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The spread and impact of Coronavirus (Covid-19) is increasing in severity across the globe leading businesses and brands to ask the question, “how do we manage our digital presence in the best way during this global crisis?”

Whether consumers like it or not, businesses need to survive the pandemic with minimal financial and staffing impact. Brands large and small employ 1,000s of people and provide services to us all so will need to continue some form of marketing to lessen the financial impact of Coronavirus. However, near-term digital communication strategies need to be reviewed to take into account current events, and the changing needs and fears of customers.

I’m sharing my guidance on how to manage your brand social media channels during this uncertain time. Although I’ve focused on social media platforms for the purposes of this article, the strategies I cover can be used for any digital channel, such as email communications or website content.

1. Stop publishing content

Before you do anything else, check your social media scheduling tools (or with your freelancer/agency) and pause all scheduled content – this will ensure your business is not at risk of posting anything insensitive or contravene to government advice. Don’t forget to pause any ads too.

2. Take stock and strategise

The next task is to sit down with your PR and marketing leads to agree on the revised near-term social media marketing strategy. This could include:

a) whether you need to issue a company statement about how your business will be affected by Covid-19.

b) how you plan to manage your business with the pandemic in mind – this could involve offline closures, staffing and customer safety, and looking at the larger industry concerns.

c) how the business will proceed in terms of near-term offering, and what the messaging around that will be.

You need to be absolutely clear on the challenges the business, or its customers, may face during this time. This should be done without duplicity and avoiding causing additional anxiety to customers or staff. Be clear, concise, and honest. Communicating effectively and honestly is key to maintaining relationships on social media.

3. Devise a new ‘Coronavirus’ content calendar

Depending on your business model, it’s likely that the first piece of content you should look to publish is your Covid-19 (Coronavirus) statement, if you feel you need one. This should be a shorter version of your full statement (which should be published to your company website).

Draw up a content calendar for the next week or so, with the following advice in mind.

What not to post

  • Anything that could be seen as pandemic profiteering – examples being tenuous links to the virus to sell products, asking people to use your product/service while on lock-down, or making claims that your product/service will boost immunity.
  • Content that contradicts government advice such as attending a public gathering or event – this includes promoting your restaurant or bar in the way you usually might.
  • Avoid answering specific health questions or concerns, instead direct your audience to official advice from the government/NHS.
  • Do not post any content or make any comment that makes light of the virus, even if you think it will not cause offence. I wondered whether to include this point, but I have seen several business pages commenting on Coronavirus memes. It’s not a good idea, please don’t do it.

Example of Twitter users condemning brands and businesses for ‘cashing in’.

What to post instead

The focus of your efforts should be on community, vulnerable customers, and employees. I would strongly suggest brands use this as a time to put community first and find ways to satisfy the need for information, along with reaching out/partnering with others to alleviate the emerging problems.

  • Support the local community by finding practical ways to help vulnerable people, then schedule posts to let people know what you’re doing to help.
  • Invest in community building and engagement – not in the traditional sense, but evaluating what your audience really need from you at this time (hint: this is not selling products).
  • Let your audience know what you are doing to protect your employees.
  • Consider how you could engage with your audience through video or live-streaming from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube – this should be relevant to your audience and could be by streaming an event that would otherwise be cancelled.
  • Share content that is helpful to your specific community, for example, providing free delivery/food supplies to pensioners or other vulnerable people, creating a video of things for children (or parents) to do when working from home or in isolation.
  • Challenge your marketing team or agency to get creative. Consider all ideas carefully and find ways to engage in the community spirit (hint: again, this is not by selling products!).

Example of sharing community action content.

4. Remain agile

Nobody is certain what Coronavirus will mean for the hospitality industry, large-scale events, e-commerce, or the supply chain just yet. As such it’s important to remain flexible and agile with your content planning alongside keeping up to date with current government advice.

5. Accept that it’s going to be a challenging time

All industries are seeing change in the ways of working and communicating. Being on-the-ball about your own industry along with keeping an eye on consumer needs and trends is going to be key for understanding your social media marketing strategy in the coming months.

The UK government has indicated that businesses are likely to be impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic throughout Spring and into Summer, with this in mind proactively sharing information and monitoring social media comments, requests, and questions should be the focal point for your community management team or agency.

I hope this article will be of use to smaller businesses who may not have the budget for a digital agency to advise them. Stay safe everyone.

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