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4 Steps to a Social Media Strategy During COVID-19

Megan Pratt

Principal Product Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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There’s no denying that these are tough times. When times are tough, it’s really common for brands to struggle with what to say, particularly on social media. Do you stick with your old messaging and pretend it’s still business as usual? (Hint: no). Do you commit your feed to only COVID-19 related posts from now on? (Hint: probably not).

While we can’t answer these questions for you, we can give you a guide to putting together a strategy that strikes the right tone for your brand and audience. We’ll take you through each step with tips, questions, and recommendations to help you come out of this with a custom social media strategy that fits your situation. 

In this article:
Why Is Social Media Important in a Crisis Like COVID-19?
Know Your Audience
Focus Less on You, More on Them
Explore New Things
Expect Uncertainty

Why Is Social Media Important in a Crisis Like COVID-19?

Let’s take a look at some data points to see. 

  • According to eMarketer, Facebook saw a 70% increase in usage of all of its apps in the month of March. People are turning to these apps to keep them entertained, connected, and informed while they’re spending more time at home.
  • Many marketers are pulling back spend in all areas, including social media, but engagement and turning to methods like email and social media to continue to build a brand and engage customers
  • People are turning to different channels for different content. For instance, TikTok and Snapchat have been sources of fun, entertaining distraction during this time. Snapchat saw a 47% increase in usage from Android phones in South Korea during the height of the outbreak in March. 

These are just a few of the data points that make it clear that now is a convenient time for marketers to double-down on social media to build relationships with new and existing customers. That doesn’t mean that anything goes, however. Now, more than ever, brands need to approach all of their marketing, social media included, in an intentional way.

Whether you’re just exploring social media or you’re experienced but trying to navigate this new world, the steps below will guide you to the right solution.

Know Your Audience

This is always a critical piece of any kind of marketing at any time, but it’s most critical during times of crisis like this. Marketing relies heavily on empathy, which in turn relies on an understanding of the people you’re trying to talk to. 

If you’ve been marketing your brand for a while, you might be tempted to skip this step. You already know your customer, right? Maybe, but do you know them in their current state? Are there additional audience opportunities that you haven’t assessed that you could test now? 

It doesn’t matter who you are — now is an excellent time to take a step back and re-acquaint yourself with your ideal customers. Here’s how: 

  • Identify the basic information: Answer questions such as age, location, gender, basic interests, income level, etc. Once you have a basic outline of a profile, go further and ask yourself, “So what?” and “What does this mean?” 
  • Find out what your customer is thinking and feeling now. Do some research, check in with influencers that target your customers, and do what you need to do to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Are they now dealing with working from home? Are they trying to keep kids busy now that schools are closed? Are they trying to stay fit and healthy while in quarantine?
  • Take those answers and take a step back. Zoom out and forget everything you’ve done before and everything you thought you knew about your customer. Are there any new opportunities to share your product in different ways with different people? How can you pivot to meet the needs of your customers right now? 

This in-depth knowledge of your customers will set the tone for everything you do during a crisis like COVID-19 and even beyond. The relationships you build through effectively knowing and meeting customer needs will endure long after the crisis is gone.

To learn more about your audience: 

Focus Less on You, More on Them

Look, I get it. You’re a business, and you have to make money to survive. I’m not suggesting that you forget that entirely. I'm suggesting (firmly) that the middle of a global pandemic might not be the best time to focus on the KPIs you’ve always held dear. Don’t discard them altogether; they’ll move back toward the top of your list eventually, but it’s in your best interest to assess what success looks like now versus what it looked like before. Here’s how that might play out:

Before: ROI is king.

Now: ROI is important, but engagement metrics like clicks, likes, shares, comments, etc. are better gauges right now while people may not be as willing to buy.

Before: You measure and report on the important metrics month-over-month and year-over-year.

Now: We all know they’re not going to tell the full story. Sure, keep reporting that way, but present and preserve your data with caveats, comments, and non-KPI success stories.

Before: If something (a contest, a video, partnerships, referral campaigns) doesn’t provide the right ROI, it’s time to move on.

Now: It’s time to double-check those assumptions. Sure, a contest, partnership or piece of content might not have performed according to your KPIs previously, but don’t let that hold you back from revisiting it in the current climate. 

Those are just a few examples, but you can see how revisiting your success metrics might lead you to some new and interesting opportunities. The ultimate goal right now is to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with new and current customers. People may not be in the right position or mood to buy right now (depending on your product), but they will be again eventually. Put yourself in the position to be their first stop as soon as they are able to open their wallets and buying behavior gets back to normal.  

You’re also setting the stage for your post-COVID-19 strategy. I think we can all agree that this crisis will change things, some of them forever. That definitely applies to marketing. The things you do now could lead to insights, campaign ideas, and strategies that last long after this is all over. 

Explore New Things

If you have wanted to expand your strategy to Snapchat, now is the time to dig in and go for it. If you’re not sure how to use Instagram stories, but you think it might resonate, now is the time to try. If you’re not looking for new channels, but you’re curious to see how your customers would react to different kinds of content, more frequent posting, or other creative engagement methods, go for it! Now is the time to look for all ways to build relationships with your customers.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas: 

  • Experiment with new types of content like video. It doesn’t need to be (and in certain situations probably can’t be) professionally produced, but a video from an internal expert or influencer showing a hands-on demo of your product could go a long way. 
  • Try some of the functionality that platforms have introduced for engagement like polls on Instagram or Facebook. You can use them to benefit you by soliciting product feedback directly, or you can use them purely to entertain your audience. 
  • Spend more time listening. Keep an eye on comments on your post, your competitors, and influencers in your industry.
  • Get your customers engaged with calls for user-generated content. Whether it’s a call for photos or videos of your product in use, or you want to do something purely for entertainment and engagement, customers with more time on their hands who are spending more time online are more likely to engage with you. 

No matter what direction you choose, now is the time to explore, look for new opportunities, and set the stage for better, more engaged customer interactions now and in the future. While these efforts may not lead to a direct increase in purchases right away, they’ll help you stand out, stay in touch and be a source of inspiration, entertainment, and information for your customers. 

Explore different types of content: 

Expect Uncertainty

No one can give you an accurate prediction of what the immediate future holds for brands and marketers. We know that this crisis will end eventually, and we know that right now, at least, there’s a lot of uncertainty on a variety of fronts. As such, we can’t plan as far into the future as we would have before. We need to be nimble and agile in our approaches and able to pivot to the next thing at any moment. If your organization is already functioning this way, congratulations! You’re in a good position. If not, now is as good of a time as any to start.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You need to get rid of the baggage that’s weighing you down. I’m talking about the tools you use that serve only one purpose, don’t provide the full customer picture and make extra work to get the insights you need. 
  • Getting it right is important, but perfection shouldn’t stand in the way of getting something done. Whether that’s the words you use in a particular post or a full campaign, make sure you’re moving quickly and efficiently, now more than ever. 
  • Evaluate your group of stakeholders and how you communicate with them. Are there better ways to communicate? Are there too many proverbial cooks in the kitchen?
  • How can you stay on top of trends, customer sentiment, and feedback? Dedicate some time to this on a regular basis and find ways to gather and track those insights. 

Most importantly, don’t let the uncertainty stop you from taking action and being present for your customers. There are opportunities to connect and even drive purchases during this time for the brands who are ready, available, and active. 

Your customers are looking for ways to be social, to connect with others and even to be distracted from everything that’s going on. Social media is the perfect platform for brands to engage with customers in this way and create opportunities for now and into the future. 

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