It’s A Social Responsibility For Brands To Rethink #SocialMedia During #COVID19

Hey, hey— it’s been a while. Outside of coaching and helping clients manage their digital marketing during this pandemic, I created a nonprofit called #MyCovidStory that is a hub for raw stories, resources, and connections during COVID-19. More on that in a different post!

Today we are talking about what to do with those lovely little social media plans and channels while the world is engulfed by a pandemic. My husband and I found ourselves in an unusual place last night of watching a show AS IT WAS AIRING (I know!!) which meant we had to sit through every single commercial break— and there were A LOT. He is used to me being highly critical of commercials, online ads, direct mail pieces we received. He has learned by now that I am trained to make things better and, according to him, that means making pretty much everything better! Haha.

As we were watching the commercials, we found ourselves either wholeheartedly depressed by commercials geared towards the pandemic or completely outraged by how tone-deaf some brands are right now. Like, when am I going to host a party anytime soon where I need new serving dishes??! When am I ever going to see that many people in a park with their dogs anytime soon?

Life is weird. I think I realized just how weird it was when my therapist ended one of our recent calls with, “No one knows right now how people should cope with this disaster because we’ve never encountered one like this before.” Well…THANK YOU VERY MUCH for inducing panic attacks.

With life being weird, a different approach needs to be taken when it comes to social media. It seems like every time the little bugger is going to be engulfed into a larger digital media umbrella, something happens that brings it right back into the spotlight. And there you are, realizing that you never prepped that crisis strategy you were going to last year, or that your crisis strategy doesn’t even come close to handling something like coronavirus. So here I am 🙂

The number one thing to do when a crisis is realized, is press PAUSE on anything and everything scheduled do go out. Do not press the PLAY button until you have reviewed every single piece of content you have scheduled and have made sure that none of it sounds tone-deaf or insulting against the backdrop of the crisis. I am praying that anyone reading this blog post already has done that for their brand— like two months ago. What’s unique about coronavirus is it is lasting longer and is a bit more unpredictable than other crises, especially since we’ve never had a coronavirus pandemic before. This means that each day the news about the virus, places that are opened versus closed, people’s emotions, EVERYTHING changes. Which means a general crisis plan will most likely not fit this baby.

As a social media manager, it is your responsibility to your company to be out in front of any industry and coronavirus news before your C-suite wakes up in the morning. This means convincing them to invest in a listening platform or manually doing your listening research across all social media platforms and major news networks. I’ve had to do it manually before, and it sucks, but it is surely accurate! I recommend sending a daily digest every morning to your executive team with a pulse of social media so far for the day. I would also include if there are topics that your brand can chime in on, or include a recommendation that the brand is silent for the day. That last part can be one of the hardest jobs ever of anyone in social media. Convincing a CEO that she should not go let her thoughts loose on Twitter, or send a tone-deaf message out on her LinkedIn, can seem like a fight you have no chance of winning. But you have to try. It is quite literally your job to tell your company what is best for social media. Be proud of that and have tough conversations you are definitely going to have to need during this time.

A risk on the other end of sounding tone-deaf is sounding too empathetic and sad to sell it. It’s easy to look at a crisis and say, “Hey! If we just make people sad enough, they will have a strong emotional connection to our brand when this is all over.” I hope that as you read that thought, you already can think of numerous things wrong with thinking that way. Living in a time of authenticity and transparency, which has only gotten more so since COVID, it is crucial to know where your brand is and to keep it in its lane. Because if your brand slides out of its lane with an emotional video, it could rub viewers the wrong way. People want the truth (which, unfortunately, is sad right now), but they don’t want to be made sad by some company they barely have a relationship with.

If you can work with your team and identify places where your brand is directly influenced by or can directly influence the pandemic, then you should work on creating content that speaks to those influences. But you should keep your exact tone of voice you have always used on social media and tie the story into the same video and image templates that you use as a brand. You will know as you are putting your brand logo and treatment on a social media visual whether or not it feels right for the brand to be sharing the content. If you get a feeling that something seems wrong, STOP and speak with your direct manager. It is better to be too safe with communications during a crisis than be too much. You, as the social media manager, have the most reliable seat in the house as to how people are going to respond. You are able to see realtime responses, trends, and discussions. If something about wrapping up what is happening in your brand bow doesn’t seem quite right, do everything you can to not publish that content.

If you cannot find places where you are directly influenced by or can directly influence, then you need to tread very lightly through the next few months. The other odd thing about coronavirus is that it is affecting the whole world, which means it is at least affecting your company from an employee standpoint, if not from a production standpoint. This leads to an incredibly gray area of whether or not its the right time for you to continue your social media strategy. Does COVID affect your team and consumers so much that you feel you need to be supporting them somehow right now? Make donations and capture those as your social media content. Don’t just sit there and post social content without taking action to actually help.

During one of my first jobs, my mom was just getting her port taken out where she received chemo for her breast cancer— fortunately she’s fine now! But we weren’t sure what the future held at that time and I was a few months into my first social media job at an international sports nutrition company. I told a few people just how important breast cancer awareness was to me, and I had hoped that we could do some sort of educational series in October to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but there were just no parallels with the brand. Four of the five brands were geared towards males and the small sliver of the female brand they owned was all about relaxation and not talking about things like “cancer”. News of my disappointment got all the way up to the President of the company, so he called me into his office one day. He said that he had heard about my mom and couldn’t imagine what I was feeling and that he wanted to donate $65,000 to breast cancer awareness and encourage fans to donate collectively as much. As I teared up, he didn’t even let me respond before telling me to go get to work on the campaign. Of course, it shared that our office had a personal connection to breast cancer, and that was an important enough reason for our company to donate. I don’t know if I have ever felt so blessed at work as I did that day.

That is one example of how companies who are industries that do not have essential workers right now can still give back and have a conversation about it on their social media channels. One strong recommendation I have is to rework your strategy for the rest of 2020 because the sentiment and what people are discussing across social media will continue to change dramatically and be tied to coronavirus.

But you still need to make money, and you still work for a brand. Yes, I get it. We are ALL feeling that right now, honey! But if you take the wrong step, or your step is just a little off of where your footprint needs to be, you could lose your entire business via a marketing and/or social media snafu right now. That’s how sensitive and in-tune people are. You need to measure the risk against the reward every single day this virus presses on. Do you want a solid brand with a good reputation when it goes away? Or do you want to prematurely kill it during the virus because you just couldn’t press pause for a second?

The other polar opposite type of ad we saw last night were ads that seemed to last HOURS and went on and on showing families disconnected from each other, A TON of tears, hospital beds, etc., with a “we’re in this together” in some form from nearly every advertiser. UM, what?! First off, a lot of us are watching television to escape and get some light in our lives right now. So many people are struggling with depression and anxiety on a much deeper level than they ever have during this time of isolation. They don’t need to turn on the TV to see a three-minute ad that has them in tears. They can watch the news for that.

If you have essential workers and/or are in an industry that is essential and directly needed during this pandemic, YES— you should def advertise. Let’s rethink what that means right now. Let’s rethink where your audience is and what their hobbies are right now like you would before any advertising campaign. Most likely, they are quarantined and isolated. Many of them don’t have anyone cuddling up on the couch with them. Some can barely hear the TV because their children are so full of energy from being home 24/7. A much higher percentage is HIGHLY stressed out about their finances, jobs, how are they getting food next week? What if they can’t get their meds in a month?

Now, if you “update” your target audience to a generation living through this pandemic, some not so lucky, do you want to share a piece of content that will bring them even close to that whiskey bottle, or closer to dangerous thoughts? NO. Please don’t. Please use some common sense here. If you are going to advertise on social media (or any media during this time), try to find a way you can share your message while also providing some hope and light at the end of the tunnel. It’s great all those companies from the depressing ads last night are with us but do we really want to bring more sad, depressed, anxiety-ridden friends into our home? NO. Those are people we would rather not be in this together with.

We need heroes, heroines, examples of strength being redefined, hopeful messages to encourage us to stay isolated. We need light, the brightest light, during this darkest time.

Think about that as you approach your social media plan over the next few months. See if there are opportunities for your brand to become more vulnerable and respond to consumers reaching out to you in heartfelt ways, show the world what your brand looks like during isolation, supply help numbers, and connect those who need help with those who can provide it. Donate.

Social media has transformed from a place that was slowly losing momentum and rarely having honest conversations anymore, to a media that the world cannot live without since it is providing hopeful stories from around the world, CDC updates, ways to find therapists during this time, etc. Social media is no longer a byline, but a lifeline.

Treat it as such.

– Marji J. Sherman

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