There’s no denying the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Ever since it officially reached U.S. soil on January 20, 2020, a “new normal” has emerged.

A normal life during coronavirus now includes wearing masks, washing our hands constantly, and having more Zoom calls in one week than we had in the past 10 years due to social distancing.

marketing during COVID-19 Zoom call
Image source: https://junkee.com/quarantine-zoom-fails-potato-boss/249285 

What normal life is has been transformed for millions of Americans, though.

Consider the following:

Pretty sobering stats.

Overall, the devastation wrought by coronavirus is leading to significant transformations in every sector.

As situations, businesses, and overall society transforms, so too does marketing.

public perception of coronavirus impact
Image source: https://voxeu.org/article/coronavirus-perceptions-and-economic-anxiety

How marketers craft their messaging, the audiences they reach, and the goals of their strategies all must shift.

In this article, we’ll discuss what these shifts should look like and how to adapt your digital marketing strategy during COVID-19. 

Now is Not the Time To Back Off From Social Media

Right now, people are looking to connect in any way possible.

And given shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, these connections are to be found virtually.

Specifically, social media websites are seeing a surge in usage during COVID-19.

social media usage during COVID-19

For example, one case study revealed a 22% increase in Instagram campaign impressions compared to Q4.

Additionally, that same study showed an average 27% jump in engagement with influencers on Tik Tok from February to March.

From Facebook to Pinterest, each platform is responding to coronavirus in distinct ways in order to handle the influx and adjust to the new normal.

So, now is the perfect time to focus on your social media channels and connect with customers both organically and through paid ads.

Organic Social Media Marketing During COVID-19

Right now is a good time to capitalize on organic social media.

For one, engagement rates are higher than they’ve ever been in 2020 across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

And that’s partly due to another good thing: There is a reduction in posting frequency.

Average posting frequency dropped from 4x/week across industries to 3x/week. 

social media marketing engagement during COVID-19
Image source: https://www.rivaliq.com/blog/coronavirus-on-social-media-engagement-for-brands/

Lower posting frequency means two things:

1.Social media strategies are easier to manage because you don’t need to keep up with a crazy amount of posting across channels.

2. You need to be more thoughtful about your posts and ensure quality is high because you have fewer opportunities to engage and capture audience attention.

So, how can you create high-quality content in the age of coronavirus?

When considering your organic social media strategy during COVID-19, there’s one word to keep in mind: messaging.

This applies to your paid strategy, too, but is especially significant on the organic side of things.

what did you say Anchorman GIF

There are a few tips to keep in mind here about both messaging and general strategy.

1. Showcase the People Side of Your Organization

Offering behind-the-scenes looks and insider info has always been an element of organic social media.

However, marketing during COVID-19 means recognizing that the desire for people to connect with the people behind your brand is even stronger.

Hubspot is a great example of this.

Hubspotlife Instagram account

They created an entire Instagram account devoted just to their company culture and employees.

Posts and Stories that feature the friendly faces behind the brand help their followers relate to them and encourage engagement – especially at a time like this.

Hubspotlife Instagram marketing during COVID-19 example

You don’t necessarily need to create a whole separate account for your employee/company content.

But, this example does give some great ideas for how to take advantage of the different placements offered on each platform (e.g. Stories, Facebook Live) to show the personal side of your brand.

2. Leverage User-Generated Content

Another tip that’s true even in normal times, using UGC in your social media is a great way to engage followers.

UGC establishes authenticity: Consumers are 2.4 times more likely to view user-generated content as authentic when compared to sponsored content.

User-generated content boosts trust: 92% of customers trust the recommendations of those they know.

And finally, UGC drives conversions: 80% of people claim that UGC greatly influences their purchase decisions.

Similar to the reason why showcasing the people behind your brand is so important right now, consumers are craving a human connection.

With user-generated content, customers can see their peers, feel that personal attachment, and be more driven to trust and engage with your organization.

Take a page out of Getty Museum’s book on UGC.

They gave Twitter followers a challenge to recreate famous paintings using household objects and tag their posts using #betweenartandquarantine and #gettymuseumchallenge.

And the results went viral.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised how well a contest, challenge, or request that users can do while in quarantine goes.

With nothing but time on our hands, people are more likely to engage in these types of calls to action.

You can then use the entries you receive and the posts you’re tagged in later down the line.

The value of UGC never declines!

3. Check Your Creative

This is definitely a tip that applies as much to organic social as it does to paid.

You need to make sure the media (images, videos, etc.) that you’re posting are coronavirus-appropriate.

What does that mean?

Well, that means taking into account how social interaction is presented.

human interaction in marketing during COVID-19 impacts purchasing decision
Image source: https://morningconsult.com/2020/03/24/brands-social-distancing-coronavirus/

A recent poll revealed that 57% of adults believed an ad showing people shaking hands is inappropriate during the time of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, 70% believed that ads showing social distancing were appropriate. 

A Hotels.com ad shows how an adjustment to this type of media expectation can be met.

They created a new ad in which their mascot, Captain Obvious, follows all the right rules when it comes to self-isolating and social distancing.

While these stats and examples speak to advertisements, your organic social accounts need to follow suit.

You can’t run an ad showing a group of people linking hands and sharing a bag of chips between them.

Maya Rudolph GIF

So, why would you post that to your organic profiles either?

Set the right example by using appropriate media that follows COVID-19 behavioral guidelines.

And if you need a refresher on what the official U.S. guidelines are for social distancing in the time of coronavirus, you can check out the CDC website

4. Establish a Helpful Tone

Organic social media is often thought of as an extension of paid social that helps drive customers through the conversion funnel.

While you don’t (and shouldn’t) rely on organic social to drive significant conversions, it’s still a channel that serves a purpose in eventually driving sales.

In the past, this meant including links to purchase within a post, announcing promotions and sales, and generally complementing paid social strategies.

However, marketing during coronavirus means shifting to a more helpful tone instead of a sales-focused one.

People are on the lookout for brands trying to profit off of the pandemic.

And they are quick to disassociate from those that they believe are guilty.

In fact, a recent survey revealed that 71% of respondents would lose trust in a brand forever if they felt the brand was trying to take advantage of people for profit.

So, focus on transitioning your tone to one that is helpful and solution-oriented.

As shown in the Food52 examples above, the company went from showcasing their own home goods to providing NYC residents with a solution for where to get bread and pastries.

Not only does this help their followers, but it also supports struggling local businesses.

This kind of supportive, positive, and helpful messaging is the type of presence people are looking for from brands and their marketing during COVID-19. 

Paid Social in the Age of Coronavirus

A lot of what we just talked about with organic applies to paid social strategies. 

Messaging, creative, and subject matter all need to shift as you run paid marketing campaigns during coronavirus.

But, there are some things happening right now that apply specifically to just paid social.

marketing budgets during COVID-19
Image source: https://www.emarketer.com/content/how-advertisers-are-responding-to-the-coronavirus-crisis

For example, ROI for social media ads is higher than before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Logically, this makes sense: Fewer small businesses advertising means less competition for ad inventory.

Less competition means ads are cheaper to run and ROI potential is higher. 

For some, this is resulting in a 38% increase in ROAS and 33% reduction in CPC.

1. It’s Never Too Late to Change

For many advertisers, their ad budgets and campaigns were set up long before coronavirus hit.

But, since the outbreak, almost 9 in 10 marketers have made changes to their ads. 

COVID-19 impact on ad campaigns

Of these, 48% have adjusted their campaign instead of pausing or pulling entirely.

Considering the previously mentioned stats regarding ROAS and CPC, your business should be among those that are shifting.

Instead of bagging your marketing initiatives, try shifting messaging, creative, and goals.

Yes, we know that’s no small feat. 

But, in doing so you can take advantage of the reduced competition and additional opportunities within the paid ad space.

2. Offer Things for Free

Helping people selflessly during this difficult time is a double-win.

On the one hand, there are the good feelings and karma points earned from doing something that helps others.

And on the other, more tangible hand, brands that show their compassionate side at this time can boost brand awareness, increase brand loyalty, and even create new conversion opportunities.

One of the best ways for brands to be selfless is to offer their product or service for free.

free GIF

From fitness to Broadway shows, there are many companies offering free trials or free, full access during coronavirus. 

Even SaaS companies can do this.

Take a look at Hootsuite, for example:

In a sympathetic post, they announced free access to their Professional plan and demonstrated their commitment to helping others out during COVID-19.

Besides the moral kudos it’s worth giving a post like this, we should also look at engagement numbers.

On average, Hootsuite’s engagement metrics on Facebook from the previous month, February, looked like the following:

  • 30-50 likes
  • 1-5 comments
  • 20-30 shares

Comparatively, their post announcing the free access has so far earned:

  • 70 likes
  • 90 comments
  • 51 shares

Check out the number of comments!

likes on social media GIF

And regardless of whether people eventually paid for Hootsuite’s plan or not, these numbers indicate an increase in engagement and a likely boost to traffic.

We know budgets are tight right now, but consider what your business can give away for free.

3. Be Overly Self-Aware

If there’s one major takeaway for how you should be handling marketing during COVID-19 it’s this: there’s no such thing as “business as usual” right now.

“To not even acknowledge it is a disconnect. It’s a missed opportunity to demonstrate that you’re listening and that you’re human.”

Rohit Bhargava, author of the business forecasting report Non-Obvious Megatrends.

It is absolutely essential for businesses to be self-aware about the situation at hand and their place in it.

Customers are on the lookout for any sort of opposite behavior and are quick to punish businesses they perceive as guilty.

customer sentiment towards marketing during COVID-19
Image source: https://www.aaaa.org/consumer-sentiment-towards-brands-during-covid-19/

The same survey we cited earlier about 71% of people losing trust in a brand they perceive is profiteering from coronavirus had a few more insights.

First, the survey showed that nearly 90% of respondents wanted companies to do everything possible to protect employees and suppliers, along with providing free or lower-priced products and services.

The second piece of insight worth mentioning is that 77% of participants wanted advertising to shift so that brands only highlight how they are aware of the crisis and how it’s impacting customers.

An additional highlight: Over half (57%) wanted brands to stop any humorous or light-hearted advertisements.

All of these statistics make it clear that brands absolutely need to be self-aware by addressing the current state of things in their ads.

Additionally, you should go the extra mile and launch initiatives or partnerships that make an impact.

Then, you can highlight these on both your organic and paid campaigns.

Frito-Lay does this in their recent, 60-second advertisement.

marketing during COVID-19 - feature image

In fact, there’s a whole list of examples of companies putting out these self-aware ads.

Every piece of marketing material you put out now needs to reflect the fact that you understand the state of marketing isn’t “business as usual” like we said before.

Show you care, tell people the impact you’re making, and try to be a sympathetic, helpful voice during these times.

You Can Succeed in the New Normal 

Making all of these changes to your paid and organic marketing strategies during COVID-19 can seem overwhelming.

But, it’s the key to staying afloat – and even succeeding – in this new normal.

As this article discusses, all is not lost.

There are plenty of opportunities for small businesses to capitalize on without compromising your morals.

In fact, implementing even a few of the suggestions above can help you make an actual, positive impact.

don't panic during coronavirus

Maybe you give struggling small businesses free access to your marketing software. 

Or, maybe you partner with a local restaurant and highlight their takeout, delivery, and/or gift card options.

Now could even be the perfect time to try running paid ads for the first time!

However you go about shifting your marketing during COVID-19, just know that you have the resources and capabilities to succeed.

You got this.