Handling Business Social Posts During a Crisis
As I write this, one of the worst days of one of the worst months of Wall Street history grinds to a painful close. The Dow dropped 6.400 points, or a full ¼ of its value, during the month of March, which has been anything but the luck of the Irish for the investor. It’s the result of a worldwide pandemic, which no one saw coming and apparently no one knows how to stop. Ravaging parts of Asia and Europe …
But, wait. I’m not writing about the coronavirus. I’m talking about how we, as digital marketers, social media specialists, and corporate brand image gurus are supposed to help our clients and businesses through this mess. More pointedly, how are we going to protect them (and us) from the fate of the Dow’s biggest losers?
In many ways, my time as a journalist prepared me well for my new life as a Content Manager. It’s probably put me in a much better position than the average digital marketer when it comes to dealing with tragedies, especially those of the size and scope that’s currently unfolding around the world. All of a sudden, we’re thrust into a social arena with no predecessor, no rule book, and no navigational maps carefully drawn by men and women who know where the cliffs and valleys are. As it happens, we’re drawing those maps ourselves, right now. I’m going to do my best to help all of us through these uncharted waters. Here’s what our team at The Get Smart Group is penciling in beside those lines of latitude and longitude.
Immediately Revisit What You Have Scheduled
I’ll be honest, this whole thing kind of snuck up on me. We’ve been bringing on new clients and bringing on new writers, and one day I looked up from my busy mess and realized that one of our Facebook posts was wholly inappropriate. We’re used to writing social posts about pools and hot tubs and using those backyard attractions for parties and gatherings. We’re not used to how it sounds to a nation that’s been sent home in quarantine.
It’s no longer about “grabbing some spare moments with the family” or “taking a break from the busy schedules.” It’s much more about safety, security, and trying to console the kids about that canceled trip to Disney World. It’s about shortages and closings and perhaps even lost paychecks. Go back through the content you’ve produced that’s scheduled and revisit it in light of current events. You’ll be amazed how something that sounded perfectly peachy in February takes on a whole new meaning this week.
Determine What Your Strategy is Going to Be
Before I gave my writers instructions for our posts moving forward, I listened carefully to my team. I heard what our clients were telling our account executives. I listened to our CEO, who’s been in this industry long enough to know both the market and the businesses that operate within it. I talked to our sales guy, who worked in the trenches of this industry and knows first-hand what questions customers come in the doors asking. Through that, I determined what our writers should, and shouldn’t be saying right now.
Our strategy is education. When people can’t go and do, they like to learn. This isn’t an appropriate time to encourage backyard parties or beat people over the head with a hard sell. But it’s a great time to tell them the differences between vinyl liner and fiberglass pools or why cheap online chemicals are so inferior to the “good stuff” at reputable dealers’ stores. When they can’t do, you can still teach.
Avoid Sounding Like You’re Profiting from the Tragedy
Most of the time, our social posts are more or less an even mixture of “engaging” posts (Happy Ice Cream Day! Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla?) versus “sales” posts (Free your time with an automatic pool cleaner!).
Our senior account manager and I concur that a hard sell just doesn’t feel right at this time. Will that change in a week? A month? Six months? Who can say? But, “Hey, since your summer vacay got scrapped and everybody’s panicking, why don’t you buy a pool?” just doesn’t sit right with folks right now. Back off a little. Avoid alienating the people you’re trying to reach.
Know What People Want & Need
I would also venture to say that the ice cream post above isn’t really appropriate right now, either. Whether you decide to openly mention the pandemic or not is up to you and your clients (we’re taking this on a case by case basis, depending on the client’s wishes and their market).
So, what is appropriate?
- Get their minds off the incessant news with something lighthearted, but not inconsiderate. What on earth might that be? Two words: animals and kids. Cuteness. Funny, but not insensitive. Find that line drawn between entertaining and insulting. Pandemic-related memes are off the charts right now in terms of popularity, but you’ll be walking that razor-thin tightrope between funny and insensitive.
- They want to be informed. But don’t regurgitate what they’ve heard all day on the news. Instead, educate them about your industry. How is working from home changing things? How are customers coping? How are your employees coping? Behind the scenes stuff works GREAT! Show them your staff in masks. Show them your workers in their new home offices. Show them deliveries of fresh, new supplies rolling in. Inform them. “Knowing” is comforting.
- What questions do they have? Answer them. Don’t be afraid to over-post your new hours of business, how your curbside service works, or what protocols you’re taking to prevent the spread of the virus. Again, “knowing” is comforting.
Know How Your Brand Can Meet Those Wants & Needs
Now, we’re not back to “selling” but we’re going to nudge right up to the line. We’re going to help them continue to do business with you, without the “hard sell”. You’ve already seen excellent examples of this. Dollar General is opening stores for 1 hour so that the most at-risk shoppers can shop FIRST and to shop without the risk of encountering (hopefully) the unwashed masses. Many restaurants are closing dining rooms and offering special incentives to use the drive through or carry-out service. A local doughnut shop here offered free toilet paper rolls with the purchase of a dozen doughnuts. A little humor, a little salesmanship, a little fun, a little something that people actually do need.
But be careful, because you don’t want your thing to get confused with some big name’s thing. If your conveniences sound too much like Walmart’s pickup or delivery service, your customers will get confused. Make yours as unique as possible so that it’s memorable. And make it meaningful. Find ways to help your customers continue to do business with you without having to risk infection or break any laws or social taboos.
Wrap everything you do and say in the goodwill of people, communities, and the greater good. Be sincere about this. People know the difference.
Perhaps more important than knowing what to say is knowing when to shut up. People are already growing weary hearing, talking, reading, and dealing with ALL THINGS VIRUS. Give them a break. Let them know what accommodations you’re making for the situation, and then get on to another subject. People don’t need reminding what’s going on. All of us are all too keenly aware.
To all our clients, colleagues, friends, family, and casual readers – stay safe, stay smart, and stay social! Virtually, of course. May this be over as quickly as it started.