When the whole world is in a panic, do you just keep posting as usual?

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt, CEO of Truly, has over 20 years experience in market research and strategy on both client and agency side. She wrote one of the first books on how the social web is changing business, was named one of 2013's Entrepreneurial Women to Watch by Entrepreneur Magazine and one of the Most Influential Women in Technology in Fast Company. She has built an engaged and enthusiastic business audience online of over 345,000 followers, including a significant number of thought leaders. Tara combines a data-centric with a human-centric approach to building an audience, leaning heavily on insights into consumer patterns and behaviors while keeping an eye on online trends and changing expectations.

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Opening up any social media platform is a bit anxiety-producing these days. In under a week, the news about COVID-19 has gone from frequent to dominating. I’d guesstimate that about 90% of the posts in my feed are news stories or thoughts that people are sharing about the (now WHO-sanctioned) pandemic. Even the unprecedented sentencing of Harvey Weinstein, who drove so much of the conversation in the past years, was barely a blip on the news radar.

As evidenced, people are glued to this subject. They’re looking for information, validation, security, camaraderie and, above all, hope that there is an end in sight. They want to feel safe again. They want to go back to “normal” in their lives.

In this escalated news – panic – news – panic cycle, what’s a brand to do?

There are plenty of options, of course, and the biggest prediction I can make is that there will be many brands that choose the wrong course of action. What’s the wrong course of action? Here are a few:

  1. Taking advantage of the situation – this isn’t cool. A local delivery company here in Toronto sent an email out joking that ordering from them will keep you safer. They received a swift and damning backlash and sent out a follow-up email about 2 hours later apologizing. Unfortunately, many of us receiving that unsubscribed before we received the apology. Bad move.
  2. Making light of the situation – this isn’t cool, either. People aren’t really in the mood to joke right now. Best to leave this one alone, no matter how cute you think your joke is. People can joke. Brands are not people.

So, what’s a brand to do? Ignore that it’s happening? Address that it’s happening, but with care? Go on, business as usual?

There are no simple answers to this one, but what I will advise is this: the money you’re spending on your ads right now is not going to perform anyway. People are not in that headspace (unless you’re selling anti-bacterial soap, of course, but see #1 above).

I’m still seeing many “set and forget” posts running from brands and, though this isn’t obviously offensive, they do look oddly tone-deaf showing up between people panicking over their inability to get tested.

In that vein, we’ve just stopped publishing our own posts (editorial and social) and put everything on hold until the really important messages get out and get resolved. As I told my team, “Let’s put a hold on everything until people know that the officials in charge have things in hand and they start to feel safe again. I’m not sure how long this is going to take, but it’s both meaningless and a bit strange for us to continue to publish upbeat articles about brand publishing and market research while everybody is desperately looking for the articles that show them they are going to be okay.”

Certainly, there is an argument to be made for the “Keep Calm and Carry On” message, where brands keep an eye on the road ahead. It may even be a nice relief to click through an article that rounds up the best analytics tools just to take your mind off of the crisis. That being said, I’m not a big fan of thinking that the world revolves around us and what we have to say.

So, when the world goes into a panic around a crisis that affects so many of your customers, should you just carry on and post like it’s not happening? I don’t see the point. Anything worth saying won’t likely be heard. The only exception is when you have real information that will contribute positively to the resolution. Otherwise? It may be a good time to sit back and listen.

As Jorge Luis Borges once said, “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”

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