The global spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has affected the health, safey and economic well-being of millions of people. During these times of uncertainty, it can be difficult to strike the right tone on brand social media channels and pages. If a brand sells a product, is it appropriate for its social media strategy to stay focused on sales? Or, if the brand has event-focused social media channels and the event has been canceled, what’s the best way to move forward?
Ultimately, best practices for social media come down to sensitivity and common sense, which, unfortunately, can be in short supply during times of crisis and stress. As a brand, it’s more important now than ever to be mindful of the anxiety, fear, struggle and suffering that is affecting different people to different degrees. To offset some of the pervasive negativity, there is nothing wrong with staying positive and projecting hope that things will improve in time.
Here are some best practices for social media that can serve as guidelines for your brand, followed by two case studies.
Social media is highly visual. Imagery to accompany social posts should be avoided if it may be perceived as insensitive during the pandemic.
- Crowds/cities: Avoid imagery featuring large groups of non-related people in close contact with one another that contradicts social distancing recommendations. And avoid imagery of recognizable cityscapes of virus epicenters like New York City or San Francisco.
- Travel/entertainment: Due to restrictions on travel, photos depicting domestic or international travel should be avoided. Avoid imagery featuring full exterior shots of hotels or non-essential entertainment venues or gathering places such as bars, museums, theaters or convention centers.
- Gatherings/restaurants: Avoid imagery of communal food displays, full table spreads that suggest a group gathering or staff handling food, especially if gloves are not being worn in the photo.
Written copy should follow the tone of the imagery. Text should be informative as well as sensitive to the rapidly changing situation.
- Language/jokes: Avoid or minimize exclamatory or over-enthusiastic language. Most importantly, under no circumstances should brand social media channels make jokes about the virus, or use the virus as an excuse for promotion.
- Brand awareness/support/information: Acceptable copy creates general brand awareness, shares support for local restaurants that are providing delivery or takeout services, focuses on remote or private locations (not depicting people), provides updated cancellation policies, and/or offers relevant health and safety policies.
- Hashtags/sharing: Up to two trending hashtags can be utilized if relevant to the copy and the conversation. Uplifting content can be shared sparingly to maintain a sense of humanity as part of the brand’s image.
Client Case Study: @TheQuailEvents
Once the 2020 The Quail Motorcycle Gathering was canceled, @TheQuailEvents Instagram channel adopted many of the guidelines outlined above. The initial announcement of the cancellation was announced via Instagram as soon as the host, The Peninsula Signature Events, issued an official statement.
Overwhelming support flooded the post’s comments section, and each inquiry, comment and direct message received an individual response, thanking followers for their support during this difficult time and encouraging them to attend in 2021.
Because The Quail Motorcycle Gathering is a large ticketed event, the @TheQuailEvents Instagram channel pivoted to focus its content on non-motorcycle event images. Imagery and copy shifted to close-ups of shareable supercars with added questions to boost engagement.
Instagram Stories also became a top priority. With users having more time on their hands to engage with content, @TheQuailEvents introduced a “This or That” Story quiz, which was re-shared more than 30 times from followers who also tagged @TheQuailEvents. Since the “This or That” quiz was introduced less than a week ago, @TheQuailEvents Instagram reach has grown by 58.28 percent, impressions are up 142.92 percent and profile visits have increased by 98.88 percent.
Client Case Study: @GEARYSBeverlyHills
In response to California’s “Safe at Home” order that went into effect on March 20, GEARYS Beverly Hills closed its stores to the public and limited sales to online only. To communicate the store’s temporary closure, an Instagram Feed Post and Story was created to inform followers and encourage them to shop online.
The @GEARYSBeverlyHills Instagram page’s strategy shifted to become less sales focused and more inspiration-driven. Post frequency was spaced out to every other day instead of daily, and the page introduced a craftsmanship series highlighting notable artisans and their collections with top vendors.
Copy that was originally focused on Easter entertaining was altered to take on a more inspirational tone to avoid promoting social gatherings. Planned wedding content was removed from the social media calendar to steer the conversation away from weddings.
Once-a-week uplifting posts were incorporated into the social calendar to create brand awareness and connect with followers on a personal level. For example, the page included a throwback image of former owners Fred and Ruth Meyer in honor of GEARYS’s 90th anniversary. A heartfelt Feed Post and Story proclaiming love for the city of Beverly Hills depicting an empty city street and palm trees was also incorporated into the calendar.
The response from followers has been warm and receptive to the message and changes. Organic reach has not been adversely affected by less frequent posts or the shift in tone over the past week. In fact, reach is up 283.67 percent and impressions have grown 246.49 percent despite the changes.
Using sensitivity and common sense as guideposts, brands can navigate the world of social media during this pandemic in a way that creates brand awareness, provides hope and necessary information, and builds genuine relationships with followers.