8 Ways Brands can Confidently connect on social during COVID-19

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Written by Kristin Williamson Swenson

In the wake of COVID_19, many of us have thought, “I want/need to engage with my brand’s community and sell my product online, but I’m unsure about what is appropriate to share in this scary and fluid time. And truthfully, some days I don’t even feel like showing up during this time.”

Both of those thoughts are more than okay.

For the first time in the digital era, we are sharing an unprecedented, collective experience with people in most countries around the world. We may be “shelter-in-place,” but we are still humans with passions and a great need for connection. This also applies to brands and influencers that need to reach their online communities.

If there has ever been a time to create stronger, long-lasting bonds, that time is now.

Our communities need our voices and connection. As an example, we can look to our friends in Europe who have shown this with their balcony performances and flashmobs. In the U.S., we are seeing similar digitally shared experiences emerge, such as TikTok Challenges and DJ D-Nice’s Instagram Homeschool Dance Party that drew 100,000 people, including notable figures such as Michelle Obama, JLo, and Steph Curry.

Limiting physical contact and adjusting to a new normal has created limitation from which creativity can (and does) flourish. Brands and influencers can join or spark connection given these circumstances and examine brand messaging, products and services with fresh eyes.

There are several (among many) brands and influencers who have found a way to stay true to who they and continuing serving their audiences in our new climate. Brooklyn-based influencer @Chinaealexander’s Instagram has proven to be a safe-haven for all of the emotions we are feeling during this time–because she is living it with us. In the days since entering quarantine, she championed her community to raise money for health care workers, given a how-to for everything from soaking off gel nails at home, to making dinner. And there is no shortage of sharing her emotions and feelings as she navigates through this time. This is what reality looks like.

Chinae also continues sharing brand collaborations for the products that she loves and has been using while at home. She was transparent with her audience from the onset that her business would continue. Because of her transparency, product relevancy, and other forms of engagement, the continuation of branded content seems perfectly natural.

Ellevest, a financial services company focused on helping women+ build wealth, has always used its Instagram to share tips on how to become financially stable and invest without intimidation. Their current programming specific to how the crisis is impacting women’s finances and the tools to minimize the impact. The brand has put a call out to their audiences for money questions and is answering submissions that range from “should I pull out my 401k to avoid losses?” to “how to prepare for a recession?” An upcoming conversation with Create & Cultivate’s Jaclyn Johnson shows they are moving beyond their own channels to connect with target audiences through partnered content.

In observation of these examples, the key to content creation during this time comes down to three things: acknowledgment, active listening and empathy. In all of these examples, there is acknowledgment that we are all struggling, there is active effort to listen to concerns and respond directly and transparently, and most of all, the tone is consistently empathetic and honest.

With my PR and crisis communications hat on, I’ve put together a quick 8-point checklist that might spark some content ideas, reduce the chances of accidentally coming across as tone-deaf, and help develop social-media confident content as you continue to  show up for your community in the coming weeks.

  1. Ask. If you’re doing social for a brand or collaborating with a brand, ask if they have a social media policy in their crisis communications plan. If so, take their guidance first. Beyond that, connect with your community – ask them what type of content they are craving, engage them in voting for this or that, a headline, topic or next IGTV content
  2. Listen. What is your audience talking about now, and what’s the tone? What are the primary concerns, even memes and jokes being shared and referenced among those most active on any given channel. Consider if the topics are in the scope of your product/expertise.  Can you create content that provides value around those topics or simply show solidarity or extend the conversation in a slightly more brand-relevant direction?
  3. Values first. What are three core brand values that are practiced regularly – and that should be reinforced right now? Consider developing content that meets your audience where they are by echoing their concerns, thoughts and needs, AND reinforces brand values shared by your audience.
  4. Who is engaged? Evaluate who engages with your content most often and spend some time sorting though their recent posts. What can you deduce from their own published original content and shares that could be directly addressed through brand channels?
  5. Use your influence for good. Identify trending hashtags, aligned campaigns and your brand platform to encourage your audience to #stayhome, and to spread the message.  Influencers, brands, and celebrities have embraced the #stayathome campaign and your brand endorsement could be just the tipping point to cause someone to press pause on their plans.
  6. Share your passions. This is a time to expand on behind the scenes social content, because we are all operating from that WFH environment. What are the hobbies and interests and habits of your employees, leadership and customers while sheltering-in-place that would make for entertaining or helpful content right now?
  7. Automation audit. Revisit the language and tone of any sponsored ad and email nurture sequences. You may choose to proceed with launches and marketing promotions, but should do so with some communicated awareness to your audience. Put note on your calendar to revisit these weekly as the situation evolves.
  8. Plan for flexibility. Pay attention to changes in the current environment, news, competitor communication and those direct and indirect influencers to your business. As new dynamics are introduced, revisit any planned content by reviewing steps 1-4. Even without a clear social media crisis plan in place, you can plan for the plan – making sure decision-makers are available and regular team huddles keep lines of communication open and adjustments easy to approve.

Listening, acknowledgment and empathy are essential for successful social content and in particular, ensuring social communication further establishes brand commitment and access during COVID-19.

About Kristen

Kristin Williamson Swenson is the founder and principal at Positioned, a PR and brand positioning agency for female facing products, entrepreneurs, and content creators. She has 15+ years of experience building personal brands, directing marketing and PR for $0 to $320M projects, and leading reputation and crisis communications ranging from high-profile political campaigns to brand crises.

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