How Brands Reacted to the Pandemic on Social

covid-19 crowd of people in masks

Communicators continue to find their footing during the pandemic, especially on social media. Looking at social conversations around coronavirus illustrates how the landscape has shifted for brand communicators and audiences.

As a social topic, coronavirus started gaining traction in January 2020, when the first U.S. case was reported. Coronavirus-related conversations nearly quadrupled. In early March, topic volume saw another jump, from five million to more than 20 million messages daily.

As volume increased, the way people talked about COVID-19 shifted. They no longer focused on the virus alone. Coronavirus-related conversations about jobs, education and daily life rose. Mentions of homeschooling and online learning surged 21 times between February and March. In addition, quarantine and social distancing conversations grew 1,188 percent.

As people increasingly were homebound, their social conversations centered on how to entertain themselves. Accordingly, cooking and baking, fitness and video games rose to the top of the conversation, driving 3.7 million engagements in March.

How Brands Pivoted Their Social Media Strategy

Consumers' tonal shift in March influenced companies' social presence. Initial conversations focused on sharing company information, including updates on store closures and changes in operations. Gradually, brands moved toward posting entertaining and educational content. For example:

    • Rothy's, a direct-to-consumer shoe company, crowdsourced ideas about how to repurpose its factory to support healthcare workers. It also shared information about how consumers could help organizations providing COVID-19 relief.

  • The National Cowboy Museum handed over its Twitter account to its head of security, who posted fun facts and photos of exhibits. The combination of wholesome content and Twitter mishaps made for lighthearted content that kept people engaged without ignoring the pandemic.
  • Ikea used social to offer design tips for creating productive workspaces at home. Aside from design tips, Ikea also provided inspiration for how people can make the most of their time together, using the hashtag #togetherathome.

The Future for Brands on Social

Social media reflects how a segment of the world is adjusting to the pandemic. Though the future is uncertain, there are things that can help guide brands on social:

  • Prioritize customer care: Social media often is the first place consumers look for information. Use social to provide support and help navigate less-than-optimal experiences. Listen to what customers need and react to it.
  • Lean on social data: As noted above, social data can inform the direction of a brand's content. As always, brands should keep a pulse on social conversations. Social insights can provide an understanding of what audiences are concerned with and how the pandemic is influencing behavior.
  • Lead with empathy: As so many have said, this moment calls for brands to demonstrate their human side. Consider what followers are seeking from your brand. Using this information, create authentic, relevant content. Remind consumers they can trust you.

Owing to the pandemic, we don't know much about the future. However, we know brands that prioritize audiences' needs can build connections that will outlast this moment.

Note: A version of this content appeared at The Social Shake-Up

Rachael Samuels is manager of social media at Sprout Social