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The Role of Social Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic

9 MINUTE READ | April 20, 2020

The Role of Social Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Ting Zheng

Ting Zheng has written this article. More details coming soon.

While the world outside contracts inward to our homes, offices, and immediate neighborhoods, our online world has expanded in ways we could have never imagined. Google docs are now being used for games and parties, and Zoom is now how we send our kids to school and see our friends for happy hours. Because of this, most social media platforms are being challenged to adapt quickly to meet the needs of how people are now consuming content.

At PMG, we have also taken on the challenge of evolving our approach to social media. We’ve kept our ears close to the ground, collaborated with our key partners to keep up to date with the changing landscape, and have become even more agile to strategize and execute media for our clients. Our team has put together the key themes we see across the social ecosystem, and considerations to put forth as of right now. 

Being home all day naturally increases media consumption, whether it’s streaming shows or finding connections across social platforms. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, and Reddit have all reported a significant growth in engagement month over month (MoM), and year over year (YoY). People are looking to connect outside of their immediate surroundings, and social platforms are helping to supplement these relationships. Outside of this growth in consumption, here are the other key themes we’re seeing:

Paid Social CPMs have seen a decrease, suggesting less competition within the ad auction, but the audience is not deterred and is actually engaging more often with brands. According to eMarketer, the coronavirus has caused many advertisers to hold back campaigns, adjust their media allocation, pause on all advertising efforts, and even cancel campaigns entirely. However, social media users on platforms are consuming more than ever. 

We’ve seen click-throughs on brand ads increase by 36% MoM as Facebook users are looking to browse and discover new content, which has cut costs almost in half. Depending on the vertical conversion rates, we have maintained, or seen an increase, with already shifting strategies.

Messaging and communication within social networks have increased significantly. Facebook saw a 50% increase in messaging within countries hit hardest by the virus, with voice and video calling doubling over Messenger and WhatsApp. On Snapchat, there has been a spike in usage to stay connected with friends; snaps sent between friends reached an all-time high, and its call feature increased by more than 50% MoM. All this goes to show that social media users are relying heavily on these types of communication features within platforms to stay connected with their networks.

Users are turning to certain platforms for more positive outlets, including Pinterest and Reddit. On Pinterest, during the weekend of March 21st, there was an all-time high in saved pins and searches around the world than any other weekend. 

Users are looking for immediate things to do at home and ways to escape the virus news. The same shift could be seen on Reddit, as Entertainment and DIY communities gained an increase in views in certain categories by 10% WoW. These categories include Gaming, TV, Technology and Computing, and Art and Design Interest Groups. Platforms that are heavier in content and conversation surrounding COVID-19 are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

People are expressing themselves through social content creation. Emerging platforms like TikTok are seeing users invest more time on the app, and a constant, steady stream of new users joining. The global daily active users have grown significantly, as shown in the app reaching a monthly download record in February. This has mutually given rise to users creating new videos. This trend has also been happening on the professional business platform, LinkedIn, where there is a 60% YoY increase in content creation. 

Livestreaming is officially “in.” There’s a huge use case of livestreaming being a tool to increase followings on accounts because viewers crave interactivity that the feature offers. The behavior of joining a livestream has become more organic, and social media apps have responded to the trend by improving its features to make the functionality even easier. 

While the spike in livestreaming may seem obvious for Instagram Live and TikTok Live, let’s not forget the gaming world, which has been taking part in this for quite some time already. Twitch is also seeing an all-time high in consumption as growth in global viewership grew 44% from January to March. Influencers, celebrities, and brands providing fans the raw lens are more authentic than any produced content you’ll get from OTT or TV mediums, and users want that.

Livestream Adaptation Example: The entire world has seemingly been tuning in to Club Quarantine, an Instagram Live hosted by DJ D-Nice. This DJ spins club hits from his kitchen and bedroom and has become an Instagram sensation. A typical Instagram Live will only allow for up to an hour of streaming, and DJ D-Nice would continually end one stream and start another to keep the party going. The platform quickly realized that these restrictions were hampering the way that people wanted to use its platform, so Instagram adapted itself in order to allow him to livestream as long as he wanted. 

For years, we have been witnessing the slow descent of organic media. And as a company, we advise our clients to focus more heavily into paid. Now, the current circumstances have changed trend; organic media has taken full-stage as this pandemic presents a need for brands to engage with their customers. However, brands must be careful about how they communicate with them.

As store closures across the globe have impacted in-store purchases, the focus has shifted toward a revised e-comm strategy with an evolving contingency plan. Be prepared to make decisions quickly, while being mindful of business outcomes and processes such as inventory, distribution, subscriptions, etc. About 20% to 30% of consumers say that they are already spending less on everyday categories such as day to day in-store purchases, restaurant outings, and local leisure activities. This means that  70% to 80% have not altered their planned spending on these items.

During these unprecedented times, it’s important for brands to connect with users, and leverage social media to get the right message in front of people. We’ve outlined the most essential steps to consider when moving forward with your social media strategy from both an organic and paid perspective. 

It’s okay to not be radio silent as a brand, as long as you’re mindful of your positioning and approach. A report from the 4A’s found that 43% of consumers find it reassuring to hear from brands they know and trust during uncertain times. Another 40% want to hear how brands are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, while only 15% of consumers said they did not want to hear from brands at this time.

Be cognizant and monitor the current climate your brand is in, and provide extensive community management. Tap into social listening and sentiment tools to be aware of what’s happening; accept that this “business as usual” response, or predetermined decision tree, won’t be well-received by customers or followers. At PMG, we’ve been proactive to gauge sentiment in real-time with the creation of dashboards that classify social comments for clients into positive/neutral versus negative. 

We even went a step further to categorize comments into topics, including store closings, shipping, employees, and even social distancing. Maintain an active line of communication with your audience and take community management seriously. Be there on an authentic and more personal level because this fosters a sense of trust that consumers desire. 

Carefully review and evaluate your content messaging and the creative before publishing through various perspectives. This is a brand moment that customers will not be soon to forget. Don’t make the mistake of conveying your message in a way that makes your brand appear out of touch, or by providing false information with the changing logistics brands are implementing each day. It is crucial that you ensure your message doesn’t come across as tone-deaf or self-serving. Use this as an opportunity to provide customers a service that would be helpful to them, and remember to do it concisely:

For retail brands, focus heavily on e-commerce, rather than driving customers in-store. Additionally, place a strong emphasis on shopping local and/or supporting strong online promotions to entice customers further to continue adding items to carts.

The restaurant industry should increase support for drive-thru and take-out delivery. If the business can allow for it, creating affordable meals for families in need may bode well to promote.

With localized and country-wide school closures happening globally, advertisers in the education vertical should promote free remote learning resources for educators, parents, and teachers to keep people engaged and connected to the classroom.

Staying connected has become an all-encompassing theme as people are following shelter-in-place orders. This provides an opportunity for Music, Technology, and Lifestyle verticals to step up and share different ways of maintaining normalcy, including livestreaming concerts, making video chats free and accessible for users, and sharing tips on how to successfully cope with the new normal.

As for the travel vertical, it is best to decrease paid marketing efforts considering the current climate. Organic and community management support, however, should increase. Many consumers are canceling or rescheduling travel plans, and brands must account for this influx of customer service needs.

Adapt your paid media strategy to the current business needs. If there’s a need to focus on the highest return in order to protect bottom-line profits, then the platform media mix needs to be adjusted. If there’s a need to continue to drive awareness, make sure to ensure brand safety by avoiding platforms that have a large news-share presence in an effort not to be surrounded by sensitive content, or use extensive blacklists within audience targeting to offset this. 

Find new ways to move through available inventory that may otherwise be stuck in retail locations. For example, for retailers, creating and driving to temporary sites for any outlet inventory. Focus on key categories that have seen an uptick in consumption, such as athleisure and loungewear. 

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Over the past several weeks, we have seen a significant upheaval in the way that brands speak to their audiences, and how social media platforms are facilitating these conversations across the globe. One thing is certain — “business as usual” is not the way forward, and your brand strategy needs to adapt to fit this moment. But it can be done, and successfully.