As we’re all aware, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has disrupted industries, closed schools and required people to practice social distancing. The current tension between our necessary separation and our innate need for connection is watching itself play out across the world. As social distancing makes us increasingly isolated, the concept of connection takes on new meaning and the role of social media in a time of crisis becomes even more critical. 

Social media has been driving a lot of conversations around our current global crisis. People continue to turn to social to share their experiences, information and feelings about this unprecedented situation. According to Twitter, COVID-19-related Tweets are being shared every 45 milliseconds and #coronavirus is now the second most used hashtag of 2020. 

That communication is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as when the conversation turns into real connection among distant and sometimes disparate individuals. In the past few days, people have used social to reach out, help others and create meaningful relationships during this time of uncertainty. 

But what is the role of brands in facilitating this connection? Our recent Brands Get Real report shows that 91% of people believe in social’s power to connect people—and 78% of consumers want brands to use social to help people connect with each other. Those numbers send a clear message to companies as they navigate a crisis that is so much bigger than their brands: create connection through relevance.  

Get a pulse on the conversation 

One of the major challenges that brands face during a crisis is knowing when and how to adjust marketing strategies. While it can be difficult to postpone or even cancel projects you’ve worked hard to plan, be mindful that acting like it’s business as usual on social, while well-intentioned, could come off as insensitive. This is where having a crisis communication plan can help your team navigate such tough times.

So what’s the first move a brand should make right now? Continue to monitor your social audience and media as a whole to understand what main topics, crisis updates and concerns are spurring stress and anxiety among your community. As we’ve seen, things are changing rapidly, so keeping an eye on these developments will help ensure your content and messaging is relevant and appropriate. 

During times of crisis, you can use social listening tools to develop an effective response strategy and provide deeper insight into discussions surrounding your brand, industry and current or developing crises. No brand wants to give the impression that they’re injecting themselves into a crisis for the sake of visibility or marketing. By keeping a finger on the pulse of the conversation and applying those insights to your approach, your brand can be a considerate, organic and valuable contributor to the conversation. 

Understand if there is a place for you 

This is all about relevance. While some brands may be in the eye of the metaphorical storm, others won’t be. There’s a lot of uncertainty and chaos right now, but stay focused on the consistent brand identity you’ve worked so hard to create. 

Once you’ve looked at the current state of the conversation, determine the role your brand can play and, most importantly, if your audience wants or needs anything from you. Whether it is providing free yoga classes to calm anxiety, how-tos on effectively working from home or tips for investing during this volatile time, determine if there is an organic way for you to be helpful during this time.

Don’t turn a global emergency into a platform to promote 

As customers isolate themselves and their families, events get postponed and businesses make decisions to close, it might be tempting to find new ways to stimulate your business and the economy. However, audiences can smell opportunistic brands from a mile away, and they won’t be scared to call you out. What started as a post about a global crisis could easily become a crisis for your own brand and company.

If you can’t provide help, it might be best for you to publish a single message to showcase your empathy in this situation. Even if it is a simple note from your CEO, it may do wonders to quell fear and anxiety. Just make sure it aligns with the brand you’ve built in order to resonate with your customers.

If you’re unsure of how your brand should respond, it’s okay to be quiet. Not every brand needs to create a full campaign to address the current health scare. Additionally, you should take a good hard look at promotional content you have scheduled and consider pausing those campaigns until calm is restored.

Lead with empathy, not fear

We’re all in this together. We can all practice empathy and understand how others must feel. Use that shared experience to make your content authentic and relevant. Brands should be careful not to market to the fear and anxiety people are experiencing—even if you think stoking fear could help you sell more products. Global crises are not a marketing opportunity to capitalize on.

Brands like Clorox, Purell and 3M are seeing their products sell out in the wake of coronavirus, but their messaging has remained educational, sensitive and calm. This consistency and dedication to helpfulness is critical during uncertain times: customers will reward you tenfold if they know they can trust you.

Turn to your community 

We may be social distancing right now, but as humans, we crave connection. If you’re not sure what to say, open yourself up for conversations with your community and help create that connection. While a global crisis isn’t an opportunity to push your bottom line, it can be an opportunity to illustrate the compassion and personality of your company. 

As a social media manager, you play an extremely important role during this time. It’s important to support your brand’s community, but you are human too. In anxious times, you may face the very real challenge of burnout. Prioritize the connection you need, take breaks and step away from your screen if necessary. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and isolated, talk to your team and see if one of your peers can provide some additional support. 

Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways to ensure you have the capacity to take care of others. If you’re looking for additional support, join us on Facebook in the Social Marketers’ Exchange group to discuss best practices, digital marketing topics and more 

Lastly, if you’re a Sprout customer, we’ve created this list of features that are particularly helpful at this time. Also, check out our crisis management plan template for an easy way to organize your strategy.