coronavirus graphic on cell phone

Ask a Social Media Director #10: Social in the Time of COVID-19

By: Justin Buchbinder, Social Media Director, FINN Partners

May 28, 2020

A lot has changed since we last spoke, yeah? It feels weird to be my normal bubbly self with all that has gone and is going on around us, so I’m going to be a little less punny on this go-round of Ask The Social Media Director. I hope that each of you is doing as well as you can be, and that you are healthy and safe. I’d also like to thank all of our frontline healthcare and essential workers for all that they have done and are doing as we soldier on through these difficult and challenging times.

All of that being said, social media marketing hasn’t stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic. It paused briefly, then it tip-toed for a bit, and as of my writing this, even the most conservative of companies have begun to find their footing once again. With the country (and the world) beginning to tentatively reopen, and as each of us steps outside of our homes to meet the New Normal that awaits us, social media is arguably more important now than it ever was before.

So, let’s get to some questions.

Dear Director, 

As some businesses begin reopening around the country, what do you see as the best way to communicate re-opening on social media?


Back In Business

Dear Back In Business,

Most of the businesses I have been watching over this period of time have kept their social media channels active, even if at a slightly adjusted and less frequent cadence. If you were one of them, issuing a hopeful, even excited, announcement of your reopening would be the way to go. Just keep in mind: a significant percentage of the population has voiced that they feel like these openings may be happening too soon. It would be wise to communicate in your marketing all the different steps you’re taking to ensure the safety of your clientele as well as your staff. Also, social media is a great way to communicate any new policies, operating hours, or procedures that have arisen due to COVID-19.

Conversely, if you have kept your social media asleep during this period, I think it’s time for you to start waking it up. I would get it chugging again with some warm-up posts, and then announce your grand reopening date and promote it until that day arrives. Perhaps take that warm-up time to share a narrative with your followers about all the steps you’re taking to ensure that the business they will return to is safe and ready to welcome them back. Polls and surveys of your followers could also provide you with useful data that can inform your business decisions. A contest or giveaway with a charity element might also be something worth considering.

Dear Director,

TikTok has continued to explode while so many of us are in quarantine, looking for a diverting channel. How are brands using TikTok as an opportunity, and are there any industries you would advise to hang back from diving in?


Thinkin’ TikTok

Dear Thinkin’,

I would argue that TikTok was doing plenty of exploding before COVID-19 showed up. Brands like Chipotle and Mucinex have been making headlines for months with hot campaigns scoring millions of views and engagements.

What we’re seeing right now isn’t brands flooding the platform, but, rather, more general users trying it on for size. People are finally taking the time (being that they have so much more of it) to sign up and find out what this TikTok is all about. And what does that mean? It means you can expect that organic opportunities to take off on the platform are dwindling away faster and faster as I type this.

I don’t feel that any industries should shy away from TikTok. What’s more important is that you are prepared to create content for the platform. TikTok posts are a unique content type that are short, colorful, energetic, and generally funny or visually/sonically captivating. Oftentimes the strongest performers are based on a trending hashtag, giving you a very small window to jump into the fray and reap any sort of metric reward. Do you have the adequate resources to create content for this platform? If so, off you go! If not, there’s another workaround to reach the audience on the network.

For certain clients, I have been recommending the old-fashioned route to make waves on TikTok: advertising. If you’ve got the budget to run a network-wide hashtag challenge, go for it. If not, perhaps contract with some TikTok influencers to create a trend of your own. More advertising opportunities and formats will likely come soon, especially now that they’ve named their new CEO (Kevin Mayer, former chairman of Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International).

When it comes to TikTok, be sure to gauge your expectations, especially if you’re going the organic route. Unless you’re a globally renowned brand joining TikTok for the first time, I am afraid the time of “If You Build It, They Will Come” in regards to massive organic growth and wildfire reach is already a mere fraction of what it once was even six months ago, and will continue to decline month over month.

Dear Director,

Given the current state of the economy and job losses, many consumers are far more frugal than they were before the pandemic. Have you seen any social media ads that seem to be driving a pickup in sales, and if not, are there other ways B2Bs and B2Cs leverage paid social that will pay off in the longer term?

Thank you,

Conversion Counter

Dear Conversion Counter,

Yes, it is true that many people have taken painful hits to their incomes, employment, and financial wellbeing. Despite that, online sales are still increasing in most industries and categories. Sales of essential items are increasing, gaming and streaming are experiencing a boom, and even online sales of non-essential items are increasing.

If you have a product or service that can still be sold in this environment, you will likely be able to sell it, and should be doing that right now. However, keep in mind that surveyed consumers have said that during these times, they are more likely to forsake brand loyalty in exchange for lower prices. All your goodwill and previous customer base will not be worth much if a competitor is undercutting you.

What does all of this mean? It means that you should consider offering discounts on your products. Incentives such as free shipping or delivery will also help you stand out in your paid social advertising. Is there a non-profit or charity element to your business? Now would be a great time to brainstorm one. Consumers have also said in recent surveys that they expect the businesses they purchase from to contribute meaningfully to the pandemic and those suffering from it. Make sure you’re doing that, because your competitors likely already are.

What if what you’re selling isn’t COVID-appropriate? For example, industries like live in-person events aren’t selling tickets right now. Many destinations cannot accept travelers currently. Perhaps due to local ordinances, you cannot provide the service you offer. If so, then you should be pivoting your paid strategy to awareness and consideration. Due to skyrocketing ad inventory and decreased online advertising across the board, never has there been a fiscally smarter time to get out there and introduce people to your brand and your business. Invite potential customers to get to know you now, so that you are top-of-mind when they are able and willing to buy what you’re selling.

Dear Director,

Can you share a couple examples of great social media content the last month or so, and explain what made them successful?


Looking for Inspo

Dear Inspo,

There are so many examples of great social media over the past few months that I have seen. I’ll try to constrain myself. (Spoiler alert: I failed).

A recent example I’ve seen has been Lucky Brand Jeans’ Win From Home campaign, encouraging customers to compete in silly at-home contests to win prizes. People love contests and prizes (read: free things). They’re also stuck at home, bored and looking for creative outlets. That’s a one-two punch. Giving your customers a chance to be creative, and offering them free stuff? Smart.

View this post on Instagram

Are you in for the win? We’re launching a new game called #WinFromHome – designed to provide a daily dose of optimism and entertainment as we continue to stay at home and stay safe. Starting today, and for the next 21 days, we’ll release a new card challenge. Play the card that speaks to you, post a pic, tag @LuckyBrand and #WinFromHome. Check out our Highlights for more info. Stay Lucky. Stay Safe. Stay Home!

A post shared by Lucky Brand (@luckybrand) on

Another way brands have stepped up is by addressing specific challenges in the pandemic. With gyms closed, how can we work out? Well, Michelob Ultra launched their “Movement by Michelob Ultra Live” series. The series included workouts and happy hours via Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Even better, they raised money and awareness for fitness gurus and programs that took a hit due to COVID-19.


View this post on Instagram


Join our live boxing session today 6P ET led by @Tony_Jeffries of @BoxNBurn with special guest, @AdrianaLima. We’re teaming up with @optimumnutrition to raise funds for Box ‘N Burn – together, we’ll match all funds raised up to $7,500. Grab your mat, chill your beer, and get ready to MOVE. SWEAT. BEER. Contribute now:

A post shared by Michelob ULTRA (@michelobultra) on

What about the students who missed out on an in-person graduation this year? Natural Light gave them a Facebook Live graduation on May 14th with special guests including Jane Lynch and Mark Cuban.

And out-of-work barbers? Who’s helping them? Schick Hydro stepped up to the plate with their #ShaveFromHome campaign.

Missing business travel and those tasty cookies they give you at DoubleTree? Well, they shared the recipe so you could make them at home.

For those looking to cook up more than cookies at home, Stella Artois served up Stella Sessions@Home.

And for parents at home with bored kids, Pebbles Cereal launched the Daily Yabba Dabba Doo on Facebook Watch, giving kids crafts to keep them occupied, and paying the out-of-work creatives featured in the instructional videos.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. There has been a lot of truly wonderful and creative social media work done during this pandemic, and I believe it’s going to continue. COVID-19 created a lot of challenges, and brands on social media are perfectly poised to help solve them.

Thank you for your questions, readers. And thank you to The Social Shake-Up for having me back in the chair. I really missed it. Looking forward to the next time we meet. Until then…

Stay Social,


Justin R. Buchbinder is the Social Media Director of FINN Partners, a global integrated marketing agency. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.

At The Social Shake-Up