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These days, the world isn’t just dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, which in itself has had a devastating impact on society. We are also dealing with the crisis of systemic racism and police brutality, an issue that was catalyzed by countless deaths of Black people by the hands of the police, but more recently coming to a head after the murder of George Floyd. With the extreme number of crises accumulating in 2020, how do brands and marketers navigate using social media for crisis management?

Throughout all of it, many business’ and users’ social media platforms have transformed from focusing on entertainment into spreading awareness about sociopolitical issues and crises. Even before the #BlackLivesMatter movement started mobilizing users more prominently in June, the COVID-19 crisis has been a primary focus in advertising and organic social media content. 

As digital marketers, it is our responsibility to view major trends occurring on social media, and understand how we can adapt this information to our own content. In this day and age, all brands should be using social media as their primary source for crisis management. 


Listening to and Engaging with Followers 


Part of what makes social media so successful in helping with content strategy is the fact that brands can monitor their audiences on both a personal and more general scale. Marketers can use social media to see what type of content is resonating with audiences, and particularly what is on their minds, the difficulties they’re facing, and what they are stressed and anxious about. 

Social media is also an excellent place to build an authentic and long-lasting community. With the constant inundation of negative news lately, it is especially important to ensure that your followers and customer base are feeling supported and heard. Through social platforms, customers get in touch with you about any comments or concerns, either through direct message or public comments on posts. It is also equally as important for brands to actively engage with their followers’ content as well. However, this should be a thoughtful effort; understand how you can contribute something meaningful and personalized, rather than using the same generic messaging simply for visibility’s sake. Users will be more likely to respond and engage with you, and build an authentic relationship, if they feel that they are interacting with a real person. 

Marketers can also use their own platform to spread awareness about important topics, and can rely on and draw inspiration from other users. For example, on Instagram and Twitter, related content to the COVID-19 crisis can be explored through #StayHome, #WorkFromHome (or #WFH), #StopTheSpread, and #SupportLocal hashtags. Top hashtags related to systemic racism and police brutality include #BlackLivesMatter (or #BLM), #SupportBlackBusiness, #BlackOwnedBusiness, and #DefundThePolice. 

Another way to utilize social media for communicating with followers while managing a crisis is through the many tools that are aimed at helping companies throughout the pandemic. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp have COVID-19 resource hubs for businesses to refer to if looking for help, and have various features on the platforms themselves that are specifically aimed at helping SMBs.


Be Open To Receiving Criticism—And Learn From It 


While the fear of backlash is a legitimate concern, it’s important to remember that people yearn for connection during this isolating time, and particularly want to see responses from their favorite brands. Especially when it comes to crises like COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, these are topics that need to be addressed urgently, so silence should not be an option for any brand. Not only is silence a concern from the moral standpoint, but audiences will also notice if a brand is actively silent about matters that are affecting so many lives. 

It is also equally as important for brands to be responsive to comments, concerns, and criticism they may face on social platforms. Many users take to the comments sections or direct messages. If you receive criticisms or negative comments, don’t ignore them. Chances are that you’re more likely to garner a stronger and more authentic relationship with these followers when you respond and actually work to mediate the problem, whereas ignoring it will reflect poorly on your brand image. 

For example, singer SZA brought racial profiling to the attention of beauty brand Sephora, who responded directly to her Tweet addressing the issue (pictured below). A month later, Sephora announced that they would be closing stores for an hour to focus on centralized diversity training for staff



On this note, staying consistent and as tuned in to social media as frequently as you can is advised. This way, audiences will see that you are an engaged brand who is genuinely interested in the well-being of your followers, and not just being active when it’s most convenient for you. This is also important when it comes to staying on top of trends and topics, which are quickly evolving by the day. Being attentive to your followers is important: your audience will notice that you are both being attentive and using your voice, which will ultimately help legitimate your brand as an humanized voice and help to garner brand awareness. 

Keep in mind that social media is also considered a frontline for sources like live updates, footage, and shares of posts that are relevant to both the BLM movement and COVID-19, which makes it a great supplementary (and sometimes primary) source for brands to keep up with unfiltered and uncensored news/media. 


Don’t Be Afraid to Take A Strong Stance 


We’ve referenced Nike before as being a great example of responding to crises and being timely in their marketing messaging, first for COVID-19, then for #BlackLivesMatter. Take a look at their ad supporting BLM below: 



Customers are more likely to resonate with content and messaging that takes a solid stance or opinion on a matter, rather than a generic statement of solidarity. Generic messaging risks looking like a brand is hopping on a trend rather than genuinely believing in it. We saw an example of this with the inundation of email campaigns that started at the beginning of COVID-19, and customers quickly grew tired of seeing the same message over and over again. This is why it is important for marketers to come up with messaging that is unique and comes from a genuine place.  

Ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, which has been lauded by many consumers for their authentic responses to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, have addressed the topic in-depth in a lengthy blurb that was posted as its own page on their website. Ben & Jerry’s has been revered as a major brand that takes clear and strong stances on social issues, which many consumers find inspirational. Their Instagram and Twitter pages are also inherently political, which influences many of their marketing decisions, as seen in one Tweet below: 



Bold statements such as Ben & Jerry’s come across as much more genuine than blanket statements of solidarity. Audiences are more likely to feel confident in and trust a company’s stance when it is made very clear what their opinions are. Though this example is Black Lives Matter-specific, marketers should consider this when it comes to any type of crisis management. 

Company social media profiles are also great places to position yourself and share important announcements, especially when aligning with a sensitive or timely topic. Use your social platforms to share important resources, and don’t just do it to hop on a trend. If you are donating to a relevant cause, for example, then make sure to share this with your followers. This is not for the purpose of showing off, but rather to spread awareness and to contribute to a positive digital space by encouraging and mobilize your followers. Here’s an example of one of our own posts, which we shared on our social platforms:  

Black Lives Matter LinkedIn Post by Spark Growth


In Conclusion 


When it comes to crisis management, marketers should understand where their own brand fits amidst the crisis. This requires a thorough analysis of what your brand represents and then coming up with relevant messaging that organically fits into the climate. During a crisis especially, brands should prioritize the audience and their feelings, emotions, and responses first – and social media is an excellent tool to use to gain this type of insight. 

Marketers should ultimately treat social media as a give and take platform, where you can gain firsthand insight on your demographic directly from them, and then reciprocate by responding with your own content. You can learn from your audience and understand their thoughts and concerns from the content they post, the general trends on a social platform, and from their interactions with you. From there, you can gain inspiration and better understand how to navigate a crisis, while simultaneously growing your brand in a positive way. 


For further insight on how you can use social media for crisis management and brand growth, take a look at what makes our own marketing approach unique!

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