How brands should adjust their content strategy in response to COVID-19

Anastacia Darby, Senior Strategist

Over the past month, and notably the past week, social media users have fully shifted their focus to Coronavirus (COVID-19). In the past week alone, there have been 131.1 million public social mentions of the virus. This marks a 235% increase from the previous seven days (as of 10pm CT March 16th).

People all over the world have taken to social media to elevate the experiences of others and share information, as 85% of the Twitter conversation consists of retweets. The scale of the social conversation reflects that this is truly a global event, as 44% of this Twitter conversation is made up of non-English tweets.

With the swift changes to the world around us, it’s important to consider your brand’s place in this conversation — if any. There are a few things you can do now to adjust your strategy and plan for the future:

  1. Review and refine your content calendar
  2. Leverage social listening to inform your strategy
  3. Surprise and delight your customers
  4. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

Khoros | Strategic Services

1. Review and refine your content calendar

If you manage a brand in an industry directly impacted by the crisis, such as those in the travel, health, and hospitality industries, your customers are likely expecting your content to focus on your response to the crisis, including how your brand is supporting customers, business operations, and employees. As a result, consider pausing all content and campaigns that do not speak to your brand’s response to COVID-19. In your content that does mention your response to the crisis, be clear, succinct, and honest.

Across all industries, it’s time to review your content with a fine tooth comb to ensure that your brand does not come across as tone deaf and that your messaging does not edge on exploiting a public health crisis. Which campaigns is your brand currently running? What content is planned today? Tomorrow? The next few weeks?

As a rule of thumb, avoid paid and organic content that features the following:

  • Content around mass gatherings or events that cities have proactively canceled (sports, festivals, concerts, etc)
  • Ads promoting canceled events (always good to double-check!)
  • Content driving in-store foot traffic, especially for non-essential items
  • Imagery that shows people physically touching
  • Captions and copy that could come across as insensitive during a global crisis, such as one-to-many and one-to-one responses that makes light of the situation like “taking a sick day” or “your smile is contagious”
  • Copy that may spread misinformation, even if intended as a joke

Unfortunately, this means canceling your branded March Madness brackets since the tournament is cancelled, April Fool’s Day stunts that may be seen as spreading misinformation, and extended family gathering-focused Easter content and visuals.

If you’re unsure of what to post or how to respond, consider asking your audience. Reformation, for example, leaned into transparency and engaged directly with customers in an authentic way.

Here, the brand not only highlights changes to their business operations, but also acknowledges that it might be odd to see regular editorial content on social in the midst of a global pandemic. They even ask their followers to help shape their content strategy moving forward. Reformation customers appreciated the transparent post, thanking them for addressing “the elephant in the room” and expressing their interest in seeing continued editorial content to break up the “doom and gloom” on all of their feeds.

In a similar vein, Denny’s recognized that this situation called for stepping outside of their light-hearted social persona, and shared a statement from their CEO.

Note, though, that these are not one-size-fits-all approaches. Consider your brand’s position, the current conversation, and your audience in making decisions about your content strategy. For help developing social media content ideas for your brand, read our ebook The Social Media Pocket Guide for Enterprises.

2. Leverage social listening to inform your strategy

During a time of crisis, it’s important to understand the conversation surrounding the crisis itself, as well as the conversations surrounding your brand and your competitors in relation to the crisis.

Social listening is a quick, easy way to get a pulse on this conversation. Below are a few tips to get you started:

  • Review mentions of your brand and the crisis with this sample query in Khoros Intelligence: (@brand OR #brand OR “brand name”) AND (coronavirus or #coronavirus or “corona virus” or “COVID-19" OR "covid19" OR "covid 19” OR #covid19 OR rona).
  • Scan social feeds of others in your industry and beyond to see how those brands are engaging in the conversation.
  • Look into mentions of your competitors and the crisis to understand if their approach is resonating with their audience.

3. Surprise and delight your customers

Although this is a time to be mindful of content, it’s not necessarily a time to go dark altogether. While the world practices social distancing, people will continue to seek out community and connection with others through digital channels. Brands can respond in kind by making customers feel valued and cared for, showing appreciation through surprise and delight, and engaging directly through brand love.

Over the weekend, for example, Disney+ announced that it would be releasing Frozen 2 early on the streaming platform. Although this move came with the added benefit of driving site traffic, it led with empathy for the many parents who would soon be working remotely alongside their children in the weeks ahead. The brand received positive responses from parents, the general audience of viewers who enjoy Disney movies, and the media.

Chipotle is sharing a consistent drumbeat of surprise and delight on social media. First, by offering free delivery throughout the month of March, and then by leaning into the movement of virtual meet-ups to host a series of digital lunch parties on Zoom. According to Thrillist, the parties will feature Q&As, celebrity guests, and free burrito giveaways.

Does your brand have offerings that could support those in times of need? Or is there something your brand could be doing to spread joy to customers?

4. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate.

This situation is evolving, so what passes muster today may be seen as tone-deaf tomorrow. It’s important to continue to evaluate the situation and listen to your customers through social listening and responses to your content to determine the best path forward.

In the event that one of your posts ends up coming across as tone-deaf later on, pretending it didn’t happen isn’t necessarily the best way to regain consumers’ trust. For example, notice how, in the screenshot above, Chipotle re-shared a seemingly insensitive tweet, leveraging a shared understanding of the situation to empathize with followers.

While working remotely, it can be difficult to keep teams organized with so many moving parts. Consider setting up a daily check-in with your social media team to share social trends, learnings from social listening, and review that day’s content calendar to discuss and iterate in real-time.

If you’re a current customer, now is a great time to create your Atlas Community account to stay up-to-date with the latest resources and best practices for navigating COVID-19 across your digital channels.

Thank you to Nate Janes and Caroline Foley for their analytics and trendspotting support for this blog.

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