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Somewhere on the long, never-ending list of seemingly untouchable components of our pre-coronavirus universe that will never be the same is the way that we interact with each other online. In the short span of a few months, we’ve become a species of video chatting, meal picker-upping, remote working creatures. 

Sure, we did all of those things before living through a pandemic, but we didn’t rely on them to sustain our social lives or basic needs the way we do now. And now that we know what this is like, we aren’t going to forget it anytime soon.

For marketers, these lifestyle changes have presented challenges that go far beyond the usual issues of user retention or brand awareness. In a world where the internet and everything it has to offer has emerged as the only thing capable of keeping us afloat when the unthinkable happens, digital media has more than earned its place at the head of the dinner table. 

So how does an organization begin its pivot to a digital-first strategy? First, you take a long, hard look at the numbers surrounding media consumption. Then, you turn to the easiest, most actionable tool at your disposal: social media. 

Whether your brand has veteran status in the social space or is just getting started, now is a time to look at your approach to social media and determine what needs to change. Here are six thinking points to get you started. 

Think short-term AND long-term

Rather than saying “this is the plan for now, and that’s what we’ll do later,” build strategies now that can be integrated with future messaging and content. Consider taking the time now to test individual portions of a larger strategy (for content, ads, or influencers) to see how audiences respond. 

We helped the team at Wharton put together these virtual glimpses of their campuses. Sure, this material is great under current circumstances, but it’ll also serve prospective students all around the world in years to come. 

If virtual content is a part of your immediate response plan, make sure that can be enhanced with further experiences once in-person interaction is allowed—in other words, ensure that your need for it does not disappear.

Audience reevaluation 

Everything about the world has changed—and that includes us, the “audiences” that marketers constantly talk about. Sure, this experience has brought us together in many ways, but it will also leave us substantially divided between two general categories:

    1. Those who were merely inconvenienced/scared by the pandemic
    2. Those who permanently had the courses of their lives altered, whether from loss of loved ones, loss of jobs/businesses, financial disaster, etc. 

As much as I wish we could all fall in the first group, we already know that that’s simply not the case. There is no returning to “business as usual” for group 2, and brands will need to go above and beyond to stay sensitive to the folks affected by this large-scale loss. 

The endless pool of audience members that brands compete for will evolve in other ways, too, between choosing to work remotely on a permanent basis or adopting more frugal habits after seeing how quickly livelihoods can be swept away.

Voice and tone

That second group of audience members—the ones who will be grieving loss of life, income, and resources for a long time—cannot be ignored while the rest of the world scrambles to re-cultivate a sense of normalcy. The opportunities for brands to appear tone deaf will be plentiful, so it’ll be crucial to keep a sharp and thoughtful eye not just on what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it.

A distillery talking about gas companies and hand sanitizer ingredients on Instagram? Weird in 2019, normal in 2020. 

Plus, you know how it’s been weird to see brands that have nothing to do with healthcare start to incorporate medical jargon into their messaging out of pure necessity? That’s not going anywhere. Language about CDC regulations, mask etiquette, and the alcoholic concentration of hand sanitizer would have sounded off-brand and out-of-place for many brands back in 2019, but for the foreseeable future, it’s key messaging that consumers need, despite how sick of it they may be. 

Volume of material 

Since COVID-19 began its reign, lower post frequency from brands has largely correlated with higher engagement across social channels. Now more than ever, your social strategy should focus on making every message count. We will have been through hell, and we won’t be interested in cutting through the clutter to get to the information we need and want.

Since you’ll be saving time and effort by creating and publishing less material, those resources should be transferred directly into the creation and aggressive testing of better content. 

Crisis communication 

How many times have you read the phrase “there is no playbook for this” over the past three months? I’ve lost count. It’s true that at the beginning of the pandemic, most brands and organizations had absolutely no idea how to handle the world grinding to a halt. 

But guess what? Now we do. Our society will emerge as a survivor of a pandemic, meaning that there will be simply no excuse to be unprepared for an astronomical crisis. Brands must take learnings from their pandemic experience to prepare for the next crisis, whether it is a climate disaster, future pandemic, act of terrorism, or something far beyond the worst situations we can imagine. But predicting the situation is not the point—the point is having a flexible crisis communications plan that can serve as the playbook we so desperately wanted back in March. 

“We will continue to pay our store teams during this time” is NOT something
a brand would have said publicly a decade or so ago. 

On a less dire note, we’ve also experienced an unprecedented—sorry, I know we’re beyond sick of that word—trend of brands sharing “inside baseball” information about their operations with consumers. From disclosing whether or not payroll is continuing for hourly employees, to announcing which CEOs are taking pay cuts, our digital connectivity has demanded answers from the brands we trust, and in many cases, those brands delivered. 

Now that we’ve had a taste of this, our expectations will be higher for the transparency and social responsibility we expect from brands we respect. Organizations will need to determine how to approach this desire within their crisis communications strategies. 

In-person engagement 

For a substantial number of brands and organizations, events or in-person activations of some kind are crucial components of their marketing and messaging strategies. But as we learned the hard way this year, all it takes is — poof! — one little pandemic to make those events disappear.

With this learning in mind, all marketing strategies will need to have alternatives to in-person events, activations, and gatherings moving forward. Even if all large events are allowed and back on the schedule, many consumers will be less inclined to rejoin crowds and public spaces. This will obviously affect the bottom line.

For the foreseeable future, we’ll be living in a world where all large events will automatically need to give people the option of in-person or virtual experiences, and social media distribution will be a key part of that virtual option. 

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If you’ve noticed that I haven’t talked much about creative content, advertising, or influencers, that’s because my talented colleagues have been hard at work forming theories and recommendations regarding strategies for those specific areas. Stay tuned to read their insights, and get in touch if you want to talk strategy. 

About the Author

Valerie Hoke

As a creative manager at ChatterBlast, Valerie leads editorial and strategic efforts companywide. In addition to having a weird lifelong obsession with bagpipes, she likes scouring the city for the best Mexican food and telling people she’s from Arizona.

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