Covid-19: How Brands Can Adapt to a Shifting Landscape and Changing Consumer Behaviors

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The world has dramatically changed over the last few months, and Covid-19 is impacting our lives in more ways than anyone could have imagined. These changes include digital and social media behaviors as people turn to their devices not only for information and news, but also for connectivity to loved ones, inspiration, and escapism. As a society, we’re hosting virtual happy hours and dinner dates, reaching out to people via Facebook just to “check in,” and attending countless Instagram Live workouts. We’re downloading apps like TikTok or Houseparty for entertainment and apps for convenience like Instacart or GoPuff for grocery delivery. Because of this, social media consumption is up and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

All generations, especially more technically adverse baby boomers and those older, have tried out delivery apps such as GrubHub or UberEats to get their favorite restaurant food delivered and grocery apps to have food and household items safely delivered. These newly formed habits may not be as intensive when we return to our “new normal,” but the depth and breadth of social media and digital usage will stay. Consumers aren’t going to uninstall Instacart after social distancing is lifted if they’re now accustomed to the convenience of ordering groceries online. That leap has been made, and while they may not use it every time they shop, consumers will continue to use it, when needed. 

With all these changes, it’s important for brands to shift their social media strategy to meet the demands of consumers and connect with them in the channels they now frequent more often. Here are some of the key shifts to keep in mind.

  • Human-centric messaging is key. With the uncertainty of the current environment, people still want hope for the future – they’re seeking resources and support. Overworked parents need ideas for entertaining the kids while juggling demanding jobs and working from home. Instead of only pushing products, brands should leverage creative ideas and solutions. If a product is appropriate to market at this time, do not pull back on visibility. Instead, connect with consumers on a human level by sharing what’s being done to support employees, the community, and other initiatives. 
  • Choose words wisely. Instead of using verbiage like “stock up” or “buy now” brands need to work harder than ever to establish a sense of consumer trust and comfort. There is no reason to feed into a sense of scarcity. 
  • Strengthen relationships with influencers. By co-creating and solidifying a “we are all in this together” brand message, allow influencers to help get messages out in a compassionate and authentic way. Allow them creative liberty and flexibility in messaging and content. Influencers are highly adaptive and know how their messaging fits into their followers’ lives and what is going to be most impactful and relatable. Types of campaigns to consider would be:
    • Informational: Through tutorials or reviews, allow influencers to share information about products, availability, or usage. 
    • Uplift: Provide uplifting, inspiring, and entertaining content – this could include Instagram Live performances, TikTok dances, and more.
    • Donate: People want to help. Leverage influencers to spread the word about a charitable foundation or an initiative the brand is passionate about. 
    • Educate: Lean on influencers to help teach fitness routines, recipes, crafting ideas, beauty routines, and photography skills. 
  • Evolve and innovate. Despite the challenges of a competitive environment, now is a great time for brands to reinvent themselves by experimenting with new content strategies and platforms. Try your hand at TikTok. Can the brand do BTS (behind the scenes) content? Develop transparent relationships with consumers by thinking about creative ways to showcase inner workings of the company. The beauty of TikTok is that it’s not polished and picture-perfect — it’s raw, creative, and often funny. Give creative liberty to people in the company who are currently using the platform, even if they are not on the social team specifically. Don’t have the in-house creative team to support a TikTok channel and content? Co-create with TikTok influencers who can produce great content about the brand on their own channels to help market products in fresh ways. 
  • Be nimble and data-driven. Brands that leverage data and insights are better able to adapt and keep up with changing consumer demands. Brands should be using social media listening tools to closely track brand sentiment and comments across all social platforms to engage more quickly. Establish team members that remain closer to consumers than ever before and engage with them on those channels. These social channels will continue to be a primary point of contact and brands should think of them as permanent communication and touchpoint tools. Brands that interact and respond to consumers in these critical social channels will build lasting relationships and brand equity. 
  • Rethink targeting. Make sure paid social advertising makes sense for each region. Go the extra mile to carve out certain regions and apply different, more relevant messages for that area and its consumers. Consider Covid-19 “hot spots” or areas that have social distancing still in place vs. other regions of the country where limitations have been lifted or loosened. 
  • Reevaluate social media posting schedules. Engagement times have changed! People are working earlier and later in the day to accommodate family and childcare demands. SproutSocial, a scheduling and social media analytics tool, recently discovered the best times for engagement on Facebook are Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 – 11 a.m. CST. Instagram saw similar time changes but also included a high rate of engagement on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. CST. 

With so much uncertainty still ahead, the one thing we know is that consumer behavior will continue to change and evolve over the next few months. Brands will need to constantly review and reprioritize their social media strategy. Gone are the days of “schedule content and let it ride.” Social media can no longer be on autopilot. Additional resources both in terms of team members and marketing budgets should be allocated to the channels consumers currently favor — and where they expect brands to be.

Sinead Norenius-Raniere is VP, Influencer Marketing and Paid Social, at Valassis.