What does marketing during COVID-19 look like? As this virus changes the way businesses across the globe interact with each other and their customers, we’re seeing social media trends for business shift, adapt, and in some cases, disappear entirely. To help you keep up with the changing times, here are a few of the ways we’re seeing this pandemic affect the social media marketing trends around us.
Things are different now. We’re not the first to tell you that, and we certainly won’t be the last, but the simple truth is that, worldwide, we’re all grappling with a situation that many of us have never encountered before. COVID-19 has hit businesses especially hard, as they not only have to keep their company afloat during this time of social distancing but also need to find a way to keep their brand relevant in the eyes of its consumers.
The biggest thing your brand should be doing right now is paying attention. With every day coming pre-packaged with a new series of headlines, it’s more important than ever that you not only stay in touch with your target audience but also that you listen to them. How are they dealing with the virus? How have their needs changed? Has the way they interact with or use your product or service changed? How can you change your product or service to meet your customers’ changing needs?
With Statista reporting that “over 40% of people on a worldwide level are spending more time on social media during the COVID crisis than they were before,” now is the time to start pursuing and investing in the social media marketing trends that are dominating the conversation. Here are a few of those trends, how other brands are adopting them, and what we can learn from them.
COVID-19 is Changing the Way We Use Social Media
According to an in-depth report from Kantar, (which we’ll come back to later) COVID has generated a:
- 70% increase in web browsing
- 63% increase in TV viewing
- 61% increase in social media engagement
People are staying inside their homes, working remotely, and generally distancing themselves from others to help curb the spread of this virus. But just because your customers aren’t out and about in the world doesn’t mean they don’t still want (or need) the product and services your brand offers. And, with social media being one of the dominant ways we stay in touch with one another, the importance of social media marketing cannot be overstated.
The way we use social media for marketing needs to change in order to keep up with the world around us. Kantar’s report illustrates how “a clear majority of consumers expect advertising to make a positive contribution to society,” especially during a crisis like COVID. This means consumers want you to:
- Talk about how your brand is helpful in the new everyday lives we’re leading
- Inform your audience about the efforts you’re taking to face the situation and protect your employees and customers
- Offer a reassuring tone
For example, General Mills’ social team has started highlighting and interviewing some of the key executives in the company about how COVID has affected the way they’re interacting with and responding to the food industry at large. They share these insights on Twitter, on YouTube, and even release them as downloadable podcasts to make sure as many people as possible have access to them.
The company isn’t stopping there, though. They also announced a “‘manufacture to donate’” initiative in mid-April and launched a paid community service program for employees. By creating all-new programs like these, and then sharing them on their social media channels, General Mills is giving their consumers insight into their company and reassuring them that they’re doing their part to help those in need.
People get a lot of hard news from their social media platforms, and brands spamming them with ads and promotions aren’t going to encourage them to connect. Instead, the social media marketing trends you embrace in your strategy should start from a place of “how can I help?” This is what General Mills is doing, and they’re far from alone in their initiatives.
How COVID Is Affecting Our Social Media Marketing Trends
People are looking for ways to connect with each other. For many, that connection is coming from social media—where else can you communicate with countless people in endlessly customizable ways from the safety of your home?
Social media offers a unique opportunity to change the message from “here’s why you should buy our product” to “here’s why you can trust us.” Like Forbes says, the brands that are getting social media right are the brands expressing “empathy in the eye of the storm. People will notice brand actions now and remember them in the future.”
Inbound marketing has always been built around relationships and the concept of giving people the resources they need to make the best decisions for their situation. So, if you’re already an inbound expert, then the idea of using social media to, as Forbes also says, prioritize “connections over conversions,” probably isn’t a new one. Inbound marketing means meeting people where they’re at, not where you want them to be, and during a crisis that often means focusing less on selling in a traditional sense.
“In cases such as a global health crisis, it is inevitable to experience rapid changes in market dynamics,” Business 2 Community says. “Thus, constant reassessment of campaigns, creative collaterals, and even marketing guidelines is needed to keep up with the change.” This means asking yourself questions like:
- Is the tone of my content still relevant and appropriate?
- Should this campaign be rescheduled until after things return to normal?
- How can my brand’s social media help our audience through this time?
- Is our brand engaging with its customers enough?
- What can we do to improve the ways we communicate with our audience?
Take a look at how Guinness shifted its St. Patrick’s Day—which is usually a day of celebration (and sales) for the Irish brand—marketing strategy to better reflect the climate around them.
Not only does an ad like this one offer audiences a hopeful glimpse beyond the current crisis, but it also reflects positively on Guinness as a brand, as it showcases a broader commitment to the well-being of their customers. The brand is also committing $500,000 through its Guinness Gives Back Fund to help the communities where they “live, work, and celebrate,” which is just another example of how a brand can use social media marketing trends to make a difference during a crisis like COVID.
Like Guinness examples for us, your social media marketing strategy needs to be more flexible than ever. Don’t overcommit, but don’t avoid content, either. You want to remain a positive presence in the lives of your audience, but if the trends change, or your audience’s response changes, then you’ll want to adapt to that.
To that end, your social media ROI might not be the best indicator of your success right now. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be tracking your ROI, but rather, that it shouldn’t be the deciding factor on whether you keep a particular campaign or strategy going. AdRoll says it like this: “ROI is important, but engagement metrics like clicks, likes, shares, comments, etc. are better gauges” as to whether your social media efforts are succeeding or not.
For example, take a look at how Coca-Cola is using its Twitter account:
Even a passing scroll at their Twitter feed will reveal that the company is spending very little time talking about itself. Instead, the company wants to “promote a message of support and togetherness.” To do this, the brand is committing the full scale of its social media presence “to share helpful information and meaningful messages from [its] partner community organizations like the American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Salvation Army and Feeding America, among others.”
It’s a strategy that audiences want to see. Research from Twitter itself shows that a majority of users “feel more positively about brands making an effort to support society.” Coca-Cola is a mega-brand, too, and they could’ve easily gone a different direction without hurting its bottom-line. But instead, the company is using its platform to market itself in a different and more positive way.
Staying Connected During a Crisis
There’s no handbook for dealing with a global crisis like COVID-19. Companies may have an internal crisis management strategy and some may even have experience keeping their brand afloat during trying times. But COVID is something unique, and it’s affecting the world of marketing in ways we still can’t see the full extent of.
One thing is for certain, though: it’s forcing brands across the world to reconsider (and in some cases redefine) the social media marketing trends they’re aligning themselves with.
When it comes down to it, the best thing your team can do to adjust to these social media changes is to listen and learn. Just look at the way that Cottonelle—one of the world’s largest suppliers of toilet paper—is positioning itself right now:
Not only is Cottonelle acknowledging the uniquely difficult period we’re in, but it’s also directly addressing the ways it is affecting its audience during this period. They’ve also donated $1 million to United Way Worldwide's COVID-19 Community Response and Recovery Fund and will be partnering to donate 1 million rolls of toilet paper over the next three months. The brand is also using its social media presence to make a difference, and have launched a social media campaign where they’ll donate an additional $1 for each social post shared before June 1, 2020, with the hashtag #ShareASquare.
The importance of social media marketing cannot be overstated. Things are hard right now, for everyone—brands and consumers alike—but the social media marketing evolution that COVID has created is showing us just how crucial it is to stay connected with one another.
None of us are in this alone. When you embrace the mindset behind some of the social media marketing trends seen above, you can deepen your brand’s relationship with its target audience in a way that will last far longer than the current crisis will.