Communicating in a time of COVID19

As I said in my previous blog, people are online in unheard of numbers. Sometimes it seems like the whole world is online!

But there are also more businesses and would-be influencers online than ever before. So how can you reach your audiences and actually be heard?

Here are 5 tips on reaching audiences in the COVID19 era!

You need to go where they are

Naturally, you need to first find your audiences. When it comes to online audiences, the options are nearly endless. However, social media is a good starting point.

Facebook remains the world’s most popular social media platform, although others are not far behind (and growing!).

Selected social media networks, relative popularity by millions of users. 2020.

Source: Statistica

However, there are massive variations across countries and age groups that will determine which social media is the most useful for your situation. For example, there is no point using Facebook if you are aiming for an older audience, given just 5% of users are over 55 years old.

Timing and placement matters

There are also some interesting outcomes from global lockdowns – in the US for example, 4.5% of people think they will use LinkedIn less than previously, compared to 3.8% of people who think they will increase their use of Twitter. Although it is hard to see this data in action, it does point to an important point for communicators – you need to think about where your audiences traditionally can be found, as well as where they might now be congregating as the world changes.

There are also changes to the times people are online. In a normal world, people tend to be online for social purposes more in the evenings and weekends. However, with people home during the day much more, the timing for reaching them is also changing. People are online during the day, often bored and looking at their online feeds. Whereas in the evenings, at least in some countries, bandwidth limitations as more people go online might mean people are less able to see high quality videos or willing to stay for longer load times.          

This means really thinking about the timing of releasing your content (or paid promotions) to make sure you actually reach the people you are aiming at.

So first, work out where your audiences are actually hanging out in these changed times. But that is not all that has changed about audience behaviour…

Don’t forget websites!

Until this year, apps seemed to be the way of the future. If you didn’t have an app, you didn’t have an audience.

But that is not the case at the moment – whether for the long term or just right now.

Websites are back in fashion!

Although use of services like Facebook, Netflix and Youtube has increased exponentially over the last few months, this growth has been for websites rather than apps.

This is consistent with other research that found web browsing has grown by a massive 70%!

As people have more time at home with their computers, the appeal of a tiny screen (and the RSI of tapping away on it) may be less appealing!

So this has two major impacts for communications.

The first is that it means you need to go back and make sure your website looks great on a computer display. Many old school websites worked on desktops and not on mobile, but it is often the opposite way around now. So make sure you fix that! Having a beautiful app may not matter if people are browsing websites and are deterred by clunky or outdated design.

The second is that you can explore different ways of sharing your message, that might not have worked so well on the smaller screen of a phone. You can also get a bit more creative in your content… which leads to the next point!

Need to adapt

With everything changing, how we reach audiences needs to change as well. Some of the basics of good communication will remain the same regardless, such as maintaining emotional connection and being clear on why your point matters to a reader.

However, how you share that point might have to change dramatically.

For example, tourism providers have been hit particularly hard, but the most creative have leapt onto online options with gusto. This is especially in Australia which was already suffering from a downfall in tourism thanks to the January bushfires. The Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Digital Concert Hall have put performances online. There are live cameras on the Great Barrier Reef so you can at least feel like you are leaving the house.

Musicians and celebrities are livestreaming concerts, gigs and festivals all over the world. The options are nearly endless.

Around 44% of people globally are spending more time on social media, which might be expected. But there are also some interesting opportunities off social media – around a third of people are spending more time playing video games or on their computer, reading books or listening to podcasts.

And all of these offer opportunities to promote your message.

Get creative!

You can engage try to engage audiences in a new way. Give new videos or audio content a try, produce a podcast to draw people in. Perhaps take this chance to develop that gaming app you’ve always wanted to create?

When working out what content to put out, you need to ask if the proposed content provides information for your audience that is useful at this time, such as what you are doing to assist the situation for them or others, or what they can do (e.g. washing hands, social distancing). It doesn’t all need to be COVID, in fact sometimes a distraction is welcome! But it needs to be handled carefully.  

People are also naturally growing more interested in their local area. So where you can, make sure you localise and personalise content. Target yourself at smaller and more local audiences so that content feels more adapted for their situation, rather than aiming at bigger groups who may be at a varying stages and conditions. 

But whatever you do…

Acknowledge the situation

The world has changed. Proceeding with normal content, especially marketing, that does not acknowledge this can feel tone deaf at best to audiences and offensive potentially at worst.

Speaking of my own Facebook feed, even as late as early April some posts and sponsored promotions remained the same kind of content as I had previously seen, suggesting they had been scheduled long before the crisis escalated. In all cases, it made me unfollow the account – if they didn’t care enough to change their messaging to meet the new situation and respect what we are all going through, then I don’t want to do business with them.

I’m not alone in this attitude.

However, that doesn’t mean going too far. Not every single piece of content you put out has to talk about the situation or be dominated by it. Many readers want to see something different, be reminded that there is some level of normalcy that we will go back to!

A survey of consumers by Kantar found that it is important for content to talk about the new normal and keep readers informed on the situation, but brands should not exploit the situation for their own promotion.

So you need to walk the line carefully. Look at your content and be confident that you are sufficiently acknowledging what the world is going through, and share your message through that situation in a positive and reassuring way.

Keep an eye on it

Scheduling content is a brilliant way to make the most of limited time to get your message out.

However, even at the best of times, you should always be watching what is going on and make sure that your message is not jarring or inappropriate.

And this applies now too.

The situation is changing rapidly and some audiences may be at a very different point to others. For example, as I write this post, Australian states are talking about easing restrictions, while the US has had its deadliest day yet. Neither of these situations was predictable even a month ago! So scheduling content for these different groups would need to be watched very closely.

A great example is that of Ford, which as the crisis escalated in March, reacted by replacing planned advertisements with content about payment relief and solidarity.

Keeping an eye on content gives you a good insight into what is actually working, and what isn’t, and what might be actually damaging your brand.

Adapting can be hard, especially if you had your heart set on a particular message or vision or if you rely on scheduling just to keep content rolling out. But the risks of not doing so are high, so it is worth it!

So what does it all mean?

Right now, there are more people online than ever before. But there are also more providers trying to be heard. Although you can still break through the crowd, you need to take a few steps to adjust if you want to see dividends.

COVID19 good news story

In keeping with the theme of this post, about adapting and being creative, the celebrity-studded online “One World” concert raised an impressive $128 million for the World Health Organization!

Want to make sure your communications are right for the right-now? Get in touch!

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