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Experts’ strategies for doing social media and content marketing in a crisis

Blog Post Author – Alan
Alan24th April 2020

Social media changes quickly at the best of times, but how much have you changed your social and content strategies over the past month?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, new apps are rising in popularity (such as Squad app), livestream consumption is reaching an all-time-high, and many of the social media platforms are racing to release new features. As a result, it's important for social media marketers to adjust to these changing times.

As our customers use ContentCal to send out different types of communications from before, we asked a few experts about their approach to social media marketing and content creation during a crisis. Draw from the best-practice and implement these strategies into your own approaches.

Hear from our experts:

Zoe Cairns: “Keep audiences informed, entertained, educated”

Zoe Cairns headshot

Zoe Cairns is founder at ZC Social Media

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

Our content strategy has changed and our approach is now all about keeping our audience “Informed, Entertained, and Educated”.

We also must make sure that when we share posts of products and services that they don’t come across in a non-sensitive, profiteering way. We must make sure that we’re thinking of today’s circumstances and our audience.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

Right now it’s key to keep your brand strong and in front of your audience. One of your key goals throughout this current climate should be to continue to maintain your online audience and BUILD.

Across our global clients from the 21st March to the 1st April we saw a massive dip in social media activity due to panic and disruption across the world.

In this quiet period, we helped our clients decide their plan of action throughout Covid-19. Then from April 2nd we started to see an increase in engagement, reach, and interaction on social media platforms.

Therefore, next week is a great week to be making sure you’re consistently in front of your audience. If you did a number of things before the 2nd April I would reconsider doing them again over the next few weeks to get the maximum exposure from your existing and a new audience.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

We would recommend you avoid profiteering, and if you saturate your posts with too much information about Covid-19.

You need to make sure what you’re posting is relevant, though people would like a distraction on social media from what’s going on.

However, if you’re a company in one of the key working industries then it is vital that you continue to share important information about Covid-19 because this is what people will be looking for on your website and your social channels.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

Now is not the time to cut back on your marketing activity. Instead, you should be building your audience, reinforcing your brand, and seeking some amazing opportunities to collaborate and look at other areas to expand your business.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

It’s so important to have a crisis management plan.

All situations are different and therefore no crisis situation will be the same. Therefore, it’s important to have a set structured plan of key steps that your team can follow and work together on.

Lenka Koppová: “Be patient with people”

Lenka Koppova headshot

Lenka Koppová is an organic social strategist and trainer, Founder of Cambridge Social Media Day

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

After hitting pause on all pre-planned social media marketing content (for myself and all my clients), I started posting new content that’s more timely, more personal and more emotional.

For the time being, I’m focusing mainly on documenting my journey and reporting on the current situation from my perspective, as well as sharing my experience. I’m using the same approach to clients’ content.

Given that I work in social media marketing and clear and appropriate communication is more important than ever, I focus on helping my clients and my community understand what is appropriate to post and what they should save for later.

For me, social media marketing has always been about connecting with people online, sharing useful content, and generally being helpful. This approach has been magnified in the past month.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

In the times of isolation and social distancing, social media and online communication are playing a more important role than ever before. Even people who were resisting social media, smartphones, and online conferencing are now embracing modern technologies as that’s the only way we can stay in touch with each other.

The same goes for businesses. Those providing essential products and services had to shift their model very quickly and embrace social media and digital marketing in general. That’s because, for many products, they’re now only able to sell online.

But regardless of your business model, it’s important to communicate clearly and regularly with online audiences to keep people informed and using social media marketing tools will help here.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

I’d say keep things positive and stick to the facts.

Right now we don’t need much negativity. Focus on documenting your journey, share details of your situation open and honestly, and keep it light and conversational.

Can’t work? Tell people what you’re doing instead to keep yourself occupied and your business surviving.

Need some help? Tell people and ask for what you need! There will be other people who are in a position to help!

Working hard? That’s amazing, but don’t forget to communicate with people and tell them how they can buy from you.

But above all, it’s important to be patient with people. It’s a very stressful situation for everyone and some people are handling it better than others. There might be more negative comments on your page, but try to keep some perspective on the situation, stay empathetic, and communicate calmly.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

If you stop marketing, your business will have a smaller chance of surviving!

We need to stay in touch with our audiences and customers to make sure they’re well informed about our situation, about the ways they can still buy from us, how they can support us, or simply just to stay at the top of their minds during this situation.

Consider who are your customers right now and how their thinking and behavior might have changed. There have been lots of changes in people’s financial situations as well as their purchasing habits, so it’s important to rethink your customers’ personas.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

If possible, have a crisis comms plan in place before a situation like this one arises. But let’s be honest, if you’re running a small business, you will have other priorities.

In that case, you want to be really fast to react and communicate to inform your social media audience about any changes and updates that might be relevant for them. Keep your comms factual, truthful, short, simple, open, and honest.

Once you’ve done the first round of reactive informative posting, you want to start thinking more strategically about how this situation can affect your business going forward and what impact it might have - and plan for that.

Get some drafts of press releases, blog posts, and social media posts ready for alternative situations.

Then create a new monthly and weekly topic plan and make sure you’re sharing a balanced mixture of content to inform, educate, engage, and entertain your online followers!

Dan Knowlton: “People seek positivity”

Dan Knowlton headshot

Dan Knowlton is Co-founder at Knowlton

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

Firstly we prioritized looking at what was ‘urgent’ and then what was ‘important’.

Our priority was any content we had planned that could have looked insensitive or caused offense. We were lucky that nothing we had planned urgently needed changing.

The important priorities included changing copy for content that was already created to better meet the current needs of our audience and re-plan content that wasn’t as relevant.

For example, we changed the topic of our latest Business Anchors Podcast to ‘Business Survival With Robbie Knox’ as we felt this was more fitting and also moved a public speaking case study we had going live as we felt this would have more of an impact in the future amongst other things.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

It’s incredibly important because it’s how we stay connected without the ability to meet each other. In the same way I think video conferencing software is important, the ability to phone people is important, etc.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

I’d avoid publishing anything that seems insensitive BUT I wouldn’t avoid posting entertaining content. Right now, people are seeking positivity and escapism from the crazy things that are going on in the world.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

It’s very difficult to give advice without knowing an individual business’s situation. In some cases, to maintain the livelihood of employees short term or to avoid shutting a business down for good, cutting Marketing budget may be the only option.

In other cases, where demand has fallen off a cliff, it may be better to hold back the budget and re-invest it at a time when demand grows.

For those businesses that can still sell their products or services (even if it’s in an adapted way) or for those businesses who are looking to start to build awareness, credibility and trust now, ready for the influx of demand when this is over, then cutting back on Marketing is a bad idea.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

It’s likely communication from customers will increase on all social media platforms, so where possible, increase the resource to match the increase in demand. Also ensure you show empathy with your customer’s current situation as you don’t know how the crisis may have impacted them.

Paul Ince: “Don’t add to the clutter”

Paul Ince headshot

Paul Ince is Director at LikeMindMedia and Co-founder of MarketEd.Live

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

I’ve always been very attuned to the importance of tone of voice in a crisis. Social media is fast so a brand’s tone of voice needs to reflect the situation as it is at that moment, not what it was like the day before.

It’s not a change of approach as such, just implementing what I’ve always done. Pay attention to what’s going on and be able to react.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

I find this a tricky question to answer. The amount of fake news about what causes coronavirus and how to prevent it is worrying. I don’t like the persistent anger that is aimed towards individuals.

Yet some of the creativity I’ve seen and some of the help I’ve seen offered to people in need is heart-warming and inspiring. Ultimately though, social media is not important.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

Carrying on regardless like nothing has changed. Everything has changed. It may only be temporary (hopefully) but not acknowledging what’s going on in your social media plan is completely tone deaf. That said, you don’t need to make it the only content you now publish.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

If you want your business to survive at the end of this, you need to keep reminding people you exist. Move to a more longer-term, brand-building approach that demonstrates expertise and social awareness ready for when the time is right.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

I wait. I can’t stand the automatic copy/paste job of ‘we’re working remotely’. No one cares: pretty much everyone is working remotely.

If your service offering is impacted, explain how this will affect the customer. Think of them. Send notices when you need to and not before.

There are enough things to try and get our heads around at the moment, we don’t need to add to the clutter.

Laura & Laura: “The world is on their phone”

Laura & Laura headshot

Laura and Laura are founders at The Hub

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

We've made an effort to actively acknowledge the situation, rather than avoid all together, and have provided helpful social media marketing content to our audience to help them throughout this period.

We've also reviewed our audience’s pain points and changed our content to address that. Additionally, we’ve reviewed any scheduled content.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

Essential. Especially for our audience which is made up of freelance social media managers who have felt a direct negative impact. They've turned to social for support and community which we have been able to provide to them.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

We think it's important not to avoid talking about it but equally to avoid being negative and talking about it constantly. We've all had a bit of corona-content overload.

Practically speaking we'd recommend avoiding using Covid-19 specific hashtags unless it's to share useful relevant information that brings value to the wider audience and doesn't dilute your audience by attracting the wrong people.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

Don't stop entirely. Now is the time when the world is on their phone. So cutting back on marketing now could be detrimental to the future of your business. But businesses should review and focus their resources to ensure the marketing they are doing has an impact.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

Calmly and with a lot of thought. We ensure we aren't reactive and are sensitive to the situation and the reader.

Lucy Hall: “Don’t disappear”

Lucy hall headshot

Lucy Hall is Founder of SocialDay and Digital Women, Director at Avviso Media

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

We’ve always had an add-value-and-don't-sell approach on social media for our brands, but with the current situation we’ve had to adapt our messaging to be more empathetic, relatable and meaningful.

We’re really drilling down on two things, community and customer retention.

Firstly, half our business is offline events, we bring people together online and off, so having had to postpone our events means we’ve had to act quickly to communicate the changes but also we’ve had to consider our community's needs right now.

It’s so important to be able to move quickly in a situation like this, it can be really damaging and make brands seem out of touch and even insensitive if they don’t check messaging quickly and change if needed.

We are now really focusing on building safe communities, not just for us but also for our client’s brands too. Our time now is really focussed on understanding our audiences even better and bringing them together in a safe space to discuss issues, add value and in some of our communities have fun!

Above all our customers and communities come first and our communications must have complete empathy for them.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

Social Media has never been more important. Now is not the time to stop communicating via social media platforms, it's the time to really see where we can help to add value, build community, encourage connection.

The majority of the world is suffering right now, economically, socially or mentally. This is the time for brands to step up and be there for their customers, and social media is the perfect place to do that.

Whilst many of our favourite shops and restaurants have closed I’ve seen some really simple yet creative content being shared, for example: McDonalds shared how to make a sausage and egg McMuffin, Burger King how to make a whopper whilst Joe Wicks is doing daily PE lesions, Adobe is waiving the fee for creative cloud for 3 months These efforts really show customers - ‘times are tough for all of us but we’ve got you’.

Now really is the time to show you aren’t just in this for the sale but that you genuinely care about your customer and if you are able to viably add value where you can, do it. If you disappear now on social media then when business gets back on track you’ll have to work a lot harder to get back into the hearts and minds of the people that matter to your business.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

Avoid overly promotional activity and avoid being political.

And avoid stopping your marketing activity. It’s really important that you show your customers that it’s business as usual and you are here for them, just don’t be pushy or salesy. People’s heads are in a different place right now which is why if you can, nurture your community, and add as much value as possible.

Right now is the time to be more creative in your communications.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

Consider where you cut your marketing very very carefully.

It’s a really difficult and uncertain time for businesses right now and when businesses get into trouble one of the first things to go is marketing, this is a mistake. How does it look to your customers if you just disappear?

Social media is one of the best ways to keep in the hearts and minds of your customers, as they turn to social media to find meaningful connections and socialise, also remember they are probably having many of the same concerns as you are. Keep talking to your customers.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

We don’t plan the content as far ahead as usual. Our team meets daily via Zoom to discuss themes. We still use our favourite tools such as ContentCal so in that way not much has changed.

But we are creating a lot more valuable content which means it’s more time consuming for the team, and we are also posting in our communities daily. In a nutshell, we are working much harder!

Andy Lambert: “When the world zigs, zag”

Andy Lambert headshot

Andy Lambert is Director of Growth at ContentCal

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

We have more eyes on our social media marketing content than ever before. We’ve implemented a 2-step approval flow, meaning that other stakeholders can double-check the tonality of the message and ensure that it strikes the right note.

We’ve also pulled back on more of the ‘snackable’ type of content, like gifs and memes to focus on more helpful content. of course a social media calendar will keep you organised with your social media plan.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

It’s critical. The importance of social media has never been more apparent than it is now. For businesses that are no longer able to trade in the current climate, social media facilitates the ability to continue to support and develop a community.

Social media helps once physical businesses pivot to a more digital-first approach.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

Doing what you’ve always done. A new situation requires a new approach.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

Cutting costs where appropriate makes perfect sense to ensure a business to survive, but the counterintuitive approach that many businesses unfortunately take to cut all marketing. This is a moment in time where everyone is cutting back on marketing leaving space for others with a good, and relevant story to tell to get their message heard. When the world zigs, zag.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

It’s all about visibility. Naturally we use ContentCal, but the most important thing about all elements of communication is transparency. Having all content in one central source can ensure that our messages are consistent, sensitive and achieve our businesses goals.

Sally Hawkesford: “Keep a small, always-on presence”

Sally Hawkesford headshot

Sally Hawkesford is founder at SHC Digital

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

Our approach to clients is to carry on with business as usual. From a paid media perspective, we’re recommending clients down-weight media budgets to reflect the market but essentially you need to keep your brand alive during this time.

Consider switching your paid media objectives to be more top of the funnel and focus on awareness and consideration rather than conversion. The businesses that maintain a strong brand presence during this time will be the brands who come out stronger when everything turns back around, and it will turn back around!

It is a real short-term strategy to turn off all your digital marketing and brands need to think of the bigger picture and plan for the long-term by keeping their brand front-of-mind.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

Maintaining a strong social media presence is key during this time. You need to keep eyes on your brand and keep talking to your community. Make sure you keep your community up to date with how you're operating during this time and how they can still support you as a business. Using social media planning tools will help keep your organised.

The same goes for your social advertising. Keep a small, always-on presence (likely to be an awareness or consideration objective) that keeps you talking to new and existing audiences at a brand level and helps you build engaged audiences to retarget with more direct response approach advertising when the market changes.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

Stopping all digital and social media marketing – it’s the worst thing a brand can do! Henry Ford famously said ‘stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time’ and never has this quote resonated more.

It’s essentially a false economy, especially from a paid media perspective. If you pause all paid social advertising for three months and then turn it back on and expect to see results come through again, then think again. It will take time to start building your brand back up again and allow the media time to optimise.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

Cutting back makes sense, but just don’t stop everything completely! From a social advertising perspective there are less advertisers in the market currently and as it’s a biddable media model, now is cheaper than ever to advertise.

Avoid running performance-based ads, which are bought on a final conversion if the market aren’t currently buying, look to run brand awareness (bought on a CPM basis) or consideration activity (brought on a CPC basis) to ensure media efficiencies and keeping a brand presence with your target market for a lower budget

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

Build a crisis comms plan for the worst case scenario. Nine times out of 10 if you have a plan, then you don’t ever end up using it, but it’s when you don’t have a social media marketing plan in place that you wish you had one!

Joe Glover: “You need to be coordinated, clear, and empathetic”

Joe Glover headshot

Joe Glover is founder of The Marketing Meetup & Empath Marketing

How have you changed your approach to social media in response to Covid-19?

I've moved away from any kind of sales messaging as it felt hugely inappropriate right now. Right now, the tone of voice needs to be supportive, empathetic, and about looking to help people more than ever. I think there's a general feeling that anything remotely selfish is no longer appropriate on social media right now. We should all be putting our focus on how we can help other folks a little more.

How would you describe the importance of social media in the current climate?

Social media is becoming increasingly important, We're spending a lot of time at home and on digital channels at the moment. These digital channels, social media being a very key one, are the main opportunity for growth

Social media has been very positive in many ways as people are using these channels to support one another and collaborate on various things. However, there's also a negative side to this as I personally have had to mute quite a lot of words on Twitter as it was damaging my mental health by being constantly exposed to doom and gloom and not being able to choose when to interact with the situation in the world. It's not about ignorance so much as it's about shielding. People who don't know about these features could see their mental health being negatively impacted.

What would you avoid doing on social media in a crisis like this?

Try to avoid selling, but also try to avoid causing panic. I came across a video recently about a session someone was running but the framing of it was very panic-driven. The positioning was very much along the lines of 'the worst is coming, everyone should panic, you don't know what's going to happen to your business so you need to watch this webinar'.

To me, that was a very negative spin on something that could have been positive. They could have positioned this to be more like 'we're all suffering right now but lets band together to create a session that could prove very useful'. So, rather than erring towards the negative, try to steer towards the positive. You don't want to be mindlessly positive but just be conscious that your words and actions can have an impact on other people.

What advice would you give to a business that is considering cutting back on marketing?

I guess this question is more specifically talking about marketing spend as marketing as an activity, in general, is very hard to cut out because you need to still be meeting the needs of the customer. Even if it's just having a conversation with a customer - that's still an element of marketing.

There are two ways I'd approach this. The first thing is doubling down on brand. I think that the people who double down on branded activity are going to be those who come out of this crisis much much stronger. Those who aren't necessarily looking to make a buck, but instead build relationships with their customers - these are going to be the winners.

The second thing is that I would start to look at more organic forms of marketing. This could mean getting in touch with individuals in businesses and asking them if there's any way you can help. This costs absolutely nothing but can also be really impactful and massively appreciated.

If you got a call from your number one supplier and they said 'Look, we know everyone is having a tough time - what can we do to help?' I'm sure that that would really strengthen your relationship in the future.

I wouldn't cut back on branded activity; I would double down on it and be looking to incorporate elements of low-cost marketing into the mix.

How do you organize your social comms in a crisis situation?

I think you just need to be very very careful right now. People are in a place where they are extremely sensitive to the messages we put out. You need to be coordinated, clear, and empathetic. And you also need to be consistent across all of your channel (using ContentCal is a great way to achieve this).

If you're sending mixed messages or other odd content, then people are really going to pick up on it at the moment and you're not going to be helping your brand, yourself, or your customers.


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