COVID-19: Social Media Etiquette for Small Businesses

/ marketing
Iniobong Eyo

You’ve seen the news. You feel the panic. And you’re wondering what the future holds for you, your family, and your business.

If your business is still running, you’re likely in an industry considered “essential services” by the government, or your region isn’t affected yet so there are no restrictions imposed on businesses like yours. If your business is currently dormant, you're likely riding out this wave in anticipation of when you can operate again.

What can you do about your social media operations during this pandemic? Whether you're running business-as-usual or have paused operations temporarily, there is plenty you can do to ensure that your audience remains as engaged with your brand as ever.

1. Research your audience

You’ve probably seen this advice or some variation of it especially relating to digital marketing campaigns. At this time, you’ll need to research your audience even more. Because saying the right things to the right people at the right time can make a world of difference.

Even though your business and its location may not be affected seriously by this pandemic yet, knowing how COVID-19- affects your customers can help you show more empathy in your posts on social media. If you have already done your audience research courtesy of content marketing, you can take more steps at this time to know more by:

  • Sending a newsletter asking how your customers are doing and how you can help
  • Checking the social feeds of customers you’re following to see what they’re posting about COVID-19
  • Checking your competitors social accounts to see how they’re responding to this health crisis and how it’s affecting their customers

Just like you’d “listen” to your audience before you create content on your website for them, listen before you create social content. You’ll learn more about your audience in the long term, and your brand’s emotional intelligence will not be called into question.

Some brands are giving away their products and services without charge for some time to some members of the public. Others who have hospitals and health institutions as part of their customers are giving free products and services solely to them. And still, others are donating test kits, sanitizers, and face masks to members of their community.

For Ahrefs, this means giving away their $799 course for free.

Paperform is now offering free direct integrations to all customers till further notice. This previously cost $10 per 1000 actions.

When you listen, you’ll know the best way to serve your audience and community at large, if you’re in a position to do so. Once you decide what you’ll be able to do for your audience, let them know by posting on social media.

2. Don’t spread misinformation

If you’ve been following updates about COVID-19 from the onset, you’ll agree you’ve seen loads of misinformation passed on as facts. There are many misconceptions about COVID-19, ranging from how it started and how it is transmitted to how it is treated and its mortality rate.

WHO has created several graphics to address most of these myths. Here’s one:

Research in the United States shows that nearly half of the public has been exposed to fake news and false information about the virus.

If you’re sharing any information on COVID-19 on social media, cross-check your facts. This applies too even if you’re curating and sharing content from other sources. It’s important because most of your customers, like elsewhere in the world are relying solely on social media for information about this virus.

Here are other steps you can take to curb the spread of misinformation about COVID-19:

Don’t spread information about cures at least for now

According to WHO, there’s no vaccine or any recommended medicine for treating or curing coronavirus. For example, some folks in Nigeria are experiencing chloroquine poisoning after using it as a possible treatment for coronavirus because of info they found online.

Be wary of posts that goad fear

While some of such posts may be true, others will not be. On the other hand, some posts are too good to be true. For example, several sources have confirmed that it will take some months and possibly till the end of the year for a vaccine to be created.

While a cure may be found sooner than expected, research carefully before sharing posts with proposed cures.

Keep your sentiments aside

Brands and people with emotional ties to some places or governments may be more likely to get carried away by a wave of coronavirus misinformation. Beware of information that pits one country, group, political party, or place against the other in any way because of COVID-19.

Be content with not having answers to COVID-19 related questions

Even if you run a small business in the health niche, realize that medical experts and scientists do not have the answers to all our questions. It may take some time before many questions are answered, if they’ll ever be.

Sadly, some brands are peddling untruths and conspiracy theories in the absence of such answers. Don’t be that brand on social media.

3. Respond to inquiries and complaints quickly

Fortunately, social media management is one role that can thrive remotely even if a government decree has forced you to shut your business operations in a physical location.

According to a report by Conversocial, only six percent of your customers and prospects don’t ever expect to get a reply to a complaint they make on social media. The others? Here’s what it looks like on a pie chart.

In summary, 94 percent of your customers and prospects expect a reply to a complaint they make on social media within a day—or at least at varying times in 24 hours. Ideally, all things being equal, you should still aim for the reply speed you attained pre-coronavirus. And in some industries, this applies more so than others.

For instance, laws in some places have forced restaurant owners to offer food delivery services only. Other places are allowed to offer takeaway options in addition to delivery services.

Imagine that you run a restaurant and a customer orders lunch around 9 am. But you only reply to them or “notice” their message five hours later, probably when it’s well past their lunchtime, and they’ve sought an alternative.

Granted, you may have legitimate reasons for your delayed replies. Maybe you’re in an industry that’s thriving because of the pandemic, and you’re swamped with inquiries and complaints—much more than your social media manager or customer support can handle. Maybe an employee is sick and you’re short-staffed.

In such cases,  like in the example of the restaurant above, an apology is appropriate and some form of restitution. Restitution could be offering them free lunch the next day or even for a week - only if you can afford it.

And to curb such problems in the foreseeable future, you can hire more staff to handle inquiries or assign the role to more employees whose office roles may now be obsolete.

If you were known to reply promptly to inquiries on social media, endeavour to continue doing so.

This virus has caused so much uncertainty that extremely delayed replies or none at all may force customers to think you have closed shop like some businesses. And if that’s the case, the honorable thing to do would be to inform customers and let them know how you want to continue serving them during this period.

4. Post responsibly

There’s such a thing as “posting too much” on social media. Before this pandemic, these were the recommended posting frequency on different social platforms:

So, amidst this outbreak, how many times should your brand post on social media? There are no ballpark figures, as this will still depend largely on what your frequency was before coronavirus became a global problem. And it also depends on your industry.

Here’s what I mean.

Popular sports brand Goal.com posted over 10 - 20 times a day on Facebook when football activities were not banned in all major leagues across the world.

Right now, they’re still maintaining the same posting frequency on their Facebook page. And these posts are relevant and informative to their fans. An example is this post with a question.

You can easily see it has hundreds of comments.

In the end, frequency isn’t the issue here. The issue is relevance. And if you go to their Facebook page to check their engagement rate before the football ban, it’s about the same rate after the ban.

Focus on cues you get from your audience. Watch what types of posts they’re responding to on your social media profile. Create more of that.

You may need to ditch or at least pause social content you planned before COVID-19 struck. If you have any doubts about scheduled content, don’t post it until after this is over.

Some brands are posting less because they want their audience to see more information about the outbreak from the WHO and CDC on their social feeds. It’s a conscientious choice and one that doesn’t necessarily need to be your brand’s stand at this time.

Show a human side on social media

Some small businesses had already scheduled social posts for different social platforms. If you have, review them again and only select the most appropriate ones for your customers and prospects. It won’t always be easy, even when you research your audience.

Because you likely need several iterations before you get it right eventually. Don’t be biased and set in any one direction. When it comes to social media, especially at this time when COVID-19 ravages the world, the kind thing will often be the right thing.

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