How to Survive a Pandemic (Digitally) in 4 Easy Steps

Making an elegant entrance into this topic turned out to be more challenging than anticipated, so let’s just keep it real:

What. The. Heck.

If you’re like us, recapping the global COVID-19 timeline probably has you thinking, “wait — I’ve seen this movie.” Rapid-fire updates from health officials, governments and corporate organizations. Consumers make a run on the essentials, leaving grocery aisles barren of rice and toilet paper. Global markets are rocked as stocks plummet, shattering records before plunging even further a few days later. One by one, countries around the world report their first confirmed case as tallies climb steadily in others. From Wuhan to Milan, the WHO to the NBA, normalcy and routine go out the window and “novel coronavirus” infiltrates the news outlet lexicon.

But this isn’t a movie. It isn’t a drill. It’s as real as it gets and no one knows how long it’s going to last.

Okay — with respect and empathy for those affected, that concludes the bad news portion of this blog. We’re here to talk about how we’re going to get through this together. Not because we’re naive optimists. But because the common theme of every Hollywood us-versus-virus movie is the indomitability of a unified front. When the human race comes together, we win. Every. Damn. Time.

“I’ve already been in this movie.” – Paltrow

Too chiché? Not if you look at the humankind highlight reel from the last few weeks. From monumental research breakthroughs, to altruistic aid shipments, to depression-busting, isolation-thwarting, live-DJ balcony dance parties, we’re coming together as the hero in this story. It’s epic and inspiring and reminds us that the human race has an immense capacity for kindness. It’s rooted in our DNA — the intrinsic drive to protect and support our social groups. We know we’re better together. And when some of us are in peril, we all step up.

What does ‘stepping up’ look like right now? Hook + Ladder’s Social Media Manager, Eliana Torregroza left us shook yesterday when she summed it up: “Social distancing doesn’t have to be about isolation. Even though physical distancing is the right thing to do, for our mental wellness we need to connect with others online and find strength in social solidarity.” Eliana has always held the ‘social’ part of social media in high reverence. “Engagement on social media is about so much more than meeting goals with your metrics. If you’re asking your audience to tag a friend or like a post, the content should be adding value to their experience. You are serving the community — not the other way around. Brands need to surprise and delight their followers with engaging posts to build a relationship organically.”

We know this. We’ve known this for a while and we’re reminded on a regular basis that social platforms were created with the purpose of building communities. How is any community built? Through simple acts of empathy: sharing, listening and supporting. Keeping those three tenants in balance is required for membership and if someone isn’t keeping up their end of the bargain, things go all Lord-of-the-Flies before you know it. Add in a global pandemic and one social media blunder becomes grounds for a public roasting. Think Pepsi x Kendall Jenner level backlash. *cringe*

Fair is fair, though. Brands have fallen into the habit of using social platforms as a one-way promotional megaphone and the audience is over it. No soapbox here, either — we’re guilty of it too. But what better time than now to turn the megaphone around and start listening — really listening — to our communities? Humanize the brand, hold up our end of the bargain and contribute something meaningful to the conversation. Go a step further and start a conversation, step back and let the audience do the sharing. Honestly, from what we’ve seen, if you’re not showing up with 100%, no-BS authenticity, you’ll get eaten alive. So, if you were waiting for a sign that it’s time to prioritize one-on-one communication, here it is:

Step-by-Step Covid-19 Digital Survival Guide

Step 1: Take stock of your digital footprint.

Insensitive messaging can turn even the most loyal advocates against a brand right now. Promotional ad campaigns are basically asking for it. Audit what’s posted or running right now, and look at what’s scheduled for the coming weeks. Can you pivot to public service positioning? If the answer is yes – great. Rejig whatever you need to and be absolutely sure you can make good on the promise. If the answer is no — hit the pause button and go back to the drawing board. Silence isn’t much better than sending the wrong message, so we recommend taking a deep dive into your brand’s vision and mission, pull out the real deal, no BS value prop you can offer your community right now and earn your membership like everyone else does.

Step 2: Listen, Linda. Listen.

We get it. Jumping in the comments section is anxiety-inducing. It can be a scary place. People are…direct, emojis hurt worse than you ever imagined and you are consistently mind-blown (and maybe a bit impressed) by creative expletive combinations you’d never even considered before. The overwhelm is real. But you know what disarms an angry keyboard warrior faster than any glossy, air-tight, formulated PR response? Three simple words:

I hear you.

When it comes to throwing mud, it’s like Dr. Phil always says. “It’s just noise.” Not to say your digital faux-pas wasn’t infuriating, but chances are, at the root of negative COVID-themed comments is the same fear and frustration we’re all experiencing. You were an easy target, unfortunately, but the ball’s in your court now. What’s the play? With some sincere empathy and kindness, you can flip the script. You need to say something because comment thread commiseration builds communities. The question is, are you part of the community, or the common target that’s bringing them together?

Step 3: Hold space for your community.

Invite your audience in. Encourage participation. Steer the tone toward support, solutions and solidarity. Algorithms are going to make sure you get the primo posting real estate so use this advantage wisely. Calm the conversation if it gets heated, offer well-timed pragmatic positivity when you can, and take notes. Yes — take notes. From our experience, there is more to learn about a brand’s audience from community management than a segmentation analysis could ever offer. Where do they live? Where do they work? How many kids do they have? What are they most worried about? What motivates them? What do they value? How do they define happiness? We’re not kidding — it’s all in there. You just have to listen.

Step 4: Bring something to the table.

Offer whatever value is in your power. Maybe the value is monetary, maybe it’s links to external resources, maybe it’s a cat meme — who knows? Value looks different for every brand; the key to making sure it lands right with your audience is authenticity. Whether it’s offering financial advice or advocating for mental health awareness, stay aligned with what’s at the core of your brand promise. Oh, and don’t try any Trojan horse tactics right now. Nothing annihilates trust in tough times like a feeble bait-and-switch attempt.

Around the world, people are using social platforms to share, listen and support each other in the midst of global chaos. Day-by-day, bonds are forming that will last a lifetime. Brands are welcome to join the conversation, just like everyone else. As long as they show up in human form and hold up their end of the bargain, that is.

Need a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen? Ill-advised in the literal sense, but proverbially, we got you. Shoot us an email and let’s jump on a call.

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