In the wake of COVID-19, social media managers have had to reevaluate their strategies and content plans to account for changing consumer behavior. But even in a pandemic-free world, things change and businesses are thrown curveballs—and social teams are on the front lines of communicating and reacting to those changes.
Fortunately, marketers have always been adaptable—whether it was in the 20th century when TV emerged or today on social media where trends surface every second. If you’re pivoting your messaging during a global crisis or your brand just wants to mix it up, it’s time to tap into that innate adaptability.
In this article, we’ll provide advice to help you stay agile, manage change and make the most of a new direction when your priorities shift.
Approach your strategy with an audience-first mindset
Any social strategy worth its salt is focused on your brand’s target audience, however, 43% of all social marketers say identifying and understanding that audience is a major challenge. To address this concern, marketers turn to social data.
Right now social media usage has spiked around the globe, giving brands an opportunity to reach new followers. Shedd Aquarium, for example, has gone viral (multiple times) for its adorable, exploring penguins and gained fans worldwide as a result.
The adventure continues! 🐧🐧
This morning, Edward and Annie explored Shedd’s rotunda. They are a bonded pair of rockhopper penguins, which means they are together for nesting season. Springtime is nesting season for penguins at Shedd, and this year is no different! (1/3) 👇 pic.twitter.com/VdxN3oQAfe
— Shedd Aquarium (@shedd_aquarium) March 16, 2020
Not every social post is going to generate the same excitement as Wellington and his other penguin pals, but keep a close eye on your data. Track any changes in your audience demographics, reach and impressions and analyze how that change impacts other results like comments, shares, link clicks and other engagement metrics.
In events like COVID-19, your audience will be an effective barometer that guides your new focus. As a result of the economic downturn, some of your customers may be delaying purchases or keeping a closer eye on their finances. Lean into authenticity and empathy, and remind your audience that your relationships on social are more than just transactional. Showing your audience that you care about their opinions and circumstances goes a long way in building trust and loyalty.
Stay tuned into your inbound messages from your followers, as they might tell you what they need or want to see from your brand. If your inbox is quiet, consider asking your audience what they want to see. Get creative with polls and community questions to generate content ideas that align with your new focus.
what kind of tweets do you want to see this week?
— Hot Pockets (@hotpockets) April 13, 2020
An audience-first mindset also means being transparent with your followers. If you’re in the midst of a challenge that requires a new strategy or even a moment of pause on social, let your community know.
Keep your finger on the pulse
Social listening is an incredibly powerful tool for understanding broader conversations around major events and crisis situations. Sprout has seen that power in action during the pandemic through our COVID-19 Featured Listening Topic.
In a larger-scale crisis or event, listening can help your team understand what your customers—and the world—are feeling, saying and looking for right now. With these insights, your brand can identify ways to contribute value to conversations.
Listening can also help your brand stay a step ahead of a brewing crisis. Sentiment analysis, a subset of listening, digs into the positive, negative and neutral emotions surrounding your brand, campaigns and more. With active listening topics, you can see if the perception is starting to lean one way or another. This real-time gauge can serve as a trigger point for rethinking your social strategy.
Sprout’s Smart Inbox also features Message Spike Alerts, which notify users to an influx of incoming messages in your Smart Inbox. Whether the spike is due to a flurry of praise or a wave of complaints, staying on top of customer feedback will help you pivot quickly and prepare your positioning.
Level up by putting new ideas to the test
Social platforms are consistently coming out with new features and ways to get creative. While you may be committed to your tried and true marketing methods, that doesn’t mean you have to be rigid and stagnant. While not every new trend will work for your brand or resonate with your audience, you might hit on something that blows your past results out of the water.
Social and creative testing is a great way to work out a hunch, question or challenge related to your strategy. Whether you want to know if video drives more traffic than static images, or whether posts with emoji bullet points drive more engagement than those without emojis, these are all variables you can test.
Friendly reminders check:
✅ Focus on the essentials & self care
😎 Do one thing you’ll be glad you did later
🤳 Reach out to friends and family, virtually
🗞️ Don’t share articles that you haven’t read yourself
— Sprout Social (@SproutSocial) April 3, 2020
While testing takes time and may not provide immediate insights when you’re trying to pivot quickly, it can help you learn whether the adjustments you’ve made are supporting your goals. As marketers prepare for the “new normal,” testing could be a great way to see if your content and messaging resonates with your audience the same way it did pre-pandemic.
Reimagine and tap into the resources you already have
Work smarter, not harder. If you’ve had to delay a major campaign or pause your content plan, don’t be afraid to repurpose content. Rather than scrambling to come up with new creative assets and ideas, use what you have as a jumping-off point. Think of a different angle you could take while sharing, or how an older concept might apply to your new goals. Try refreshing the language to be more relevant in the current landscape.
Every major social network has options to reshare content someone else has published. In times of crisis, brands may consider resharing more third-party content that provides updates and educational content about how the situation is evolving and what it means for your industry.
Brands can also source content from their community if they need to quickly pivot. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an emphasis on staying connected while we social distance, which has been an opportunity for brands to curate user-generated content (UGC) from their loyal fans.
In 2014 we launched #MyMadcap. Now, at a time we need togetherness more than ever, many have asked how you can support us. Among the things we miss is sharing coffee with you.
— Madcap Coffee (@madcapcoffee) April 3, 2020
Look for new ways to collaborate
When a critical issue arises, many businesses organize cross-functional teams, known as Tiger Teams, to address and solve problems. For instance, if a SaaS company runs into a major bug that requires a software outage, that company might assemble a team to get to the root cause. Social is the number one channel for brands to connect with consumers, so having a social media manager on that team is essential so you know how to pivot messaging and mitigate customer concerns.
Even when there are no immediate threats to your brand or industry, you should always look for ways to collaborate and create more holistic solutions for your business. Set up regular brainstorming sessions or check-ins with departments beyond social media to come up with new ways to support your bottom-line metrics.
Lead by example
Be transparent with your team. During times of uncertainty and change, it’s especially important to check on your peers, level-set expectations and communicate clear priorities to the people who report to you. Schedule regular one-on-ones with marketers you work with. If you’ve thrown a lot their way to make up for the shift in priorities, be empathetic if they are overwhelmed. Ask how you or other peers might be able to help.
working directly on communications for local government response to coronavirus, the info and content is is still so important. But heading into our six week, it's also so damn exhausting.
— Jordan Gilgenbach 🍕 (@jgilgenbach) April 13, 2020
As a social media manager, it’s your job to steer the ship, but you should also be open to ideas and suggestions. Schedule time for retrospectives at the end of a specific project or campaign. This gives you and your peers an opportunity to discuss what content resonated most, anything that surprised you, standout metrics that will inform your next steps and other relevant lessons you can apply to your strategy moving forward.
If your business has made a decision to pull back on budget for campaigns, live events or other marketing initiatives, consider building a case for repurposing that spend on social tools that would help increase productivity, facilitate remote work and harness the immediate insights social media communities provide.
Global pandemic or not, agility is essential in social. The ultimate goal of your social strategy should always be to add more value for your audience, better brand experiences and stronger community engagement. While you can’t control the way certain crises play out or what the “new normal” will look like, you can commit to being flexible and open-minded so the next time you have to adapt, you’re poised and ready.