Social Savvy: The role of social media marketing during and after the COVID crisis - July 2020

By Irene Williams

Think of all the “social media babies” born during the coronavirus lockdown-those are what I call accounts that companies hurriedly started in an attempt to be present and relevant amidst the unexpected upheaval of business as usual. Beyond the newly hatched accounts, many social profiles were resurrected from pre-virus dormant states as biz owners rushed to find ways to communicate with customers. As so many scurried to get online, I envisioned people desperately resetting passwords because it’d been so long since they’d logged on and posted; I’m sure it was really like starting over for them.

Of course, many businesses were already active on social media platforms prior to the surprising circumstance of the coronavirus and benefited from having established use of these channels of communications long ago. For those organizations, it was relatively simple to shift all their activity online and keep in touch with their followers.

Where was your business on the social media spectrum just described? Were you scrambling when social media suddenly became so very essential, or were you already present and accounted for-poised to nimbly step things up as needed?

Regardless of where your business was on that spectrum, we are now all facing some key lessons about the evolving role of social media for business, lo these many months since lockdown started and we began speaking in terms of “phases for reopening.” And, really, what better way to make the best of a situation that has been extremely challenging than to actively choose to learn from it? Sometimes we call such lessons “takeaways,” but, in this instance, I am deeming these to be “carry-forwards”-the immediate, actionable education we all need to succeed in the “new normal.”

Lesson 1: Accept social media as an essential mode of communication.

If you were still hard-pressed to embrace social media before March 2020, you’ve surely been jarred from that way of thinking at this point. Social media is an essential, nimble, useful and measurable way to inform, inspire and interact with customers, as well as employees, colleagues and industries at large.

I’ve included the use of the word “essential” very intentionally here. Just as certain types of businesses were defined as essential and, thus, allowed to remain active during the pandemic, social media proved to be absolutely necessary and important.

Frankly, its importance didn’t really change because of the pandemic; it was merely illuminated. Social media already held its place on the frontlines of the communications and marketing mix for businesses. When all other options were stripped away, social’s spotlight just grew stronger and brighter.

Lesson 2: Prioritize your social media management.

Would you hand the keys and security code for your showroom and warehouse to an intern? Your niece who’s in college? A part-timer with no vested interest in your business? Surely not. I invite you to treat your social media accounts with the same level of respect. Your social profiles are possibly the most prominent and far-reaching representations of your business and brand. Why would you relegate the management of them as if they were secondary after-thoughts?

I have always been a proponent of truly advanced, professional management of social media because there is absolutely no veil between what is posted and the audience. What does this mean for you as a very busy business leader whose team is already maxed out and time-strapped?

Delegate, yes, but don’t abdicate or relegate. Of course, you will likely need to bring on support to keep your social accounts flowing. However, it’s important that you never completely hand the reins over and void yourself of active responsibility, especially to a newbie or junior team member who lacks experience in your business or industry. You are the leader of the voice and messaging for your business and should be involved in the ongoing posting of content-even if just to review and approve what is being shared.

Also, you-or someone at the executive level of your business-should keep all login credentials for social media accounts at all times, even when support staffers are entrusted to use those logins as needed. I imagine some of you reading this article wish you’d had this standard in place before the pandemic forced you to go through hoops to regain access.

Lesson 3: “Social” is on the grow; be ready.

Even after the coronavirus abates, the use of social media is only going to continue to grow. Our audiences are now even more attuned to social media as the place to go for connection and information than they were before. Be ready for:

• More customer service-based social media: we’re seeing an uptick in the use of social for basic customer service functions. This involves customers initiating inquiries through social media direct messaging, particularly through Facebook Messenger and Instagram DMs, as well as in comments on posts. For business leaders, this means you and your team should be consistently monitoring social accounts throughout the day, every day, to offer the prompt responses that are key to success in social customer service.

• More posting opportunities: I typically advise that businesses commit to posting at least once per business day on all their profiles. The once-daily approach helps businesses establish a system and rhythm for their content and aids in training audiences to expect regular content. In this post-coronavirus era, I’m not changing this advisement; once per day is a solid baseline. However, I’m more strongly emphasizing businesses should not hold back if there is worthwhile news/content that arises on any given day. Don’t fear “posting too much” in this season. If you need to share something but have already posted that day, just go for it. People need to hear from your business now more than ever.

• More engagement from audiences. When traditional connecting points (i.e., in-person appointments or showroom visits) are off limits or being used less, it’s only natural that customers turn to social media. During the pandemic months, we have seen a surge in social media activity as customers find ways to occupy their time and express interest and opinions. The great thing about this for businesses? More customer conversations and measurement capabilities. By reciprocally engaging, you can build relationships and loyalty. By tracking what people like and comment on, you can glean actionable insights. It’s the ultimate in bite-size, real-item market research.

• More need to consider paid social media promotions and advertising. A basic reality that’s long been in play for social media marketing is the pay-to-place nature of the platforms, particularly Facebook and, increasingly Instagram (which is owned by Facebook). On Facebook, followers of your business page will only see 1% to 3% of the content you post in their newsfeeds (ouch!). Not surprisingly, that percentage increases exponentially when you pay to boost your posts by spending promotional dollars to ensure more followers/prospects see what you share. Beyond the boosting of content, there are full Facebook (and Instagram) ad campaigns to consider. These ads can be highly targeted by location and audience interests to reach key customers and can be very effective. While we could waste time lamenting the need to spend promo dollars, it’s more beneficial to determine how to best budget for and incorporate paid social into an overall strategy, as the potential results are very compelling.

• More need for video content. With its higher engagement rates, video content was important pre-pandemic, and now, it’s even more so. Consumption of video content has increased quite notably during the months of lockdown. People have been working from home, logged on to social more often and able to watch videos-unlike when they were back in the office. Likewise, people have shown preference for video over audio-only content (e.g. podcasts) during the pandemic. For business owners, that means it’s definitely time to get-or be more fully-in the video content creation game. This content doesn’t have to be highly polished. Viewers welcome clips captured on smartphones, and they greatly prefer clips that are brief (nothing over two-and-a-half or three minutes, please-shorter is better!).

Lesson 4: Future-proof your social media use.

Whether you’ve long been using social media successfully or were among the businesses that scurried in reaction when the coronavirus hit, it’s very important to be future-focused in your approach in order to make the most of social media going forward. Change is constant on the social platforms-and in the marketplace. It’s impossible to predict what and how things will alter. However, if you have some core anchors in place, you can be ready and poised to sustain and grow even in challenging times.

Always point to “true north” for your business. Your business goals are the true north that all your social media activity should point to. Every post, every bit of content, every message-all should be created in keeping with and support of your business goals. This doesn’t mean every post should be selling something. However, every post should be created in such a way to establish interest and trust so that customers will connect with and remember your business whenever they are ready to make a purchase or hire a service.

Set a healthy budget for your social media activity. Savvy business leaders commit necessary dollars to doing social professionally. We’re long past the days of social media being a low budget line item tucked at the bottom of a marketing plan. A future-focused social strategy should include a budget that covers the costs of staffing, software and tools to create and manage content, and paid social promotions/campaigns.

Commit to solid infrastructure for social media management. A good infrastructure now will hold steady and strong when challenges arise in the future. During the pandemic, I observed some businesses that were able to forge ahead effectively with their social media programs, even though they had to furlough some of their staff members who had been hands-on with those programs. The underpinnings of the programs were solid and well-established enough that others were able to jump in and keep things going.

Make customers your priority. When customers and their needs are the driving motivation behind all your marketing activity, your business is poised to weather the storms and succeed.

Copyright 2020 Floor Focus