Mar 26 2020
Social Media Communications in the Coronavirus Outbreak

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the first global pandemic to unfold in the era of social media, with an unprecedented volume of conversations going on around us. Every 45 milliseconds, a COVID-19 related tweet enters the conversation, according to Twitter. Such volume speaks to the immense demand for seeing and sharing news and information related to the situation as it unfolds.

In times of crisis, people look to their governments, public officials and institutions for guidance, reassurance and information. Increasingly, they also look to businesses and brands. So how should your organization adjust its approach to social media to ensure that your communication is appropriate, clear, concise and adds value?

Stay up to date

Stay up to date with the latest announcements made by the government, health organizations and peers. What might have been a great approach yesterday, may no longer be appropriate today. It’s important to be flexible and to align corporate messaging with important updates.

Add value

Ensure that your social media posts are providing valuable information on your company’s approach and actions. Stick to the facts: While remaining empathetic, avoid sharing your personal perspectives, feelings or opinions on the current state of events. Consider:

  • How employees are being protected. Create written or video content that offers information on employee compensation and support (such as benefits, sick pay, flexible working and grants).
  • The impact on your customers. Provide information on how the current situation will affect customers. Make use of graphs and other formats to communicate any initiatives.
  • What you are doing to support the wider community. Create visual content to emphasize your efforts to help your broader stakeholders.

Listen to what your community and employees are saying

Use social media listening tools to understand the main topics of conversation, influencers who are joining the debate and how your announcements are being received. This can provide valuable insight and help shape future communications.

Pay attention to community management

Several company pages may have seen an uptick in speculation, rumours and misinformation in comments left on their social media posts. Set out clear guidelines on how to deal with these comments by creating an escalation process and response plan to ensure that relevant comments are dealt with.

Review your tone of voice

It is more important than ever to be thoughtful, clear and concise. Be mindful that your audience is likely facing financial or personal hardships. Ensure that your content is empathetic to their situation and, where possible, provides support.

Adjust post frequency

In a time of uncertainty, social media communications showcase how you are attempting to maintain business as usual and exemplify your culture as a company. However, make sure that you only communicate when you have something to say.

Use all your channels 

Ensure that relevant communication is posted across all channels. If necessary, prioritize the channels where you have the largest following to keep your target audiences updated. Adjust the format/sizing of your content to suit the channel:

  • Graphic cards to make longer messages easier to read and in line with the platform’s requirements (Twitter, for example).
  • Blog posts. Companies can provide longer-form information on the current measures in the form of blog posts from leadership – usually the CEO. This could be via a post/asset taking the audience to the corporate website where they can read the full blog, or by using LinkedIn to post the blog.
  • Quote cards with short, on-the-point messages work well, too.
  • Video content. Consider using existing formats – video/podcast – to provide information on the science behind coronavirus testing.

 

Prepare and use your leaders 

Strategically use senior leaders to deliver these messages to showcase the strength and authenticity of your leadership team. This puts a human face on the organization in a time of crisis and reassures employees, stakeholders and customers that the company has taken all necessary steps to coordinate and communicate both internally and externally. The evidence so far suggests that the most successful and engaging messages on social media are:

  • Adjusted to the target audience. It is important to remember that while employees would welcome a detailed letter, customers and the community are receiving numerous communications from brands they follow, so make your messages short and succinct.
  • Providing clear information about the steps that have been taken already and an indication of what can be expected.
  • Acknowledging the uncertain times and the impact the coronavirus is having on employees, customers and wider stakeholders. It’s important that the communication is empathetic, authentic and in line with the company’s voice and values.
  • In line with the broader corporate messaging. Senior leadership communications should reflect wider corporate messaging. There should be consistency and a sense of unity across all senior spokespeople on the topic. This can be achieved by timing leadership posts and coordinating them so that company brand pages and those belonging to senior management are in sync.

 

Manage “business as usual” communications

Finally, it is critical to review pre-existing or planned social media content to ensure that it doesn’t seem “tone deaf” to the uncertainty people are facing. Social media calendars need to be reviewed, as some of the content may be best put on hold until the environment normalizes. Consider whether current paid media campaigns should be paused or adjusted. Several companies have had to review their approach after receiving criticism online. It is also important to provide employees with additional social media guidance and policy adapted to the situation.

Communicating on COVID-19 via social media is not compulsory or always necessary. However, companies should at least have a plan in place to identify when a reaction from your organization is warranted while also evaluating what is suitable to post and how frequently you should be posting.