Social Media During and After COVID-19: What Brands Need to Know
By: Rachael Samuels, Manager of Social Media, Sprout Social
May 18, 2020
As the world focuses on flattening the COVID-19 curve, marketers are still finding their footing, especially on social media. There is no official manual for the current situation. But by taking a deep look at existing data we can better understand how the landscape has shifted and where the path forward lies for businesses.
Looking at social media conversations around COVID-19, while initial chatter began in late 2019, it wasn’t until the first U.S. case was reported in January and the number of cases grew exponentially that the topic volume started gaining traction, nearly quadrupling. In early March, topic volume saw another jump from five million to more than 20 million messages a day following a series of events that included Italy going into lockdown, the WHO declaring the virus as a pandemic and the U.S. entering a state of emergency.
But as the topic volume continued to increase, the way people talked about COVID-19 shifted. They no longer focused just on the virus—they also talked about the impact it had on jobs, education and everyday life. Messages around homeschooling and online learning saw a 21x surge between February and March while quarantine and social distancing messages grew 1,188 percent. And as people increasingly stayed home, they sought ways to keep themselves entertained and turned to social to share those ideas. Activities like cooking and baking, fitness and video games rose to the top of the conversation and drove 3.7 million engagements in March.
How Brands Pivoted Their Social Media Strategy
The tonal shift in March was also a crucial turning point for brands’ social presence. Initial conversations focused on sharing information, including updates on store closures, operational changes and more. This gradually moved toward brands posting entertaining and educational content on their social platforms as more and more people stayed home. For example:
- Rothy’s, the DTC shoe company, crowdsourced ideas from their social community on how they could repurpose their manufacturing operations to support healthcare workers. They also leveraged their social platforms to share opportunities for consumers to get involved and support organizations providing COVID-19 relief.
Last week, we asked you to share ideas about utilizing our factory to assist with COVID-19 relief efforts. From the thousands of sincere responses, it’s evident that the most basic supplies are needed immediately. pic.twitter.com/6IRy6tsNFs
— rothys (@rothys) April 1, 2020
- The National Cowboy Museum handed over their Twitter account to their head of security to post a series of fun facts and photos of the exhibits. The combination of wholesome content and funny Twitter mishaps made for lighthearted content that kept people engaged without ignoring the situation at hand.
- Ikea used its social media platforms to offer design tips for creating productive workspaces at home as a way to help their followers better cope with the increased reliance on remote work. Aside from design tips, they also provide inspiration for how people can make the most of their time together, using the hashtag #togetherathome.
— IKEA USA (@IKEAUSA) March 24, 2020
In the short term, we’ve seen brands respond in unique ways to their audience as the larger social media conversation balloons around pandemic-related topics, from unemployment to working from home. For social marketers, a longer term outlook should take into consideration how consumer behavior will continue to be impacted—even after the pandemic ends.
What the Future Looks Like for Brands
Social media has shown how the world has adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the reality is the situation is still fluid and we can expect more change on the horizon. Because we don’t know when (or if) the world will return to “business as usual,” there are a few things that can help guide brands during this continued time of uncertainty.
- Prioritize Customer Care: Brands need to go where their customers are, and social media is often the first place consumers look for information. Use social channels to provide ongoing support, help customers navigate any less-than-optimal experiences, and listen to what they need.
- Lean on social data: There is no roadmap for navigating a global pandemic, but social data can inform the direction of a marketer’s content and keep a pulse of the conversation. These insights can provide a better understanding of what an audience is concerned with and how the ongoing pandemic is influencing their behavior.
- Lead with empathy: Now more than ever, brands need to demonstrate their human side. Consider what your followers are asking of you, because with this information, you can make your content authentic, relevant and remind people they can trust you.
While we may not know what the future holds, one thing that continues to hold true is brands that prioritize their audience’s needs will build connections that will outlast these moments in time.