A new social order for unprecedented times

Gerard Murnaghan on how social media helps brand owners stay relevant during Covid-19

Social media activity has taken on greater prominence during lockdown. In many cases online has been the only means of visibility for a brand or organisation due to business closures. It has created some  difficulties for marketers, with a need to stay relevant to audiences while not appearing to benefit from or make light of what has been a monumental crisis.

By reviewing data from over 20,000 customers worldwide, we got to understand social media usage through a Covid-19 lens and compare activity before and after the pandemic struck. While posting frequency by brands remained roughly the same, one area of note was the increased engagement from users. While engagement rate should never be the holy grail for marketers, it can be a useful barometer in understanding what audiences are seeking.

On average, customers saw more engagement with their posts – for likes/shares/comments – of about 7.3 per post per day, with sectors like consumer goods, healthcare and media and entertainment experiencing the biggest increases. Alongside this, was a decrease in incoming messages such as DMs or Messenger posts (on all platforms, bar Instagram) from users to brands’ social platforms in the first two weeks of April compared to Q1 2020.

A rise in engagement accompanied by a drop in direct messages points to changing user habits about which marketers need to be aware. Brands must analyse how and when they are communicating important information so that an audience can best interact with the content. It is so important now as daily patterns have changed considerably.

It is true as well for brands who deal with large numbers of inquiries from customers and stakeholders. Brands have an opportunity to foster long-lasting connections which develop loyalty and trust through handling inquiries proactively and with care. Fáilte Ireland, for example, is facing into an really challenging period as the tourism and hospitality industry reopens. They developed some clever online and social tools to support their efforts.

With new requirements for bars, hotels, restaurants and attractions, Fáilte Ireland created an online learning portal allowing employees of all levels in the hospitality industry to gain vital skills in addressing issues posed by Covid-19. They also showcased premises which have completed the Covid-19 safety charter on their social channels. Their online activity has been relevant to multiple audiences and with a clear pivot towards educating and informing.

Making information available to your followers has been a tactic used to good effect by major international brands as well. Early on in the pandemic, National Geographic made large amounts of their online learning resources free for parents and educators. Maintaining their presence in front of a key audience group, while also providing a valuable service in difficult times, can create a lasting connection with social followers.

The idea of relevancy is an important one, with links to really understanding an audience and having a connection with them. Staying relevant will continue to be a challenge as social media gets crowded with more businesses and brands returning to pre-lockdown levels of activity. The data and insights available to marketers are key in staying relevant and are important in determining what information your audience want from you.

User generated content is a tactic which has also seen a resurgence. Once the centrepiece of many a social media strategy, it faded in preference of more controlled content. However, with brand activations and events impossible due to restrictions, user generated content is being used by brands wishing to stay relevant and connected to an audience.

Irish athleisure brand Gym+Coffee has utilised simple tactics like a #PicOfTheWeek where customers are showing off their purchased products. It is simple, engaging and relatable while driving the community theme they look to cultivate on all their channels.

As we emerge from Covid-19 and our society and economy begin to reopen, marketers will be faced with a different landscape. Information will be key and making sure a message is relevant will be more important than ever. The strength of organic content is likely to come to the fore, so understanding what makes sense to your audience is paramount. Building a connection takes time, but the relevancy it gives you on a feed is worth the investment.

Gerard Murnaghan is vice president and general manager EMEA at Sprout Social analytics firm which has offices in Dublin and Chicago; gerard.murnaghan@sproutsocial.com

Sprout Social’s Covid-19 resource database for marketers is at https://sproutsocial.com/insights/topics/coronavirus-communications-resources/


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