What do marketers know for sure right now? Well, more people than ever before are online—watching, listening, connecting, learning, interacting, and shopping online with delivery services. Coronavirus is further accelerating the push into social media. Many things will change, but we expect those current behaviors will remain.
The question right now is how those behaviors influence where to dabble and where to dive right into marketing on social media platforms in the coronavirus era.
We’ve identified five criteria to help you determine where to focus your resources. Through all of these, look for some key opportunities: connecting, showcasing brand values, and finding cheaper and more flexible channels where activities like programmatic advertising are supported.
People Present and Engaged
If you’ve been waiting for the right time to start a social media campaign, this is it. On April 8, 2020 Chris Adams reported on the Drum “an unprecedented rise in screen time, a 25% increase in engagement on Instagram and TikTok in the past month and a staggering 72% increase on #ad content by influencers.”
According to Justyna Liana at Voluum DSP there are five areas showing the biggest increases: health and safety, eCommerce, making money online, gaming and streaming, and online dating and communication. If you’re already in these industries, chances are you’re seeing big numbers in your tracking.
Numbers of users on a platform is important, but so is engagement. And engagement on social media during these coronavirus times depends on an audience-focused, authentic, and interactive approach.
A good example is Nike’s Play For the World ad. In their 60 second video they combine footage of superstar athletes and everyday people working out at home. It’s showing everywhere from TikTok to YouTube, and it’s working because it gives viewers a real connection—we’re all in this together, working out, being healthy, staying at home.
Where your audience is spending their time online may be changing. Private messaging is way up (think Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger) and the previously little known Houseparty App has seen a huge surge in users. Houseparty allows up to eight people to connect—virtually—face to face. When you’re logged in, others can connect and say hi, and join your ‘party’ if you’ve left your ‘door unlocked’. The app allows party goers to play games together and gives a desperately needed way to connect privately and in real time. AppAnnie ranks it as one of the most popular free downloads in the iOS App Store. Ad opportunities on this platform are not clear yet, but Houseparty will be on the lookout for ways to bring value to their users—perhaps by allowing companies to sponsor games played at these virtual parties.
Half-Life of a Social Media Platform
All social platforms go through a similar life cycle: small and highly niche -> rapid growth combined with intense skepticism (and maybe a little cringe) -> mass adoption and platform adaptation -> maturity -> slow decline.
Within this cycle, the length of time your content can effectively live on is a key consideration. A single tweet or snap has an extremely short half-life of influence. On the other hand, YouTube videos provide significant value, often for years. This doesn’t mean you should avoid platforms where content ‘expires’ quickly, but rather that you look for opportunities to increase the longevity of your content and advertising when this serves your marketing strategy.
Platforms like TikTok are extending the life of every post through their easy cross-platform sharing. If your TikTok post is put on YouTube or pinned on Pinterest, it’s going to live longer in front of more viewers. Look for places where your campaign can go further, and use that platform as a place to connect with customers, provide useful, informative, or genuinely fun content, and help out.
Although ad spend in April 2020 is far different from what analysts predicted, it’s still expected that Facebook and Alphabet (Google) are long-term winners. And big companies like P&G are spending more on social media advertising during coronavirus. Chief financial officer Jon Moeller calls it out as a time to remain at the front of consumers’ minds.
PHD APAC’s Chris Stephenson (regional head of strategy and planning) recommends brands “consider temporary opportunities, as well as those that arise through [the coronavirus and changing economy]” and consider changing behaviors. Now’s the time to begin, or develop your presence on social media.
Value and ROI
You get the most value when platforms are in the mass adoption and adaptation phase because advertisers are few and advertising costs are significantly underpriced. TikTok is currently in this stage, as we discuss here. As more advertisers come on board, the value equation tips the other way and competitive bidding and advertising offering maturity pushes ad prices to higher, less impactful levels.
Platforms get overpriced and many smaller advertisers leave for the next ‘new’ thing. Know when to get in and when to deprioritize or adapt your approach within the channel or platform based on the value equation.
We already mentioned Houseparty, and the as-yet untapped (and unknown) opportunities it may offer advertisers. And while everyone’s at home in coronavirus-induced lockdown mode, new opportunities continue to present themselves. (It’s essential to highlight the importance of connecting with users, being authentic, and focusing on contributions, not conversions.)
Home dance parties, virtual festivals, and live-streaming performances are all proving popular right now, and providing an opportunity for sponsorship, or just using your own brand’s reach to amplify the talents others are sharing. Defected Records initially planned a single virtual festival on YouTube and Facebook Live. 2.5 million people showed up to watch and gave them a “level of involvement with fans” that they had never anticipated. Now you can tune in to their festivals every Friday night. They weren’t looking to sell their fans anything, and now they’ve discovered an entirely new and highly effective way to connect using well-known platforms.
Companies have used messaging and chatbots to connect with customers for a while now, but extended waits for ‘real’ people are driving more users to these options—and leading to a broader acceptance of this form of communication for customer service, shopping, and virtual appointments.
Shopstreaming is another emerging trend that is showing promise. It’s a combination of livestreaming and e-commerce where viewers can engage in live content and make purchases directly from the platform. If you sell products, shopstreaming may be your next big marketing breakthrough.
It’s easy to assume that just because a platform starts out very niche, it will stay that way. It rarely does. Facebook started as a site for college students—highly niche—and now users 65 years old and up are their fastest growing demographic.
The quicker the audience turnover is happening (e.g. from niche to broader reach), the stronger of a signal that the platform will be relevant and important to your marketing strategy. It indicates the platform is filling an unmet need in the way people (rather than specific groups) share and consume content.
Note: One area to watch that has changed due to the coronavirus impact is radio listening. BBC reported in late March 2020 that online radio listening was up 18%—a trend that is echoing in America and Australia. Radio represents companionship and a comforting outside connection at a time when people are feeling isolated.
The platform adoption that represents audience turnover is happening much faster than predicted, thanks to new consumer behavior as people are forced to spend almost all their time at home. Whether your company begins or increases presence on a platform, brands are encouraged to “align their communications so that it’s in the public interest vs pushing messages for sales generation… optimize media splits and take into account the context of placement as well as absolute reach potentials” per Stephenson of PHD APAC.
First Mover Advantage
When you see all the right signals—people present and engaged, in rapid growth and skepticism phase, value, and audience turnover—it’s worth it to jump in early and grab the advantage. This establishes you with a strong presence and key opportunities going into the mass adoption phase. You will already own the audience within that platform and will offer new users plenty to engage with so you quickly win loyal fans.
In March, Fashion brand Pomelo used their app to shopstream with the actress Davika Hoorne (well-known in Asia). Pomelo’s CMO Jean Thomas notes that shopstreaming provides a reason for shoppers to come to their app more frequently and interact directly during the livestream with the actress. He notes “we haven’t found too many players in this region within the fashion space actually doing it. Having the first-mover advantage… was a different point of consideration.”
Here are a few of the trends being pushed forward by the coronavirus pandemic and consumer behavior:
- Zoom (and Zoom alternatives)
- Virtual Reality (Athletic brand Asics had to completely redesign the launch of three premium shoes originally planned to tie in to the summer Olympics. Using virtual reality, they created an experience, sent Oculus Quest headsets to journalists around the world, and went ahead with a ground-breaking, successful virtual launch.)
- Messaging (chat)
- Mentor to protégé (M2P)
Coronavirus is quickly transforming the way we do business and the way we advertise. Companies that have long resisted shifting to a digital marketplace—or were working on an extended roll-out plan—are suddenly motivated to get on board or risk losing their business entirely. And consumers are literally sitting at home, looking for connection, ways to spend their time, and products and services that will come directly to them. All of this is playing out on social media platforms.
Things will change. Most businesses will slowly reopen. Some workplaces will begin to fill, and people will go out again. This next phase requires planning. Janet Balis of the Harvard Business Review suggests three focuses for marketers as the Covid-19 crisis shifts: know the impact of the coronavirus on your business and adapt to the unexpected, use digital tools to work and connect with customers, and “mitigate risks to the customer experience by thinking realistically from the outside-in”. You can learn more about evaluating your website customer experience here.
The pandemic has changed consumers, and companies who connect with this changing of habits and values through the right social media platforms will take present challenges and turn them into opportunities. Just make sure to find authentic, non-generic ways to represent your brand.
Don’t be these people: