Social Media and Public Affairs:
Considerations in the COVID-19 Era

Recommended practices

Social-networking and live streaming platforms are currently recording a huge uptake in users and engagement time. According to Facebook, text and messaging video messaging has increased 50% across its platforms in the countries hardest hit by the virus. In Italy,time spent on Facebook soared by 70% in March. It’snot surprising given we’re all stuck at home and looking for a human connection.

This new era creates an unprecedented opportunity for brands to share their narrative with a captive audience. But with consumers being hyper-connected to social media, brand behaviour is also under increased scrutiny. Your messages are likely your primary, if not only, interaction with your audiences, and they will dictate how your brand is perceived and how you will weather this storm.

Audience Attitudes

The pandemic has impacted consumer attitudes and sensitivities to what they see online. With this in mind, it is important for brands to rethink the content they share. By paying attention to your audience’s state of mind, you can become a trusted thought leader and advisor. By ignoring current trends, however, you can come across as insensitive or opportunistic.

Where and How to Post

Recent research has identified the types of posts are currently receiving the most engagement.

Facebook: As noted above, Facebook usage has more than doubled. That includes Facebook Live views. Contrastingly, family and personal photos have decreased, and people are now sharing news, especially news about the human impacts of COVID-19.

Twitter: Even before the pandemic, Twitter was transforming into an information platform. People are increasingly turning to the site to get information, but they’re also engaging less. They simply read the posts and move on. This is where you want to post factual information and share relevant posts or articles from others.

Instagram: Instagram stories are up 15% since the outbreak. Story impressions are also up 21%, so with more eyes on IG Stories, it is clear that this presents an opportunity for the right brands to reach audiences here.

Podcasts: While there is no concrete data available on podcasts yet, it’s expected that listenership is down. Prior to the pandemic, research showed that 52% of podcasts were played during car drives. With most of us doing little to no driving these days, it’s a given that some podcast listenership will decrease.

Focus on the Positive

Research is also showing that audiences are experiencing “compassion fatigue.”Everywhere they look, there is bad news. Even those who still have their jobs and good health have a lingering worry that their current situation may deteriorate. As this fatigue grows, audiences will simply turn away from social media accounts that add to their distress.

This is the time to be hopeful while also being sensitive to the difficulties your audiences may already be facing. While you should still post information that may be perceived as “bad news,”especially if it is essential for your audience, try to temper this news with signs of hope. Share stories of how your organization has helped your community or how your stakeholders have stepped up in this trying time. If you don’t have your own good news stories to post, share stories posted by other organizations or news sites.

You Cannot Ignore COVID-19

As a contradiction to the advice above, you also can’t ignore COVID-19. Even positive stories have to be told from the era we are living in. Make sure that any content you share has a COVID-19 lens to it. A post about how your company is donating funds to relief efforts is great, but less welcome to your employees if you have just laid them off. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes and consider what they would takeaway from your content. What if they had a family member who was sick? What if they are out of work? Would your message be considered comforting or welcome, or would it be seen as tone deaf or insensitive?

Connect With Your Audiences

Now,more than ever, it is important to focus your communications on what your audience needs to hear, rather than what you’d like to tell them. Prioritizing your stakeholders’ needs will lead to a meaningful connection between your brand and your audiences that will not only help you recover economically, but it will also serve to build a trust that will pay dividends for years to come.

Prepared by Andrea Chrysanthou
Marketing Chair to the Ontario PAAC Board

Director, Communications at Global Public Affairs