Making the Most of Social Media in the Age of the Coronavirus

Posted by Shaina Kaye on April 3, 2020 at 12:57 PM

Back in January, we dove deep into two of the biggest social media trends of 2020: TikTok and the continued rise in popularity of video content. Although it was only two months ago, it feels like a completely different era.

A lot has happened in the past two months, and for many businesses, the focus has shifted significantly toward aiding and supporting community members in the uncertain time and future of the coronavirus.

And while a lot has changed, one thing has remained the same: people are still on social media. Customers across brands and industries are logging on and consuming content at a significantly higher rate, with Facebook noting that messaging across all of its platforms (Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram) has increased 50 percent over the last month, and time across all of its apps has increased a whopping 70 percent.

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With millions of Americans at home following social distancing, self-isolation, and shelter-in-place guidelines, the jump in usage isn’t surprising. But it does drive home a critical point: customers are on social media and are looking for content and connection. Whether that is content to inform, comfort, or distract, they are present and waiting. 

It is more important than ever for brands—should they choose to continue to put content out on their social media feeds in the midst of a global pandemic—to take a step back and ensure that their content is genuine, authentic, and useful to their audiences. 

Incorporating the two big social media trends outlined below into your current content strategy now can help your brand genuinely show the incredible work you’re doing to give back to the community, and at the most base level, remind audiences that we are all in this together, in times of crisis and in the months to come.

The Rise of Tribes

Social media users have, in the past few years, increasingly used various social media platforms to create more intimate online communities—or tribes—around the brands, products, and services that they love. At a time when there is so much polarization prevalent on social media platforms, these communities unite users across demographics around shared interests. Many of these communities begin organically, with a few fans connecting around a brand and branching out to a wide array of conversations. 

The primary outcome of these brand tribes? Connection.

Peloton’s official Facebook group was originally started by fans in 2015; in 2017 the brand itself, recognizing an opportunity and a chance to genuinely connect with users, began moderating the group. Beyond singing the products’ praises, group members share weight-loss stories and biking stories and seek out advice. The group also offers opportunities for customers to provide immediate feedback, weigh in on new offerings, and ask questions to the brand in an intimate, safe space. Beyond being brand employees, brand moderators are real, active, human members of the group, offering responses, doling out advice, and posing questions in real time. If the brand moderator doesn’t get a chance to respond immediately, one of its fans will keep the dialogue going. The private group also provides a platform for the brand to offer exclusive incentives or first-looks that help grow brand loyalty and word-of-mouth. With over 200,000 members, the group has a high rate of engagement, higher than one would expect from an organic social media channel.

Key takeaway: Beyond building brand value day-to-day, in times of uncertainty or crisis, these communities create an opportunity and a safe space not just for consumers, but for the brands themselves. Because of the smaller, more intimate forum, brands—or the moderators acting as the brand representatives—can take the time to answer questions, offer advice, address shipping delays, highlight how their brand’s priorities may be shifting, discuss how they’re protecting their employees, and generally share in the anxiety around the unknown. They can provide comfort to audiences with raw, honest content that reminds community members that, even though we are alone, we are all in this together.  

Brass Clothing, an ethical clothing company that started and moderates a private Facebook group for fans called “The Brass Guild,” has taken the past few weeks as an opportunity to be transparent about the business challenges they’re facing as a company whose products are (responsibly) produced in China. In addition to regular updates from the founders themselves, the group members spend time encouraging other members with work-from-home tips and a virtual book club, offering multiple points of connection that will only serve to broaden the brand’s positive perception long after the coronavirus subsides.

Making the Most of Stories

Another social media trend that can help spark conversation and connection in good times and bad? The ever-popular Instagram (and Facebook) Story feature. In 2019, the Stories feature averaged 500 million active daily users, a signal that its popularity is more than a passing fad. With interactive features such as polls, countdowns, and “ask anything” widgets, Stories allow users to instantly engage with brands while providing valuable insights into consumers’ behaviors, interests, and preferences. Stories also have the added benefit of living at the top of an Instagram or Facebook user’s newsfeed, allowing brands to circumvent the dynamic and complicated algorithms put forth by the social platforms. 

Glossier, a beauty brand with a cult-like following that was almost entirely built on social media, has perfected the use of Instagram Stories, regularly featuring Q+As, makeup tutorials, product polls, and quizzes to engage its audience. Using the feature, the brand seeks input on new products and engages audience members even further by featuring user-generated content, upping the authenticity and relatability of its products.

Key Takeaway: In the same way that brand tribes allow intimate opportunities for connection and humanization, Stories allow brands to share imperfect but genuine glimpses behind the curtain of rapidly shifting day-to-day operations. And the feature’s placement at the top of the newsfeed makes it an ideal way to share breaking news or ongoing updates.

In the midst of the coronavirus, many brands have faced unprecedented shifts in operations or have voluntarily shifted their focus away from their own product promotion and toward giving back to the community. At the end of March, sustainable shoe brand Allbirds used its Instagram Stories to announce a decision to donate sneakers to healthcare workers, and then continued to use the feature as its primary news outlet as the initiative evolved and grew over the following days amidst a positive response that forced the brand to alter their initial decision to better accommodate massive demand. 

Social media, when used thoughtfully, can be a powerful tool to connect brands to audiences and communities. This is especially true at a time when community members are at home, navigating uncharted, anxious territory. If you’re unsure how to navigate social media in times of crisis, or are looking to shift your social strategy to more thoughtfully connect to your audiences, we can help.

Topics: Customer-Centric Marketing, Innovation, Social Media Strategy and Best Practices, Content Marketing, Branding and Brand Value, Sustainability Marketing, Marketing Strategy and Best Practices