How Brands Should Approach Social Media During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I serve on the board of PRSA Pittsburgh. Recently, my co-chair and I spoke on the organization’s Screen to Screen Instagram Live series. The series explores where the PR industry stands during the COVID-19 pandemic by interviewing Pittsburgh’s PR pros. In our session, we discussed how brands should proceed on social media during the current climate as well as the pros and cons of using social. Listed below are the essential tips and personal recommendations I shared during our session.

Communication Is Key

It’s important for a brand to keep connected with their community through the thick and thin, especially in the nonprofit sector. As a digital marketing specialist for an art education nonprofit, I can speak from experience that social media provides a free and easy way to stay engaged with existing and prospective donors. Most importantly, it keeps your mission in front of them. Now more than ever is the time to think of the business relationship you’ve built with your consumers as you would a personal relationship. You wouldn’t want to leave your best friend in the dark, right? Think about what your audience needs. Update them on your services or programming, product availability and most importantly, communicate the measures your brand is taking to promote social distancing now and in the future.

One of the most valuable things I learned in college as a journalism major, is that transparency is SUPER important. The same goes for the marketing industry. If you don’t share data, the status of your company or provide your donors with security, you may lose their trust. Furthermore, it’s always better to acknowledge a tough situation than to ignore it. You don’t want to come across as out-of-touch or deliver content that goes against what government agencies for public health recommend.

I suggest using all or as much of your communication mediums as possible: images, short videos and infographics. Any communication that you share out about COVID-19 should always be from credible and trusted sources. Unfortunately, when using social media, people often fall victim to misinformation. Luckily, social media platforms like Facebook are aiming to tell users when they have interacted with ‘fake news’ about the Coronavirus.

I also suggest preparing to maintain a strong digital presence for the long haul.

Personally, I’ve been taking this time to complete my digital to-do list. I’ve stepped up my SEO game. As far as PPC campaigns, I recommend treading lightly. You don’t want to come across as trying to profit off of these challenging and uncertain times with pushy, disingenuous content.

So, keep communicating with the upmost respect, empathy and acknowledge those on the front lines. This keeps the strong relationship you’ve developed over the years with your consumers intact. After all, we’re all in this together.

Pivot

It’s no secret that many brands have struggled during this pandemic with whether they should continue to post their company’s regular content, pivot or say nothing at all. My suggestion, pivot. As a company and especially as a young professional just starting out in the industry, pivoting can be stressful and daunting because it takes you out of your comfort zone and may even force you to do a little more “work” than what you’re used to doing. I view this time as an opportunity for innovation and growth. We’ve seen many companies stepping up, pitching in and taking on projects that are not their traditional niche. They’re working extremely hard and SHOWING, not just telling, their consumers how much they matter. People will remember the acts of good that brands are doing during this crisis. Also, feel-good content promotes positive messaging! Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes, better yet, take a look at your social media feed right now. Full of devastating statistics and political chaos, right? Where and how does your current content fit? You don’t want to add to the noise, you want to rise above it.

Pivoting Examples

Wigle Whiskey and other distilleries across Pennsylvania, now make hand sanitizer and donate it to first responders and health care organizations. The on-demand car cleaning service, Spiffy, has rolled-out a service to sanitize facilities and properties. Netflix has introduced Netflix Party, which allows you to watch movies and TV shows with friends and has a group chat option so you can react and discuss together.

We’ve seen television commercials and television programs address these challenging times. Grubhub is calling on viewers to save local businesses by ordering takeout and many talk-show hosts like Jimmy Fallon, Rachel Ray and Ellen DeGeneres have all began filming their shows from their own homes.

On a smaller scale, nonprofits, small businesses, universities and even entrepreneurs are assisting in COVID-19 relief efforts. Many with access to 3-D printers are creating face masks for the front-line workers. Organizations are also creating emergency response campaigns like #GivingTuesdayNow to help raise funds in this time of critical need. Central Outreach Wellness Center, whose mission is to support the needs of the LGBTQIA and HIV+ community, tested thousands of people for COVID-19.

How I’m Using Social Media

I eat, sleep and breathe social media. In fact, you’ll rarely ever NOT see me buried in my phone. Social media has been my main source of receiving information for years and during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, that hasn’t changed. I recommend every digital marketer who is new to the industry to follow as many local, national and international news/media outlets as possible (there’s my broadcasting degree coming out). This ensures your content is always timely, accurate and relevant. Staying informed and knowledgeable about the world around me has helped me to develop content during this time.

Like many, social media has also been my source for entertainment. It’s very easy to fall into a slump or period of depression during this time – so I turn to social. Virtual happy hours, virtual DJ parties, arts and crafts sessions, cooking sessions, webinars – there is so much creative content out there right now to provide stimulation. My two favorites are Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium’s Web Cams and DJ D-Nice’s Club Quarantine Instagram Live Series.

I can say that as a young professional, it’s an extremely challenging time to be a part of the industry. This is an unprecedented time and there’s no beginner’s guide to handling social media during a pandemic. Through trial and error, research and with the help of my friends (special shout out to the amazing Megha Pai), I’ve been able to create these tips. I hope another young digital marketer who may be struggling with content creation finds them useful.

Watch Screen to Screen at 5:30 p.m. on most Mondays and Thursdays at PRSA Pittsburgh’s Instagram (@prsapgh).