2020 kicked off a new decade with an entirely new way of life and set of rules for everyone. As brands planned their strategies, they could not have predicted the way COVID-19 has quickly swept up global markets and conversations. In the wake of the crisis, some brands and social marketers find themselves pivoting away from the social strategies they worked so hard to plan.

However, not all is lost nor does it have to be. Knowledge, empathy, purpose and agility are core to successful brand positioning right now. Below we’ll outline how marketers can reevaluate their planned campaigns and content, assess evolving customer needs, plan for the new normal, identify what parts of their strategy to salvage or scrap.

Assess ongoing and planned campaigns and content

Before you completely scrap everything you’ve worked so hard to plan, get a realistic view of your starting position. Push pause on all scheduled content and campaigns for the time being, so you can give yourself some breathing room while you reevaluate.

First things first, look at what you have planned to launch immediately or in the coming weeks. Ask yourself, does your plan still make sense, given the climate of today? Does it come off as insensitive? What can you keep? What should be postponed?

Right now, people are particularly sensitive, and emotions are heightened. Evaluate your content with that in mind so well-intentioned messages on social don’t come off as tone-deaf. Jen Hartmann, the Director of Strategic Public Relations for John Deere, suggests imagining your content amongst COVID-19 alerts to help decide whether to keep or cancel a given message.

Always put yourself in the shoes of your audience. How would you feel if a company sent a sales pitch your way right now? How would you feel about a brand making a joke at this time? What are you searching for most as a consumer during this crisis? We are all human and need to be especially mindful of our audience’s struggles and needs at a time like this.

Read the room to determine what parts of your strategy need to change

If you’re unsure of what might come off as tone-deaf, social listening can help you gauge consumer sentiment and identify what is top of mind for your audience.

Listening is a powerful tool for understanding broader conversations around major events, crisis situations, your brand and so much more. With this in mind, the Sprout team has created a new Featured Topic centered around the coronavirus that is available to all of our Listening customers.

Through Listening, we were able to provide an analysis of emerging trends to-date for all marketers. A closer look revealed that Twitter conversations around COVID-19 and unemployment or layoffs increased by 4,725% from February to March. In March alone, there were 800,820 messages discussing layoffs and unemployment. People are unlikely to be spending the way they may have been a couple of months ago. Before you push forward with planned promotions or sales, think about how the current situation may have affected your audience. What value your brand can deliver aside from your products?

Now may not be the time to close sales, but it is a great time to build relationships and engage with your followers. There’s plenty to be anxious about so consumers are looking for positive conversations online that pull them up out of their funk. Messages about helping others grew by 1,174% in March, culminating in 19.5 million messages throughout the month. People are looking to connect, support and uplift one another right now.

In Sprout’s 2019 #BrandsGetReal survey, we found that 91% of people believe in social’s power to connect people. Whether it’s about something serious like feeling burned out or something more lighthearted like MoonPie’s attempt to get in on the virtual meeting background trends, that power has been proven during the current crisis.

Another key piece of data from our #BrandsGetReal report was 78% of consumers actually want brands to use social to bring them together. In the wake of COVID-19, that might mean creating Zoom hangouts for your customers or posing community questions to get people talking.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, for example, has focused on community-building efforts through Zoom and their #ChipotleTogether campaign. The restaurant chain’s virtual hangouts started as a way to bring people together as they social distance, so they don’t have to eat alone. The live streams have achieved over 500 million impressions while helping to raise relief funds.

 

Brands should also be mindful of the toll COVID-19 has taken on the industries they operate in. Tourism, entertainment and retail have been hit especially hard by the current economic downturn as people quarantine and delay major purchases. Tuning into how consumer behavior has changed and staying on top of benchmark data will also help you assess where you need to adjust. Many outlets like the GlobalWebIndex, IbisWorld, and HubSpot are publishing regular data reports on the global impact of coronavirus to help businesses do just that.

Demonstrate you understand what your audience needs from your brand and show consumers how you’re supporting them during this unprecedented time. If you prioritize creating connections and customer care, you will create brand loyalty that lasts beyond this crisis.

Balance sensitivity and relevance while tackling “business as usual”

Leading with empathy, understanding and sensitivity to what your customers are going through will serve your business well. People may be delaying purchases, but they are also looking for some semblance of normal life to get through this time. According to GlobalWebIndex, 50% of global consumers say they approve of brands running “normal” advertising.

However, any business-as-usual activities need to be managed carefully. If you’re wary of running “normal” ads, share more educational resources rather than promotional ones.

chart showing the strongest approval for brands providing information and CV-19 focused advertising.

GlobalWebIndex also found that nearly three-quarters of all global consumers surveyed approve of promotions, offers or loyalty perks for customers during this time. These promotions and sales might resonate with consumers keeping a close eye on their finances, but it’s important to provide full transparency in your messaging to avoid criticism for “cashing in.”

Consumers typically are willing to spend more when they know where their money is going. In times of crisis especially, folks will want to see their dollars supporting local businesses and their employees. Instead of pushing a sale, small to mid-sized businesses use social media to communicate how they’re supporting their employees through this crisis, how purchases are making an impact on COVID-19 relief efforts, or if they’ve had to close a retail shop, how customers can continue supporting the business.

One of the bright spots throughout this pandemic has been the surge of people looking for ways to give back to others. Social creates an opportunity to face uncertainty and address the challenges your business, your customers and communities are facing head-on. As a result, there’s been a 42% increase in mission-based marketing amid coronavirus. Allbirds, a sustainable footwear company, has used social to amplify a donation program to support healthcare workers. The program garnered support that resulted in $500k of shoes donated and the company has since added a “buy-one-give-one” purchase option, at the suggestion of their community.

With all the resources and data out there, brands can have a finger on the pulse that lets them know when to pull back or when the right time to act is. Work with leadership and teams org-wide to determine your business’ next steps under a variety of situations. Do you know what your communications and social strategy will look like once the shelter-in-place/stay-at-home order ends? How will your social strategy change if social distancing policies are enforced for several more months? Work through these kinds of scenarios and your responses to them now so you’re poised and ready for the new normal.

Adjust your 2020 social strategies and goals

It’s almost inevitable that your KPIs, social metrics and data will be affected by the current crisis. Hubspot reported that the number of closed-won deals and new deals created are declining. Without this leading indicator of “pipeline health,” sales and marketing teams will need to reevaluate where and how they reach prospects, and rethink the metrics they use to measure their performance.

According to Social Media Today, social and digital media usage is at an all-time high during COVID-19 lockdowns. If your business has chosen to postpone a product launch or major sales campaign, consider using this time to drive more awareness to your brand and focus on reach, impressions and follows.

Prior to the pandemic, Allbirds shared a lot of social content featuring their retail spaces and newest collections. Now, they’ve pivoted their social away from promoting shoes and towards community donations through their Better Together campaign. Switching your social strategy from promotions to how consumers can support their communities opens up new opportunities to engage and, in Allbirds’ case, drive both donations and sales.

Brands like Dark Matter Coffee are using social to crowdfund to support their employees while shops are closed. A fundraising-centric strategy means marketers will need to focus on strong calls-to-action that drive engagement metrics such as link clicks and reshares. Brands should also focus on traffic driven by social, and ultimately donations. If you want to dig deeper, use Google Analytics to look at metrics like bounce rate or behavior flow to see if people visiting from social are leaving your page quickly or continuing on to learn more about your brand.

Raw data and metrics don’t tell the full story, especially during a pandemic. As a social media manager, it’s your responsibility to tell the story so the rest of your organization can see the impact of your work and understand how social is contributing to your new goals.

Conclusion

We can’t predict the future, but brands can certainly plan for it. When looking at social listening data from our COVID-19 Featured Topic with the keywords “new normal” and “marketing,” we saw a 3,919% increase in volume from February to March, indicating that marketers are increasingly looking for advice on how to adapt to the current climate.

Different industries have different challenges, so there’s no one size fits all solution to how you should approach your social strategy. Some brands, however, have adjusted and adapted, easing feelings of panic with thoughtful social content and business strategies. Sprout rounded up examples and lessons from brands in the B2B, B2C, non-profit and higher education spaces that are doing this particularly well. See what you can learn from these companies in our Social Spotlight.

Above all else, be kind to yourself during this time. Demonstrate the human side of your brand. Embrace meaningful connections. Keep communicating and checking in with your peers. Learn from what you’re doing and what you’ve done. In our post-quarantine world, the phrase “hindsight is 20/20” will have an entirely new meaning, so move forward and make it count.