Social Media in the Time of COVID-19:

Social Distancing Doesn’t Apply to Your Social Media Efforts

By: Tracey L. Kelley

It’s no surprise that time spent online during the height of the pandemic increased exponentially. Data from Nielsen specifically tracking social media usage indicates that on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, there was a 25% spike in mobile engagement, and a soaring 75% of ad content placed by influencers. While usage is expected to flatten a bit by the end of the year, there’s still a slight uptick of average minutes per day people peruse social networks: 82 minutes now, compared to a 2019 forecast of 76 minutes.

  How does this data impact social connection with your audience? Now more than ever, refine your brand and your community presence to cultivate content people are willing to notice.

Share the Story of Your Community

  Craft beverage producers repeatedly demonstrated these past few months how quickly they could pivot to accommodate not only the needs of their business but also those of their employees and the community as a whole. Many of these efforts were the feel-good stories major news agencies were eager to feature in bleak times.

  Ruby Benoit is Head of Craftiness and Founder of Craft Good Business, a company in Southern California specializing in helping craft beverage companies create and implement marketing plans and events. She told Beverage Master Magazine that storytelling holds considerable clout in social media messaging.

  “Since consumers are turning to social media to evaluate brands even more so now, storytelling creates a connection and helps keep you top of mind,” she said. “Your audience wants to see what your brand is all about: What do you stand for? What is your purpose? And it’s critical to show your community efforts: decide on how you have a unique, positive impact on society. Whatever your stance is, communicate with your customers and all stakeholders in an authentic way.”

  Brands should stick to providing great experiences, as well as dedicate energy to remaining consistent and genuine in their messaging to win customer support, according to the media team of Happy Medium, a full-service digital creative agency in Des Moines, Iowa.

  “Overall, audiences tend to react well to community involvement because it’s inspirational and aspirational. If your team is volunteering, share a photo of employees at the volunteer event. If you made a charitable donation, ask the recipient to share digital assets that align with the cause you’re helping them support,” the Happy Medium team said. “This demonstrates how your brand builds and supports communities in a way that’s relatable and impactful. Write a brief caption about why the cause you’re supporting is relevant to the brand. Always tag the organization!”

  Chad Richards is vice president of Firebelly, a “social media marketing agency on a mission since 2007” based in Indianapolis. Firebelly has worked with 450 North Brewing Company, Gnarly Grove Hard Cider and Upland Brewing Company, as well as wineries and restaurants. Richards also recommended taking a less self-serving approach. “Whatever you do, make sure the hero is the charity or community you’re supporting. Nothing elicits eye rolls faster than ‘Look at us—we’re so charitable!’”

  The continuing flux of the pandemic’s ongoing impact creates many levels of marketing uncertainty. Managing social media right now might feel more like a scattershot than a targeted approach. Richards said storytelling will pull you through.

  “Humans like stories, and we’re storytellers by nature. It’s how we connect to one another, and right now, people are seeking connection more than ever,” Richards said. “Don’t worry about trying to be creative or clever—just be honest.”

Marry Content to Audience

  Some producers believe they must extend concerted effort across all platforms to reach all people, all the time. Realistically, it’s more effective to shorten the funnel to one or two channels that hit the sweet spot of your consumer base. Benoit offered a collective summary aggregated in early 2020 by Hootsuite, the social media management platform, which you can find here: https://blog.hootsuite.com/social-media-demographics/.

  You may have favorite channels based on your preferences, but where is your audience? As a brief but interesting example, here are just a few statistics from the Hootsuite summary—focusing on the U.S. for simplicity—such as:

•    75% of adults who identify as Hispanic use Facebook more than Black and White adults. Most users of this platform “live in urban areas, followed by suburban and rural.”

•    83% of women age 25–54 use Pinterest—more than Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. Also, “one out of every two millennials use Pinterest,” and 59% discover products there.

•    28% of Black Americans use LinkedIn, compared to 26% of White Americans. This platform is “most popular among 25- to 49-year-olds.”

•    43% of Black Americans use Instagram, “followed by 38% Hispanic and 32% White Americans.” Users also mostly live in urban communities, then suburban and rural areas.

•    44% of young adults age 18 to 24 use Twitter, compared to 26% of people age 30 to 49.

•    78% of Hispanic internet users watch YouTube, followed by 76% and 71% of Black and White users, respectively. This channel “reaches more 18- to 34-year-olds and 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable network in the U.S.”

  The key for the next few months is to strategize with social media professionals to develop messages that not only communicate with individuals of your loyal base but also others who might not know who you are and what you provide.

  Happy Medium advised using interactive content whenever possible to build confidence and trust. “Customers are more likely to engage with content that entertains, educates and tells an authentic story. Engaging customers with your content makes your brand more memorable and creates a deeper connection,” the media team said. “Try incorporating polls [or] question and answer stickers. Feature the people who make your brand what it is in Instagram stories or by hosting a live stream—both of these are growing social trends that bolster higher engagement and should be a staple to any social media strategy.”

  Don’t feel you have to do all the heavy lifting of brand awareness and connection alone. Once again, Richards said, think about potential alliances. “Get your product into the hands of influencers—allowing people to learn about your product via someone they already trust or admire. And think outside the box. These don’t have to be craft beverage or foodie influencers. A travel, fashion or beauty influencer could easily weave your brand and product into their story.”

  If the budget allows, boost your social media ad views. “I realize they may be a luxury in times like these, but ads really are the fastest way to get the right message to the right people in the right places,” he said. “Many brands have cut their ad spends, so the marketplace is less competitive right now. You’ll get more for your money if you’re able to participate.”

  Here are some other content considerations:

•   Promote your best practices for safety and cleanliness to reassure and comfort people who want to visit the taproom but express concern about contagions.

•   Develop clear, concise messaging both on your site and through social media regarding all procedures, special events, advance registration practices, bottle shop services, state-sanctioned curbside sales and other issues. These continual and timely updates speak when you can’t, so it’s worth the time investment to update them daily.

•   Take a tip from wineries by boosting virtual hospitality efforts. Live streaming, which experienced quite a boost during the height of the pandemic, continues to grow in popularity across all platforms.

  Additionally, ask your followers what they might be interested in, and listen carefully. Their suggestions might differ from what you’ve tried before, but now is the time to take advantage of fresh ideas.

Social Media Ideas for the 12–18 Months

  “Flexible consistency” is the action plan for your social media efforts now—and the foreseeable future. Maybe your marketing manager is temporarily furloughed. Or your state allowed gradual reopening, but a summer resurgence in COVID cases forced closure or hour limitations again, and you’re not sure how to engage with purpose. It’s still an essential business practice to like and respond to all posts your establishment is tagged in—that’s the basic approach.

  The media team at Happy Medium suggested three other areas of focus:

•   Post consistently. While so much consumer activity has slowed during this period, it’s especially important for brands to stay top-of-mind with their consumers. Even if operations are currently paused, still send at least a couple of posts per week.

•   Stay positive. Audiences overloaded with COVID-19 messaging over the past few months are starting to become jaded to overused marketing verbiage. Send positive messages while still being respectful to the current situation.

•   Don’t post content exclusively directed at sales: share photos and stories about your team, industry news or fun facts about your operations.

  A 2017 study from the American Express Customer Service Barometer reported that Americans are “more likely to post about good experiences (53%) than poor experiences (35%).” So reaffirming authentic engagement is what Benoit advised.

•    If you haven’t already, create a give-back campaign that helps people in the community such as frontline workers, teachers and others in need. For example, a distillery might do a canned food drive and invite customers to participate.

•    Engage with customers through a social media sweepstakes: they post a creative picture or video of themselves enjoying your beer, spirit, cider or mead. Then, the individual’s photo or video with the most likes wins a day with the craft producer when social distancing is over.

•    Host a virtual ‘Meet the Brewer’ event where the master brewer leads participants through a curated beer and food pairing and interacts with participants. This creates connection and promotes valuable partnerships with local restaurants also in need of exposure.

  Finally, be realistic, Richards told Beverage Master Magazine. He provided these points:

•    Be flexible. These are unique times, and we’re not sure what will happen next. That’s okay. Nobody does. Be prepared to update your plan and approach as needed.

•    Think short term. Take it month-by-month or maybe even week-by-week. Any really long-term campaign planning will likely be disrupted.

•    Show vulnerability. If you’re struggling, say so. It makes you relatable, and people will want to support you and come to your rescue.

  “Know that it’s okay to ‘not know.’” Uncertainty is uncomfortable—especially when it comes to business and finances—but we’re all in the same boat right now. A ‘best guess’ is sometimes the best you can do.”

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