The Power of Social Media Marketing During a Crisis

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Guest writer Rachel Austin is president of Hometown Social, a Houston-based firm that provides social media, public relations, and reputation management services. Owners who want some professional guidance at this difficult time can send an email to request a free social media consultation.

Have you ever read a social media post that was so tone deaf or untimely that it turned you off to the brand entirely? Social media can be a powerful tool, but it also has the ability to do more harm to your business than good. Since there is not a social media guidebook for COVID-19, here are some actions that business owners can take to stand out.

The Opportunity is Greater than the Excuse

Throughout my career, I’ve found that businesspeople with a great deal of integrity do as they say they are going to do without excuses. This pandemic is the perfect excuse to check out. We can’t go into the office. We aren’t allowed to have meetings. The kids are home from school, and homeschooling is cutting into our productivity. No one wants to hear what we have to say right now on platforms as silly and trivial as social media. Let’s just not post anything and wait for this to pass… I have encouraged and implored my team, clients and business associates to realize that what we say now is more important than ever.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post by Travis M. Andrews, our collective iPhone weekly screen-time reports are through the roof. We are all craving connection, and social media outlets give us the opportunity to connect with our friends, colleagues, customers and community leaders in a safe and healthy way. This is, in fact, an opportunity. Let me be clear: this is not an opportunity to over-sell or exploit followers during a time of trial. Instead, it’s an opportunity to define our brands by telling our business stories, helping others and establishing ourselves as resourceful leaders in our respective communities.

Define and Cater to Your Audience

Considering what matters to your audience is of utmost importance while marketing during a crisis. If you have not already defined your audience, that is the best place to start. A beautiful perk of living in the age of technology is that social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram do this for us. Insights are always valuable, but especially so when you are struggling to craft a message during a time of panic or public disaster. While I never suggest stepping outside of your brand voice, insights can be helpful in deciding what to post, and when to post it. Aim to post during times that your following is active, and curate content that speaks to your customers’ demographics.

When someone checks out your company’s social media feeds, what is that potential customer going to see right now? Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst.

Consider the Optics

If your customers cannot safely interact with your business, don’t request that they do so. The last thing your customer base needs right now is a misleading directive. Instead, focus on branding, community interaction, and top-of-mind awareness. While we all make our way through the COVID-19 situation, find opportunities to serve your customer base philanthropically. A few ideas include starting a fundraiser or supply drive, offering corporate matching for recurring donations, or participating in community-awareness campaigns. For example, the annual Wine & Food Week festival has halted social media content surrounding its June event series and partnered with the Southern Smoke Foundation to raise desperately needed funds for the hospitality community with the tagline, “It’s our turn to serve the food and beverage community.”

Have a Plan, and Keep it Fluid

Right now, we are social media marketing to a moving target. Industry professionals have all agreed that we must focus on the things we can do today, not the variables that the future will bring. The restaurant scene accounts for a significant amount of our economy. Due to the spectacular work by the Greater Houston Restaurant Association and Texas Restaurant Association in conjunction with our lawmakers, the restrictions and limitations on alcohol sales are rapidly changing to keep restaurants’ doors open.

Some days, my team and I work all day for a single initiative that is nullified 24 hours later. It’s really easy to get frustrated and discouraged, but we all have to push past it and get back to being productive. It is important to have a plan, but it’s even more important to pivot and adjust to rapidly changing circumstances. While my team and I usually have a strict spreadsheet regimen for social media planning, we’ve moved more to idea planning as an alternative. Brainstorm, write copy, choose visual content, and then bank it for when you feel it’s the most useful and appropriate.

Depending on how it’s used, social media can either really help or really damage a business. Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst.

Don’t Go Silent; Keep Connecting

Finding different ways to connect during this crisis helps boost morale. Everyone is craving the communication and connection we’ve all been lacking over the past few weeks.  Here’s a tip: ask people how they are feeling or how they are doing.

On a recent conference call, I started by asking everyone on the call how they were feeling and shared my own thoughts and feelings as an icebreaker. Like most of us, I am emotional, irritable and exhausted by COVID-19. This has been a life-altering change for all of us, and the understanding that we are all going through this collectively brings comfort. As everyone took off their “work hats” and put on their “human hats”, I began to see how vital and imperative it is to keep communicating in times of crisis.

Because all marketing invokes certain emotions, this got me thinking. Does it bring comfort to our following to keep a consistent and appropriate level of communication? Yes. Does the general public want to know that we are all in this together? That’s a resounding yes. If you go silent during this worldwide crisis and pop back up when you are ready to resume sales, you have lost a very valuable moment of connection with your following.

There is no need to share personal information on your business pages, but exhibiting your humanity in a time of crisis is key. If you are not comfortable curating content around your business, curate content around your community. Highlight first responders and medical professionals on the front line, or share a feel-good article from a local publication that might be of interest to your community. If you don’t have anything to share, keep it low-frequency, but no matter what you do, don’t go silent.

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