If you had asked any enterprising business leader six weeks ago how their business would be going in early May, they probably would have given you a glowing report. After all, the economy was humming along enjoying more than 10 years of substantially solid growth, while consumers and companies were liberally spending discretionary funds. Little did they know what was around the proverbial economic corner.
Due to the current state of our world, consumers are feeling overwhelmed by a deluge of email and social media messaging letting them know what every company they have interacted with is doing in the age of COVID-19 and how it’s affecting business, customers, or employees. Since then, very few businesses have continued meaningful conversations that serve to inspire or support customers.
The truth is that when a crisis strikes, few companies understand how to effectively pivot their communications to continue building and maintaining relationships with consumers whose focus has shifted from pleasure purchases to the health and well-being of their families.
And those who try to pivot without putting customers first risk coming across tone-deaf and insensitive with out-of-context communications that convey the message that nothing is going to stop them from selling.
Social media has traditionally been a space where a brand’s personality can truly shine. It has been the channel where witty and clever posts and replies, with an occasional side of trolling, are not only acceptable but often expected – anyone remember Wendy’s merciless response to IHOP’s transition to burgers?
But during a crisis, it’s not business as usual. The voice, tone, and message a brand projects on social media can make or break its reputation with the public. Radio silence isn’t the answer either as companies risk alienating themselves from loyal customers. The answer is found in continuing to communicate but in an empathetic, sensitive, and thoughtful way.
In many cases, followers aren’t interested in what a company is doing to help itself. Far from it. Instead, they want to hear what you’re doing to help others by contributing to the greater good. In looking at viral pick-up, companies that are sharing heartwarming stories from their industry and those who are communicating how they’re putting skin in the game to fight the virus or help its local communities are the ones currently winning at social media.
With the 24-hour news cycle being overwhelmingly dominated by COVID-19 developments, companies have the opportunity to be champions to both consumers and news media. Outlets are looking for interesting, relevant, and engaging content. Where COVID-19 may have slowed your sales, a savvy PR pro can take a holistic look at your business and help you put together a relevant story calendar to pitch across news segments – from morning-show fodder to hard-hitting news stories.
Beyond that, they can help you craft concise, on-message talking points to put your company’s best foot forward at a time when viewers, listeners, and readers are consuming news at a breakneck pace. These messages can be conversational guideposts to help shape future social media and 1:1 outreach.
In that same vein, what is said on air in real-time can serve a greater purpose and exponentially add relevance to your business. Living in perpetuity, segments can often be linked back to your website, reposted on your social media channels, and used as a springboard to discuss bigger issues with your customers.
One more note, as seasoned public relations professionals, we have seen a spike among media who are looking beyond COVID content. In fact, they’re keenly aware of coronavirus burnout and have started craving additional coverage. With a little research and strong relationships, smart PR partner can ferret out opportunities to look beyond COVID, while also being sensitive to current events. The key is to pitch with flair, not fear.
Since the dawn of marketing, the message has been sell-sell-sell. But this mantra is a death-knell for many companies during a widespread economic and social crisis. Think of all the companies called out to the carpet for attempting to profit from the crisis.
Instead, create relevant opportunities for consumers to see your name associated with being a helper in a time of need by thinking of ways to be useful without selling. Nike, a brand whose identity hinges on individualism and a “Just Do It” attitude is working hard to show Americans that you can stay active and healthy through a free workout app. Think of how your brand can help those working from home, how to take care of your mental health, and how to stay connected. If you have a work-from-home culture, consider an authentic vlog from employees that shares some best practices. If your company has a corporate social responsibility to education, find resources and insights you can share with parents to help them homeschool.
At the end of the day, what you do today will impact your post-Coronavirus recovery. Now is the time to adapt and engage in high-impact PR and social media marketing that will strengthen relationships and cement your role as a partner in the toughest of times.