Brand Strategy COVID-19 Materials Digital + Social Media

Navigating Difficult Times on Social Media

By Blair Poloskey


Social media can be intimidating for companies even in the most neutral of times. A misstep can incite the ire of a Twitter mob, a poorly-timed post can give the impression of obliviousness or callousness, and a well-intentioned image can leave followers offended instead of inspired. And that is just any given day.

In difficult situations, social becomes even more intimidating. Nerves are exposed and tensions are high. The potential to upset or alienate people increases significantly. However, social media is a place where you can speak directly to the people who matter to your business. So its value increases during these times as well.

Right now, while companies are doing their best to keep lights on and move business forward, so much of what they are actually being judged on is their character. Are they staying true to their mission and vision from pre-COVID? How are they treating their employees? How are they helping (where they can) as the world responds to this crisis? Social media channels allow companies to give visibility into their character without appearing opportunistic or promotional – but only if done correctly.

Social Strategy in a Crisis: Extra Steps to Take

Really, the same rules (or guidelines) apply to running social in good times and in bad. Be authentic, be helpful, keep your audience top of mind, and post relevant, valuable content. But right now, there are a few additional considerations to make with your social media strategy:

Be empathetic. 

You don’t need to stop or slow down your social posting, but don’t approach it as business as usual, either. Everyone is stressed. Everyone is adjusting. Everyone is doing their best. Check the tone of your posts, and raise your normal care and sensitivity meter up a few notches (20 or so). See if you can adjust upcoming content to acknowledge what we’re all going through while still staying true to your brand values. For example, Wendy’s is notoriously snarky on Twitter, but over the past several weeks they’ve found a nice balance of empathy and brand voice.

Revisit your audiences. 

This should be a regular activity, but it’s especially pertinent now. Dive into your paid campaigns and evaluate the audiences you’re targeting. Every dollar counts, so spend some time auditing and removing low-performers or irrelevant keywords. However…

Don’t get caught up on metrics. 

Have you noticed a dip in the performance of your posts? It’s okay – it’s happening across the board. Even though more people are online, they may not be in the right mindset or a position to take action on your posts right now. Keep moving forward (with care) and keep bringing value to your audience. They’ll remember the good information you shared during tougher times.    

Remain agile. 

There’s comfort in developing an editorial calendar weeks or months in advance, but that’s not where the world is right now. Things can change on a daily or even hourly basis. It’s time to revamp your social process with a focus on being flexible and quick to take action. Does your social media policy require four people to sign off on posts before they’re good to go? Trim that down. Do you have a potential campaign idea? Hop on the phone instead of sending an email. The leaner and scrappier you get with your process, the more relevant your social media content will be.

Connect with your community.

Even during social distancing, it’s natural for people to crave face-to-face contact. Take this time to really interact with your social community. Host a Q&A on Facebook Live, offer mindfulness tips on Instagram Stories, build a video series highlighting your staff. The connection you develop with your fans will prove to be a strong bond. And don’t forget to ask your community to share – they have stories to tell and resources to offer, too.

Keep Social Media in Perspective

When it comes to social media, the most important thing for companies to remember in times of distress is this: social activity should not drive your business decisions. At any given time on social, you run the risk of upsetting someone. Of course, we all want to avoid that, but if it happens, bring perspective to the conversation. You do not always have to respond to every post. In fact, I would recommend you be more judicious with all responses in difficult times. Think about the people who do warrant a response, and communicate with them directly in whatever way you choose. Do not feel forced to engage in an online debate – there are really no winners there.

The TL;DR here is simple: just be a human. Continue to use social media, in good times and in bad, as a way to talk to your people and promote your company, its values, and its mission. This advice really only works for the good guys, and is detrimental to the bad guys. And in the end, that is how I want all of my advice to be.

Stay safe.