Katy Howell: Tune in, tone down and turn it up on social

Katy Howell, CEO of social media agency Immediate Future, is one of the most experienced leaders in the social media industry and NDA’s monthly columnist.

For every empathetic, caring, ‘for good’ brand post I see on social, I am now seeing an equal measure of bile-inducing, crass, opportunistic messages. I refuse to name and shame. I know there is a bit of panic in marketing departments right now (I get that this is new and challenging).

Carefully-planned campaigns are being shelved, hard-fought budgets mothballed, and people are justifiably fearful. But honestly – we need to take a step back. And never more so than on social, where the backlash can be dramatic, harsh and reputation-destroying. So before you hit the tweet button… 

Tune in: Shut up for a minute and listen 

Right now, listening is your first action. Get on social and hear what your customers are saying. It will do a lot for all your marketing channels if you align with community sentiment, priorities and behaviours. 

Over the last few weeks, conversations have predominantly followed the news agenda. It has been pretty much all consuming on social as with each new announcement the channel topics tilt in new directions and consumers, desperate for answers, seek them from their online communities.

Brandwatch are sharing a great resource [for free!] showing coronavirus conversations on social. Since the start of the year there have been 400 million posts driven by 114 million authors.

Wow! So you’ll need to drill down to your customer’s focus, to understand what matters most to them. Set up dashboards, review your own comments and replies. Get into the nitty gritty – even down to the emojis being used. 

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OK, so you are not going to just look at how people are talking about coronavirus, but you get the gist. You need to really understand the conversation before you create that gif, write that copy or push that advert. Look at the positive and negative mentions. Understand the language shifts on social. And review it every single day.

Because things are changing daily – hey, often hourly. 

Not only will this help you hear the nuances of the conversation, it will ensure you understand how to react on social. For instance, the day after the UK lockdown announcement, was not a day to post anything by a brand (although plenty did).

People were in shock. Preoccupied. By close of play though, memes began to circulate, and the mood lightened a smidge. But no one was interested in your brand in that moment. Listening will help you understand how to get the timing right.  It stops you being in a bubble of you and your teams’ own opinions.

Social listening is also essential for a post-virus world. Now is a great time to look back across the year at the conversations and topics around your brand and topic.

Compare your competition and benchmark your performance. Look for peaks and opportunities to interact.  Let’s figure out future strategies and be more relevant as we make our way back to some sort of normalcy. 

All this data, analysis and interpretation is not just a job for your social media intern. Senior marketers need to pay attention too. It requires experience and marketing expertise to understand what needs to be said, when it should be said and how it should be said.

Take time as a team to consider the options, and reflect on the message you want to convey. 

Tone down the sales messages 

You should be present in social. You were there before, and you’ll be there after.  So don’t lose that connection you have with your audience. 

BUT, this is a very different game play. Performance marketing takes a step back in favour of brand. Being tone deaf will stand against you. So as well as listening you need to think carefully about your goals and messaging. 

For a start you need to visualise the social feed (before you type one word). Imagine your post appearing in feed next to a challenging COVID-19 message. Imagine being so tuned out of the conversation that you squeeze in #coronavirus, #stayathome or #FlattenTheCurve, just to hijack a hashtag. Well we’ve seen brands do just this. 

Instead, shift your language to one of empathy. Be useful, helpful, supportive. You are not after the sale of today. You want to build trust, integrity and loyalty that will fuel acceleration as we move forward. Also think about your scheduling.

You either need to be fast to turn it off when there are announcements or waves of conversation you don’t want to be part of, or don’t schedule and post live. The key action is to be flexible and operate live and actively conscious of the zeitgeist.

Connecting thoughtfully should be carried into paid. Now is not the time to splurge messages about. Global Web Index has published a fab COVID-19 study [again free to access] looking at international opinions.

One finding revealed that slightly over a third of consumers want brands to continue to advertise. Mind you, a quarter disagree and just over a third aren’t sure. It seems the young, men and higher income groups are the most likely to agree that advertising should continue. 

This means a change of tactic, strategy and content. You’ll need to pay much more attention to performance of ad sets. You should target in a smart way so as not to reach audiences most impacted by current events.

CPM and CPCs have decreased giving you more flexibility and bang for your buck. Other brands have slowed or even stopped spend, giving you better cut through with less competition. However, your copy and visuals need to tone down and be helpful, informative and of real value. Do it with care and you’ll reap the rewards. 

Turn up the quality 

Social is getting very noisy indeed. Global Web Index tells us almost 45% are devoting more time to social media and over 10% say they are creating / uploading videos. People are checking social media across all age demographics; 27% among Gen Z, 30% among Millennials, 29% among Gen X and 15% among Boomers.  We are all spending more time on social media. 

Brand engagement is down according to Rival IQ data, whilst Social Bakers sees very little decline in interactions. And some reports show a 76% increase in daily accumulated likes on Instagram and a similar hike on Tik Tok for sponsored posts. 

Of course people have other, more important things to do than engage with a brand. But it is clear, some brands are flying on social, just take a look at Innocent drinks (the social darling). The ones that are doing well are rarely selling. They have adjusted their tone and avoided being opportunistic.

If you want to cut through the noise and compete for attention then you are going to have to do a lot more over the coming months. Less posting and more quality. You need to focus on thumb-stopping content. Be on the front foot with acts of kindness. Be responsiveness to customer queries or needs for support. 

And action with entertaining or informative copy and content. Play into the many formats on social, extend video, think animation, push the boundaries. 

Your content needs to sing. And sing in tune with your customer. 

So, yes be present on social, but change up your strategy. Listen before you create, align your tone, and persue quality over tricks to get attention. Then you’ll do just fine. 

Stay safe peeps. 

*Massive kudos to Brandwatch and Global Web Index for sharing so much insight and data for free. Great examples of how to be useful, build trust and loyalty! 

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