1 interaction a store associate ably provides. From answering questions on the best strings for an aspiring guitarist, to helping someone narrow down which drop-proof phone case to choose, or picking out a tie-shirt combo perfect for virtual meetings, the knowledge retail associates can provide rivals that of many social influencers. It’s time to apply that knowledge to help customers when they need it most, and win hearts and minds while they are at it.

In the week ahead invest more time in community management to replicate in-store expertise that customers still need, even when they can’t go inside to shop in person. They’ll reward you now and once they’re back in your stores, too.

4) Find clues for a future purpose in today’s conversations.

Corporate social responsibility has dominated social media marketing during this pandemic. Faced with struggling customers and an environment where product marketing can sometimes feel tone-deaf, brands shifted overnight into sweeping goodwill campaigns including significant social executions. For many brands, it was a chance to remind customers what they stand for.

With so many brands showing support, compassion, and communicating about causes they care about, a new expectation has been set that companies continue to stand up even after the pandemic is over.

Social media holds clues for what causes customers will want to see brands value, post COVID-19 2020.  Consider a few popular conversation themes of the last two months:

  • Mental health – Social media has been buzzing about the importance of mental health and the support businesses can or should provide.
  • Balancing work with family – With work-from-home parents serving as both professionals and educators, a heightened need for freedom to integrate family and work life has been widely discussed.
  • Stability versus fun – While everyone wants excitement and variety in their jobs, younger workers are discussing how they might value stability and loyalty more from their employers in the future.
  • Community over individualism – COVID-19 social discussions have reminded us we’re all in this together and the needs of others should be balanced with the needs of each individual.

These are just a few examples of social conversation themes that could predict what consumers and workers will want most from the brands they do business with in the future.  It’s a great time to start analyzing their care abouts and think about the good your brand will do in the post-pandemic world.

Here’s what you can do this week to prepare:

  • Use social listening and analytics to identify new customer values. Compare March/April YoY and pay particular attention to engagement and sentiment around core conversation themes and top posts for your brand. Which themes have resonated most with your audience? Also examine changes in audience behaviors in social media. For example, we’ve seen an uptick in social challenges and Instagram Story publishing, as people look for ways to find community on social.
  • Consider what can continue after recovery. If your brand donated funds to a cause and you shared the good deeds in social media, can you continue that story and support after the pandemic? If your brand expanded employee benefits, is there a way to position this as a new brand value and build on this story in social? Commitment and consistency matter now more than ever.
  • Connect current CSR efforts to the most popular social themes around doing good. A skilled social media marketing or PR professional can connect the dots between what the brand wants to say and what the audience wants to hear. Look for ways you can stitch already-baked social good campaigns to themes people are anxious to hear about right now. Research media and influencers who are talking about a post-pandemic world and target them. They want to write about “the good” as well.
  • Finally, stay alert. With any major transformation, there will be unexpected societal change. It’s the responsibility of the social and marketing teams to steer the ship to remain relevant.

In the last decade, we’ve seen consumers shift their loyalty to brands that take a stand on social, environmental, and political issues. Gen Z and millennial audiences want to support brands with purpose, who are making a difference in the world. Use social media to help chart your brand’s course.

5. Tap into short-form entertainment.

Entertainment app installs rose 55 percent in Q1 from a year earlier, which isn’t surprising given how many of us are unable to enjoy movie theaters, sporting events, and other community entertainment options.

Among the most buzzed-about new entertainment options is Quibi, which launched its bite size streaming app in early April. It joins an increasingly crowded field of platforms that deliver brief content, such as Gen Z and Millennial darling TikTok.

Quibi launched with a clear focus on entertainment, but COVID-19 changed the way it was positioned at launch.  Originally the app’s creator positioned Quibi as a way to get entertainment out and about — while waiting in line for coffee or on the subway — but before its debut the “on the go” positioning was shelved. And though Quibi intended to focus its short form content for delivery to phones, the app creator is now working to cast content to TVs given streaming content’s role on larger screens during social distancing and quarantines.  They’ll have plenty of worthy adversaries in a living room invasion, especially Netflix which has seen subscriber counts soar since lockdowns began.

Fast facts about the new short form streaming platform:

  • Quibi racked up 2.5 million downloads in the first week, compared to 4 million downloads of Disney+. The platform offers a 3-month free trial, so while it’s too early to tell how many users will stick around, it’s an impressive start for a company with little name recognition.
  • Quibi says it delivers marketers a “uniquely uncluttered” environment with a single, non-skippable preroll ad (running 6, 10 or 15 seconds) before episodic content.
  • In addition to its catalogue of entertainment content, their ad unit includes a Turnstyle format, which can be viewed on vertical and horizontal screens with tech that stitches together perfectly-sized video of the same scenes in any screen orientation. They’ve also hinted at several other experimental ad units, but details are still scant.
  • The first ads launched were either six-, 10- or 15-second versions of previously-released creative from brands, such as content from Walmart which debuted during the Super Bowl. With production teams on halt, many marketers had to re-use available assets instead of creating ads specifically for Quibi. Expect more original content soon.
  • Quibi’s “view through rate” for all Quibi content is at 80%, showing remarkable retention during episodes lasting 10 minutes or less.

In the weeks ahead, social media marketers should monitor app usage and the evolution of content on the platform — especially once the initial free trials expire.

Quibi has already sold out its full year ad inventory with $150M in commitments. First-year advertisers include AB InBev, Google, Discovery, General Mills, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Progressive, Taco Bell, T-Mobile and Walmart.

With huge superstars like Chrissy Teigen and Chance the Rapper promoting their shows, the app might become a staple on phones and TV streaming devices alike, providing another rich opportunity for marketers to take their stories to video-loving consumers.

  1. Be your brand’s authentic self. 

You may have noticed that many corporate COVID-19 response videos are eerily similar. *Cue somber piano music.* Brands have felt the need to get their message out quickly and have turned, in many cases, to hero videos broadcast as television commercials and amplified via paid social. With social distancing orders limiting production teams’ ability to film original content, many of these are compiled from existing b-roll and stock imagery, with familiar music and voiceovers.

Over the last week, a video spotlighting similarities has made the rounds in marketing circles.  While certainly not a coordinated effort, with every brand communicating with consumers in the same exact cultural context, many landed on the same message or solution. But this sea of sameness isn’t new.  Indeed, at virtually every phase of the pandemic, a heard mentality can be seen in marketing from brands across categories.  When a leader delivers a fresh message with impact, others quickly follow.

In previous editions of this advisory, we’ve discussed the heightened importance of humility, modesty, and accountability in social media. Indeed, these are coveted attributes for every brand delivering peace of mind at this time. But it’s equally important that many messages of comfort, support, and responsibility in social stay true to the distinct brand consumers know and love, while delivering on the common societal need for help.

As your brand communicates what it’s doing to help in the week ahead, consider the following questions:

  • Is your message uniquely helpful? Don’t show up just to show up. With so many companies delivering the exact same message, prioritize helpful content that delivers something your brand is uniquely qualified to provide.  Make a difference in a way only you can.
  • Is your voice consistent? If your brand voice was irreverent and playful prior to the pandemic, now isn’t the time for a snarky piece of content.  But customers who engage you in 1:1 conversations with a lighter tone give permission to be your brand’s authentic self.  Take them up on it.
  • Can you provide an escape? There is growing appetite for levity. We’ve seen positive responses to brands and their spokespeople having fun (for a good cause). Channels like Instagram are needed diversions from sobering news stories and can serve as a place for much-needed, hard-to-find entertainment. Obviously levity needs to be balanced with genuine support and care for community, so tread carefully, but look for ways to deliver on a whole host of consumer needs.

*If you have questions or are seeking counsel, please reach out to Jeff Beringer at