The Role of Owned Content in a Crisis: COVID-19 Guidelines for Social & Content Marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic is rightly at the forefront of public attention. Nowhere is this more evident than social media, where the world has come together to share information, uplifting stories and, yes, memes. 

Right now there are more people than ever tuned into the news, and you cannot open a publication without seeing a COVID-19 headline. To understand how to best manage communications in this landscape, Mission North has been connecting with our primary media contacts to understand the impact on their coverage. We’ve spoken with about 80 journalists so far and confirmed that their respective beats and publications are proceeding with varying degrees of COVID-19 coverage. In particular, we’ve learned:

  • Business media remains focused on COVID-19 with the exception of truly big new stories. Most angles are related to the impact of the outbreak on business and the economy, or larger cultural trends.
  • Trade and tech media are looking for insight into how the virus is impacting their respective industries. Many asked for pitches not related to COVID-19, with the caveat that things might be delayed if something major breaks.
  • Consumer media is covering COVID-19 while trying to maintain their regular coverage, with an extra layer of sensitivity, to give readers a break from the panic. 

This reality underscores the need for thoughtful, surgical approaches to media relations and content strategy. Given large-scale quarantines, audiences have never been more online. And, with conferences canceled and deep disruption to so many other strategies for building relationships with customers, thoughtful social media and content marketing can be instrumental for communications.

Many brands are moving forward with thoughtful, relevant messaging through their owned channels. Here are a few examples from our clients:

Mission North’s Digital Group has produced some preliminary guidance and recommendations informed by our analysis of the evolving situation surrounding COVID-19 and the work we’re doing for clients across practice areas. 

THE ROLE OF DIGITAL

These are not normal times, but that doesn’t mean brands should be silent. The stakes are high — both for getting it wrong and contributing positively to the conversation. The path forward will depend on the brand and its audience; here is an ongoing list with some examples of how brands are engaging.

For brands delivering helpful value or insights for customers, social has never been more important. We have found Twitter’s coronavirus communication guidelines to be a helpful starting point.

Below are some high-level recommendations based on our analysis of the digital landscape amid COVID-19.

  • Revisit all outbound messaging: Evaluate not just organic social copy but also scheduled posts, email marketing, product messages, paid media and influencer partnerships. Is the purpose of the post still relevant? Is the tone right? Pare back salesy or edgy content and focus on more human, personal messages that don’t veer into virtue signaling or “causewashing.”
    • Example from ImpossibleFoods: “This #BurgerFriday, consider paying for the person behind you. We could all use a little <3 right now.”
  • Keep a pulse on the conversation: A lot can happen in a week or even a day. In this fast-changing situation, consider each post against the backdrop of emerging news and conversations.
    • Social monitoring isn’t merely for risk detection; it can also be a tool for spotting emerging conversations or opportunities to contribute. Revisit boolean keywords and alert workflow. Build a decision tree for what happens under various coronavirus situations, and circulate the plan among all stakeholders. 
  • Be yourself: Channel your brand values. Does your brand’s mission authentically align with opportunities to help people? If you are undertaking real, substantive efforts, raise that visibility. Just don’t be self-promotional. Focus on concrete actions you’re taking and how your audience can spread the word to populations that need help.
    • Example from Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO: “If you’re working on #COVID19 research, response, or mitigation and @slackhq can help in any way, email covid@slack.com. Free upgrades to paid plans, setting up a consultation for remote collaboration best practices: we got you. Even socially distant, we’re all in this together.”
  • Be useful: Consider whether you can provide appropriate, relevant information or support to your audience, and how you can share those resources via owned channels.
    • Example from Gusto: “We created a living, breathing document of all the public and private loans, grants, and financial support programs for small businesses facing #COVID19 hardship. Check back for the most up-to-date information!”
  • Expand owned channels: Now that most immediate earned media opportunities are focused on COVID-19, it is a good time to build out deeper stories and assets that will be appropriate and valuable in the long run. Longer-lead assets like surveys, data reports, infographics and video storytelling can be started now and rolled out over time.
    • Build assets from what we call a “modular content” perspective. Tell stories in long- and short-form (blog and LinkedIn posts, tweets and tweetstorms, etc.) and across various media formats (gif, video, audio, image, etc.).
  • Use visuals to increase impact: With fewer posts telling more nuanced stories, visuals are instrumental. While tweets with visuals are shown to increase engagement by 3X, they are especially important as you are working to convey more thoughtful, human messaging.
    • Try to create assets that will work for multiple channels (here is a good resource for image size guidelines). If multiple image versions aren’t possible, square crops often work best. 

While these are challenging times, there is also ample opportunity to make a positive impact. We hope these thoughts and recommendations will be helpful as you navigate the next steps for your business.