How to use social media the ‘right way’ during COVID-19 crisis

Nowadays, social media have become primary sources of information. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, how should social media be mastered and employed in a responsible way? I have some recommendations that will help marketers utilize social media in its core and at its best during the extraordinary time.

Check in with target audience

Why social media should be used in three stages of crisis?

Social media can be integrated and used in all three crisis stages: pre-crisis, crisis (response) and post-crisis. Before and during crises, the communication choice depends on the nature of the crisis, whom it affects, how many it affects, the expected outcome of the crisis, the amount of information available at any given time, and the nature of the company. Thus, before engaging in any digital experience, you need to check in with your target audience to ensure the content is still relevant, and your audience is interested in engaging and participating virtually. For some audiences, it will be a comfortable and welcoming transition, but others might only want in-person interactions and conversations.

One of the major challenges that brands face during a global crisis is knowing when and how to adjust marketing strategies, which is why it is more important than ever for brands to listen to their audience during this uncertain time.

Social listening analyzes conversations and trends happening

Social listening is a great place to start when looking to gain a more in-depth insight into different discussions. In the past, people went to forums or their close communities to share information; and now social media is a public place, so we can check how they feel about the crisis, about your brand, as well as the broader industry and community more quickly. We scan for news or potential crises using Google Alerts, TalkWalker, Sprout Social and Social Mention. We monitor using Sprout Social, Social Oomph, Trackur, How Socialable and Tweet Reach. These are useful tools to track what our stakeholders think and say about our brands, or if they have any dissatisfaction with us. And from that, we can evaluate whether the campaigns that we are doing are really influential to the stakeholders, and what we can do to improve our communication. During this pandemic, you should monitor social media frequently to capture any exchanges concerning your organization in time, or to respond promptly to a comment about COVID-19. You can add more relevant keywords to your usual monitoring list and review your social media crisis management plan along the way. By keeping a finger on the pulse of the conversation and applying those learnings to the end approach, brands can be a considerate, organic and valuable contributor to the conversation.

Bring your audience to social media versus bring yourself to audience

It is not as complicated as it sounds. Use social media as your home base for audience interaction and participation in your brand’s updates. Social media is now a mainstay for everybody staying at home during this time, so try to come up with content that keeps you and your brand engaging and speaks to the needs of your audience at the same time.

Listen before engaging your audience

A word of caution is that we should be much more mindful of our social media calendar during a crisis than normal times. People nowadays are less than enthusiastic to see updates about sports events or outdoor activities, and some may even be annoyed if a brand tries to sell high-end products when their budgets are tight. Ask yourself, what does your audience need from you right now? It can be webinars of different topics for self-improvement on all platforms. It can be entertaining, brand-related content to subtly remind your audience of your brand message. Or it can be a giveaway, something to show that you care, and you proactively reach out to your stakeholders when they feel isolated. If in doubt, you can go back to your social listening, to identify which topics are of interest that you can follow, and which topics are sensitive that you must avoid.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the shelf life of social media content during crises is significantly shorter than usual. This is not a time when you can plan your content weeks ahead of time, schedule it and forget about it. Be flexible and be sensitive! You can pre-write your content as usual, and adapt and update it daily, so it remains relevant and respectful of the current situation. If you have some old content that is being boosted or sponsored through ads, that is still showing in your audience’s feeds, don’t forget to re-evaluate them as well! That’s how you bring your audience’s attention to your social media platforms.

Gear content on social media to your listeners’ interests

By “bring yourself to your audience,” you should try to be present. Try to say something, even though you don’t know what to say. The most important thing during this crisis, or any crisis, is communication. That will set you up for future success. Do you have an employee diagnosed positive of COVID-19? Do you have staff layoffs or furloughs? Do you have to reduce working hours or temporarily close the business? If so, what are your plans for continuity and recovery? Absence of communication leaves your audiences with questions, perhaps leading to incorrect conclusions. You must own your narrative, or someone else will. Some companies will thrive because they are communicating well, frequently, transparently, and thoughtfully. Your stakeholders would love to hear from a brand that they love. Or you may not be affected at all. You should still be present to your stakeholders. Be empathetic. Keep them informed and engaged and make them feel cared for.

Go live if you can

People are social organisms and staying at home undermines our needs to be social. Thankfully, technologies are here to help us in touch. Numerous stories have been reported that netizens are never aware of Zoom before, and now Zoom has become integrated into their lives. Why? Virtual gatherings and video conferences give us a sense of togetherness, strengthen community bonds by reminding ourselves that there are real people on the other end of our devices. Likewise, for businesses, live streaming is a step up from text or image social media content. With the rise of live options from Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter/Periscope, going live maximizes your potential audience reach. It provides your stakeholders with reassurance in a time when it’s needed most.

Instagram live-streams have surged since mid-March. TikTok heavily promoted its live-streaming feature with its #HappyAtHome campaign. NBA leverages its massive online reach to connect with its followers by having one player sit down for a live interview with fans every weekday on Instagram. Estée Lauder Companies’ Bobbi Brown lists a schedule of daily social distancing-related live-streams with makeup artists. Vogue has its daily ‘stayhomewithVogue’ live streams on Instagram with guest fashionistas. And you can just be the next live streamer! You can be creative with your live stream, mix it with live Q&As, workouts, games and more, and you will see a great return on your efforts. The one thing we value right now is human connection and this is the best feature for it.

Last but not least, social media can be used in all three stages of a crisis, which means that social media is still helpful when a crisis is over. During the last stage of a crisis, post-crisis, social media can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of previous crisis communications efforts. PR practitioners can re-examine the choice of using social media in upcoming crisis communications activities. The effectiveness is assessed by the amount of time until the media picks up the story, the tone of voice, and subsequent stakeholders’ opinions.

A crisis is challenging, but it also comes with opportunities. Opportunities to review your brand health and your communication efforts, to monitor and gather the audience’s insights, to make suitable changes, so you will come out better and stronger than before. Before this COVID-19, or before any other crisis, have you felt that you’re so engulfed in your everyday business, so down in the day-to-day chaos of your lives, that you hardly have some time to look back? Again, social media is only a tool, a quite useful and important tool, but how to use it efficiently depends on you.


By Dr. Clāra Ly-Le, managing director of EloQ Communications. This article is an excerpt of my presentation at PRCA Virtual International Summit – May 2020.

X-posted on EloQ’s Blog.

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