Door with a caution sign and oversized lock next to social media icon keys with title overlay '4 Ways Brands Can Engage Audiences During COVID-19’

4 ways brands can engage audiences during COVID-19

Fewer cars are driving past billboards. Fewer people are out and about engaging with ads. But one environment continues to expand during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic—social media., an influencer marketing service, saw a 76% increase in daily accumulated likes on Instagram posts over the last two weeks and a 27% increase in engagement on TikTok. Any brand communication needs to be thoughtful and sensitive during this time, but when used correctly, social can be a great tool for staying connected during the pandemic. As users continue to navigate this isolating time, here are four ways that brands should use (or continue to use) social media during the Coronavirus pandemic.  


1. Show humanity and honesty when communicating brand policy 

We’ve all read the solemn yet optimistic social media posts from the restaurants, outfitters and other brands that we love. Brands everywhere are notifying consumers about COVID-19 and how they are handling its implication. It’s important to be as transparent as possible. In fact, consumers are 53% more likely to buy from a brand that is transparent on social media. These messages should fall into three main categories:  

  • What is your brand doing to help consumers? 

Making sure information on social is updated as the situation evolves is crucial to success. Sold out? Let your audience know, thank them for the support and let them know when your brand may be restocked (if possible). Closed? Let them know that, too. This could be done with a weekly social graphic that is updated and posted around the same time for consistency.  

Try to predict commonly asked questions and answer them in posts to limit the strain on your community managers. With this in mind, also make sure your Google My Business listing is updated with the correct hours of operation and customer service phone numbers. If you need to know how to update your business listing to help the community, Google has this helpful resource.

  • What is your brand doing to help employees? 

Communicate not just how you are taking care of your business and customers, but also your employees. Research shows that 78% of consumers are urging companies to take care of their employees’ health and 62% think these companies should implement a flexible working schedule. Show humanity when including information on how employees are being cared for (sick policy, vacation time, paid leave, etc.). Brands that treat their employees poorly are being roasted on social media and many consumers are blacklisting them mid- and post-virus. If your business is deemed essential and you’re remaining open, communicate sanitation and hygiene policies. Reinforce that you’re following the highest safety standards and include photos of these new measures. By doing this, you are reassuring your customers that you have this under control and it is still safe to order your goods during the pandemic. 

  • What is your brand doing to help the world?  

If there was ever a time to give back, this is it. According to The New York Times, the U.S. unemployment rate is at 13%, the highest it has been since The Great Depression. We are in this together and we will all be affected in one way or another. One study found that 56% of consumers are interested to hear how brands are helping their communities during this challenging time. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. Allbirds, a shoe brand, is giving away free shoes to healthcare workers. Food and liquor brands are donating millions of dollars to service industry workers who have been impacted heavily by the stay in place order. Whether large or small, doing something is better than doing nothing.  


2. Increase community management for users with questions  

There will be questions, comments, concerns. If it hasn’t already, your inbox will likely be flooded. Not every question can be predicted in your organic social posts as we mentioned above. Though likely working from home (still), make sure your community managers are keeping tabs on all social channels, relevant hashtags and using social listening programs to interject conversations that are relevant to your brand. Write up some responses to new commonly asked questions and get these approved ahead of time to streamline the process and provide answers in a more timely fashion. If a brand is flooded and response times are slow, let these customers know you will respond, and be transparent. See how a simple cover photo communicated this for Southwest Airlines

Remember this is still a developing situation. Today's responses may need to be revised tomorrow. Some industries (like travel) will be impacted more than others, but all companies will be impacted to some degree. For travel brands, remember, these customers are often postponing, not canceling. How you treat them today will impact if they are customers in the future. Issue the full refund, be transparent and be thoughtful.  


3. Review scheduled posts, pause automation  

Scheduled posts? Press pause while you rethink your strategy. Those Instagram posts you wrote early last month will likely not do. Brands and their agencies need to review messaging and creative on a daily basis to make sure they’re sensitive to today’s standard. Consider your brand's role in the crisis. Does it make sense to advertise your product or service during a time of social distancing and isolation? Or, rather than advertise your offerings, consider advertising what your brand is doing to help. If your product is social in nature, how can a little creativity make it work digitally during social distancing? Take Cards Against Humanity, for exampleThis very social product cranked out an all-online version of their hit card game for users to play with friends while apart.

Regardless, your brand should not go dark during the pandemic. According to Kantar, only 8% of consumers say advertisers should stop advertising, which means the other 92% are fine with brands continuing to post (as long as their message is sensitive). Make sure to review each post through a different lens. Using too much humor may come across as ill-informed or insensitive, constant product posts may come across as too opportunistic. Messaging should be adapted to the ever-changing landscape. Don’t work too far ahead as things can change quickly.


4. Create content your audience can use during isolation  

Times are weird. Most non-essential employees are working from home, eating from home, relaxing from home and overall, bored at home. For brands, consider creating some fun, relevant content for your customers. Sure, it may not get you a sale right now, but it will lead to brand affinity later (and retargeting). Then, promote this content on social (paid and organic) to drive more traffic to your website. According to Kantar, 77 percent of respondents to a recent survey expect brands to be helpful in what has become the new everyday life. 

This is a time to think of fun, creative content you might have never done before. Consumers don’t have access to the amenities, but they can still have fun. It just requires a little more creativity.

For instance, several fitness brands have created at-home workouts that can be done using everyday items. To help pet owners, Barkbox created a Pug Trainer at-home workout routine that is both fun, on-brand and useful for those in isolation.  Men’s grooming leader Wahl has seen a huge increase in how-to traffic as more guys are cutting their hair at home—many for the first time. With a library of different haircuts, Wahl is providing customers with the knowledge they need to achieve a great haircut.


Creating social media plans during a crisis is never easy. Hoffman York has experience working with clients to make the most strategic decisions on social and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn or email [email protected]Click here to see a gallery of our past work. 

About the Author: 

Patrick Kopischkie is the Director of Content & Public Relations at Hoffman York, a full-service advertising agency offering award-winning creative, digital, paid media, content and public relations, as well as research and analytics. Patrick's ability to deliver creative storytelling to brands has produced many award-winning campaigns over his 20-year career. He brings a big-idea mentality to projects, fusing creative thinking with action that gets people talking, sharing and buying.

Patrick Kopischkie, Director of Content & Public Relations at Hoffman York,

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