Adapting to More Digital and Social Ways of Being in a Time of Crisis

A few weeks ago I was happily working away on a talk for Adobe
Summit in Las Vegas. The topic? How to use social media to sell
shoes. Well, there was going to be more to it but that was the
major point: social can drive sales.

Fast forward to now. I’m locked in my office with my restless
canine colleagues, just up the hill from King County Washington,
which is ground zero in America for COVID-19 outbreaks.

These days, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media’s
value. It’s so much bigger than selling a few sneakers.

Social platforms offer critical infrastructure, helping
government agencies, hospitals, and health care organizations
coordinate fast responses and speedy citizen engagement. We’re
also seeing personal benefits, as social media becomes an
irreplaceable tool for easing our isolation and connecting in new

On top of the devastating health crisis, businesses face a
looming recession. It’s easy to become overwhelmed and trapped in
near-term thinking. Business survival. Making payroll. Getting
things out the door.

A survey by Econsultancy of 500 marketers
at major brands found
that marketers are already deciding between short-term tactics and
long-term planning. In fact, 47% (41% in the UK, and 53% in North
America) of marketers say they have delayed or are reviewing
strategic initiatives, such as digital transformation or

These days have been—and will continue to be—tough. But this
is also an opportunity to become better corporate citizens, build
new ways of working together, and demonstrate leadership in
uncertain times. Employees will remember leaders who led. Customers
will remember who showed up, what we said, and how we helped

Here are three ways organizations can adjust their business and
communications strategies to stay connected and demonstrate
leadership in the chaotic months ahead.

  • Use social to protect human connection, including an increased
    use of Facebook Groups, social video (especially on TikTok)
    livestreaming, and 1:1 messaging.
  • Use social to mitigate business disruption by experimenting
    with increased digital and social customer engagement.
  • Use the disruptive lessons of the present to build for the
    future, especially the rapid experimentation in remote work, online
    service delivery, and increased use of real-time analytics.

1. Use social to protect human connection

Humans are social animals. And crises like these threaten to
break those critical bonds.

Of course, social platforms have had a few bumpy roads in terms
of public trust over the last few years. But we’re seeing a new

“In a moment when so much seems to be coming apart,”

writes the Verge’s tech columnist Casey Newton
, “the big
tech platforms—for better and for worse—have become vital
infrastructure for our new disaster-age lives. We expect regular
briefings from elected officials and public-health agencies—and
we ought to expect regular briefings from tech infrastructure as

The need for 1:1 connection has surged.
In a press call about Facebook’s response to the virus
, Mark
Zuckerburg reported that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger usage has
more than doubled since the start of the crisis. In particular,
global consumers are turning to each other with voice calling and
1:1 messaging.

Community-focused uses of social media have increased on
with 300 local coronavirus support groups
forming in the last
few months with a combined membership of more than a million

“I never thought I would say this, but we’re using Facebook
to express love to our neighbors in really meaningful ways,”

says Morgan Schmidt
, an admin for one of those Facebook Groups
in Bend, Oregon. Her group helps people housebound by the
coronavirus crowdsource help with daily tasks.

Likewise, Reddit reports traffic increases of 20–50% in
subreddits related to business, finance, news, education, travel,
and sports over the past week. The community r/coronavirus now ranks
second among the website’s top growing communities with 1.2
million members, while subreddits around finance, stocks, and
business have surged,
according to AdWeek
And research by the influencer agency Obviously
found a 22%
increase in Instagram campaign impressions from Q4 2019 to Q1 2020
and a 27% jump in engagement on average on TikTok from February to

We saw this ourselves with Hootsuite Inbox, which our clients
use to manage inbound social media comments, replies, and private
messages from their customers. We had the highest usage in our
history last week, showing just how hard every organization is
getting slammed with 1:1 customer interactions.

Two ways to build connections in a time of crisis

Specifically, there are two types of action organizations can
take to build lasting impressions on customers: either do good,
or make people feel good.

Doing good

For years, we’ve heard about the need for brands to have
deeper purposes. Well, now it’s time to put those lofty purpose
statements to the test.

A CEO rising to these challenges and building employee and
customer trust in the most turbulent of times is Delta’s CEO Ed
Bastian. On Twitter, he’s announced that he is giving up 100% of
his salary to support Delta.

If your business is doing something to help the cause, and
something that will help your customers, it’s a good time to use
the full force of employee advocacy programs to distribute the
message. In addition to trusted organizations like the WHO sharing
critical information on social platforms, peer-to-peer sharing is
critical for making those updates spread far and wide.

As Dr. Alan Fyall, associate dean of academic affairs at the
Rosen College of Hospitality Management, University of Central
told Forbes
, “Accuracy of information is critical in such
instances with the credibility of the source of the message
paramount. This is why official government, be it at the city,
county, state or federal level, is so important as their
credibility is the most sound.”

Twitter found
that 75% of COVID-19 related tweets are retweets,
demonstrating the need to complement official brand publishing and
advertising with peer-to-peer sharing.
And as Edelman found
, when the first exposure to a message
comes from a peer, it increases the level of trust, especially when
then combined with paid and owned content.

chart: 5 most effective sequences for earning trust in a messageSource: Edelman
Making people feel good

Lizzo—the artist who makes it impossible not to feel good when
she’s around—led a mass
for her 8.4 million Instagram followers to
“promote healing during this global crisis.” The sports fitness brand
also launched meditations on Instagram.

In China, DJs are performing live sets on apps like TikTok and
Douyin while audience members react in real time on their phones,

as reported by the New York Times

And Hallmark—the poster brand for feeling good—announced
that they’re bringing back their famous Christmas movie marathons
a little earlier this year
to help your self-quarantine.

View this post on Instagram

The We Need a Little Christmas Movie Marathon starts today at
12pm/11c! Time to bust out your favorite holiday mug, pour some hot
cocoa & settle in for back-to-back favorites! ❤️???? See
today’s line up below:  12pm/11c – A Christmas Detour 2pm/1c –
Holiday Date 4pm/3c – A Christmas Love Story  6pm/5c – Mingle
All the Way  8pm/7c – Christmas Under Wraps  10pm/9c – Crown
for Christmas 12am/11c- The Christmas Cottage

A post shared by
Hallmark Channel
(@hallmarkchannel) on Mar 20, 2020 at 9:34am

Not every organization exists to save the world. So how can you
add a little lightness and connection to your regular cadence of
content and tactics?

2. Use social to mitigate business disruption

According to Econsultacy
, 87% of marketers in North America
predict an increase in the use of online services by consumers
during the outbreak. Seventy-five percent also predict an increase
in ecommerce usage, as do 70% of UK marketers.

Compelling approaches have emerged from China, which was
earliest hit by the coronavirus. The cosmetics company Lin Qingxuan
had to close 40% of its stores during the height of the crisis
there. But rather than lay off employees, the company redeployed
more than 100 beauty advisors as online influencers. By leveraging
social tools like WeChat to connect with customers and drive
Lin Quingxuan was able to triple sales versus last year.

Organizations are also rapidly deploying virtual technology.
“With social distancing limiting physical world interactions, we
are seeing increased interest in AI consultations and AR virtual
try-on,” Perfect Corp CEO Alice Chang
told Glossy
. “Consumers are looking for digital solutions,
and we expect more and more brands will be turning to digital-first
strategies in the days and weeks to come.”

While virtual experiences are helping to keep retail and service
businesses afloat, people still want human interaction. Perfect
Corp launched an AR training service to provide brands with
livestream training for their beauty advisers, who work using a
live chat tool. This helps brands like Estée Lauder and Nars to
create a blend of virtual experiences with human help from in-store
associates. According to Perfect Corp, even before the COVID-19
pandemic, the addition of virtual try-on technology
generated 2.5 times higher ecommerce conversions for

Many tiny businesses—especially in service industries such as
fitness centers and beauty salons—have pivoted completely to
social-only service with some interesting results.

Sophie Pavitt, for example, is a New York-based facialist.

As she told Glossy
, when the epidemic hit, she saw an instant
spike in in-office cancellations. She turned to Instagram and
started offering live guided facial tutorials on her Instagram
channel. The first experiment, on Instagram Live on March 15, saw
more than 10% of her 7,285 followers tune in. She booked 36 virtual
consultations as a result. Now she’s doing tutorials on Instagram
Live every Sunday so customers can give themselves facials while
staying indoors and indulge in some self-care during this stressful

In all these examples, we can expect that these new digital
capabilities and increased demand for online and social interaction
by customers will outlast the epidemic and become the new normal in
the years to come.

3. Use the lessons of the present to build for the future

While short-term tactics are needed to adjust to our new
realities, organizations need to think longer term, using the rapid
lessons learned during the pandemic to build lasting relationships
with customers.

What lessons offer bigger strategic solutions that we can
develop in the months ahead?

First, it’s clear that many organizations were caught off
guard with the speed of digital business, particularly in the realm
of real-time analytics and brand protection.

During the moment we need them most, hospitals, health care
companies, and government agencies have been hit by a storm of
cyberattacks in recent weeks. “You can expect the attacks to
escalate as fast as the virus panic escalates,” said Avivah
Litan, vice president and distinguished analyst at research and
advisory firm Gartner,
in the Wall Street Journal.

While the storm rages, these organizations don’t have the
resources or capacity to rewire security practices. This
underscores the urgency of finding ways to minimize the damage of
cyberattacks, clean up inactive social accounts, better secure
employee access, and start building new capabilities such as brand
protection monitoring, social listening, and tighter internal
controls for digital publishing.

It’s also critical to ensure that social data—that fast,
instant pulse and glimpse into what global consumers are
thinking—is properly connected to other sources of digital
intelligence such as your website traffic, security and compliance
warning beacons, and CRM systems.

You can’t wait three weeks for a status report from your
traditional analyst team before making a decision in a crisis.
As an
expert from the World Health Organization put it
: “If you
need to be right before you move, you’ll never win. Perfection is
the enemy of the good when it comes to emergency management. Speed
trumps perfection.” That said, if you move too quickly and make a
mistake, it’s important to be open and transparent about it to
your audience, correcting it just as quickly.

We’ve also seen how organizations with digital transformation
efforts well underway are coping much better than organizations too
firmly rooted in the physical world.

Take health care, for example. According to Business Insider,
the health care company PlushCare saw a 40% bump in virtual
appointment volume since December. The US government is encouraging
consumers to turn to virtual consultations with doctors, instead of
making trips to the hospital for minor issues.

As Business Insider predicts
, the epidemic will introduce
millions of people to telemedicine, a new digital behavior that
will outlast the panic and present telemedicine providers with
long-term growth opportunities.

Finally, many companies have also been abruptly thrust into
remote work. At Hootsuite, we’ve dramatically increased our use
of tools like Facebook’s Workplace, as well as our employee
advocacy program to quickly share information, update employees
with videos from our CEO, and track how customers are responding to
our crisis communications messaging.

We’re going to break a lot of old processes, develop new
collaborative skills, and learn important lessons about keeping our
employees engaged in a remote setting. These will be key insights
to bring back to our physical offices when the crisis passes.

A little help in the months ahead

For those planning to use social media, we’re giving away
Hootsuite Professional to small businesses and nonprofits.
Organizations impacted by the crisis can get free access to
our professional plan until July 1, 2020, helping them stay
connected to their customers and communities.

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More Digital and Social Ways of Being in a Time of Crisis

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Adapting to More Digital and Social Ways of Being in a Time of Crisis