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  • Ishbel Macleod and Nicky Logue

Social marketing post COVID-19: a playbook


Across the UK, people are slowly beginning to come out from COVID-19 lockdown as restrictions are gradually relaxed. Some businesses are now able to reopen, while other companies have successfully pivoted online. Either way, a sense of normality is starting to creep back in – which brings the need for refreshed marketing and social media.

In fact, a survey from GlobalWebIndex found that 89% of UK respondents say they believe it is important for brands and businesses to get ‘back to normal’ – including opening shops and running regular advertisements.

During the lockdown, content was largely created to inform, reassure and empathise with the public. Now, brands should be starting to consider content that appeals to people as the country starts to recover and we all become that little bit more certain about what each week will bring.

Shifting your content post COVID-19

First and foremost – before we get to the more practical social marketing tips - start with your customers. Think about how they are likely to have been affected by this time of unprecedented change and how it might have altered their needs and the way they feel about your product or service.

Remember that age and economic disparities exist in infection rates for this disease - be wary of your populations and don't treat them as a homogeneous group. Go back to your sentiment data and research, find out what different age groups or economic groups are feeling about the current situation and what their problems might be and position what you offer and how you’re talking to them in light of those needs.

This is a real opportunity to increase your relevance to them and create deeper customer relationships.

Showcase your changes and availability

The first and most obvious change for brick-and-mortar businesses will be that they are able to reopen: from hairdressers to retail and hospitality. While many service providers have been able to pivot their business model to online or working from home (including us here at Hydrogen) there has still been a huge change in conversation, and as more businesses are able to reopen and return to the workplace, it’s key to keep customers informed.

Many customers will be keen to know when you are opening, so create content to keep them in the loop: even if you are not planning to open immediately, let them know that you are working on plans and will update them as soon as you can.

When you are reopening, share the steps you are taking to make your business safer for them: is there hand sanitiser by the door for shops? Outside dining with socially distanced tables for restaurants? Or deep cleaning taking place after every test drive in your car dealership? These points really matter to people – in the UK, 64% said regular cleaning and disinfecting of public spaces such as shops and leisure venues was important to them, while restrictions on how many people can enter (49%) and provision of hand sanitiser (47%) also provided popular.

If you are opening with reduced hours, with a queuing system or perhaps with pre-bookings only for places such as hairdressers, golf or restaurants, let your customers know in advance. Sharing your safety plans helps showcase that their safety and comfort is your priority. Use photos or videos to show exactly how it looks: whether that’s arrows on the floor for a one-way system, a hand sanitiser dispenser, or Perspex dividers.

By keeping your customers up to date with any changes, you’ll make them feel more confident in coming to you – and don’t forget to check the comments to see if there are any common themes or points of concern occurring. It’s key right now, more than ever, to prioritise the experience of your customers.

If that isn’t enough, Deloitte Digital research found almost two-thirds (62%) of consumers are more likely to spend money at a business that takes extra steps to ensure the safety and well-being of employees once the majority of lockdown restrictions have lifted.

Help customers plan for the future

After weeks of lockdown, with many stuck at home with no garden, there is a new sense of optimism that comes with being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. While there are things people may not be able to currently do, you can help them to forward plan – whether it’s searching for their 2021 holiday destination or showcasing a new way to spruce up their homes.

Research from VisitBritain at the start of June found that 53% of the public believe life will return ‘something close to normal’ by the end of the year, with 54% of UK adults saying they would be ‘confident’ to book a domestic holiday in November to December, rising to 75% from January 2021 onwards.

From this, we can learn that although people are planning for the future, there is still a sense of pragmatism in the air. While you can suggest plans, people’s situations are different. Show that you understand where they’re at with your content - this is not the time for a hard sell.

Include some happiness, it's a time to remember that life can still be good and we can move forward together - include some optimism in your words, tone, imagery. Consider using the future tense in your marketing posts to provide inspiration and suggest something to look forward to: this can be as simple as changing ‘Book your weekend away’ to ‘Plan your winter getaway’.

Maintain focus on your digital offering wherever possible

The past two months has understandably seen a boom in online shopping. Research from Salesforce found that in the final half of March 2020 – just as lockdown was beginning in the UK – there was a 41% spike in global digital revenue. We expect that when Salesforce release their figures for Q2 of 2020 (April-June), they’ll be even higher.

Kantar discovered that over-65s are now spending 94% more on e-commerce deliveries than they did a year ago: while this is probably due to necessity than choice, it’s likely that some who have tried online shopping for the first time may continue to do so, even if sporadically.

While shopping habits may return to normal over time as brick-and-mortar begin to open, we expect that this will be a slow burn for some people, with many anxious to maintain social distancing. A study by GlobalWebIndex found that a third (32%) of people surveyed in the UK do not plan to visit non-essential shops for some time after they re-open, compared to the 16% who said they would return immediately, and 17% who said they would visit shops very quickly after they opened.

While you may be eager to encourage people to visit you in store,do continue to give the option for online shopping in your social content. In fact, research has found that 46% of internet users say they’ll be shopping online more after this outbreak is over.

If you’ve not already, review what products people have been buying online – especially if they clicked to see the product from social media – and see if there are any learnings you can take on what has performed best and has been selling.

Reflect the new reality

You don't necessarily have to mention COVID-19 specifically but do reflect what is happening through imagery and language and find the tone that sits best with your target audiences and your business in general.

We’ve seen a recent upturn in the volume of social posts by brands. At the start of the coronavirus outbreak we saw many brands, especially those who were unable to open, not posting or only posting once a week. This has now begun to increase – with RivalIQ noting it was seeing an increase in brand posting frequencies on Facebook and Instagram to match post volumes from January and February – although brand volume on Twitter is still 17% from the first two months of 2020. While it is good to see brands gain confidence in posting, don’t feel you need to increase frequency to post-COVID levels just for the sake of it: you may need to build your content up again slowly, and that is fine.

Don’t feel you need to mention ‘these troubling, uncertain times’ in each post – just make sure posts aren’t tone deaf. While lockdown may be ‘over’, we can’t forget what happened and although it’s understandable to feel positive that your business is opening up, many have lost their jobs, or worse, loved ones. If you are about to go ahead with projects or launches that were put on the back burner due to COVID-19, take the time to read all of your marketing material through. Does it still work? Are there certain words, phrases or images that might be seen as apathetic: a picture of a large crowd for example, or mention that people are ‘dying’ to do something? Err on the side of caution so as to not alienate your customers.

If you can, advertise

It is easy to say but harder to do: try to maintain your social media spend. Understandably, this could have been one of the first things to have been dropped or decreased at the start of this crisis, but now is the opportunity to help make your brand front of mind. WARC suggests a ‘significant body of research’ from past recessions found that drastically reducing ad spend in a recession has a negative long-term impact on brands in terms of sales, market share, growth and return on investment, while companies which maintained investment recovered quicker.

Advertising on social might not be the right thing for all brands right now: but take a look at your sector and competitors to see if there is an opportunity for you. For brands who can advertise, they may see that they can get an additional boost – we have noticed that currently social media ads are driving results with a lower cost.

However, proceed with caution. At this stage you may find better results on awareness-based ads than direct sales, as people may be unable or unwilling to buy non-essential items: 38% of the UK are cutting back on the things they buy day-to-day. Instead, focus on creating awareness or engagement with your brand – this will mean that you are front of mind when customers are starting to return to their previous purchase behaviours.

Five tips to consider when planning your social content

  • Put your customers first – and continue to engage with them

  • Be empathetic and honest

  • Reinforce your core proposition

  • Don’t feel you need to mention COVID-19 in all your posts, but be empathetic

  • Don’t run back to your ‘old’ content: use this as a chance to update your strategy

We can’t expect things to change overnight: there will no doubt be lasting changes from COVID-19 that will change industries for good. Whether it’s the rise of AR for testing and trying products, or a continued growth in online shopping, there is no doubt that this crisis will mean that how people shop and transact with businesses will change for good. However, by listening to customers and looking for trends, we can continue to move forward in our marketing.