April 28, 2020

A 5-Step Sense Check for Coronavirus-Conscious Social Content

by Ellen Mallernee Barnes in News

by Davitha Ghiassi, Executive Vice President, Social & Integration, Red Havas

Consumption of news through social media has exploded during COVID-19 as users look to stay abreast of the pandemic. At the same time, consumption of branded content has continuously increased.

Social media engagement is up by 61 percent since the outbreak struck. Among those platforms that have seen the biggest overall jumps in usage are WhatsApp (up 40 percent), Facebook (up 37 percent) and Twitter (up 23 percent). 

Along with all of this increased attention on brands’ social channels, consumers are bringing much higher expectations for meaningful, helpful content to the table. As a result, brands are having to make decisive shifts in how they activate on their social channels.

The question for brands is not whether to post, but whether what they’re posting is of value at this time—and how it will make a positive contribution to their audience’s radically changed lives. Needless to say, social content nowadays requires even more careful consideration. To sense-check content during the coronavirus crisis, we recommend using the HATCH method as a guideline for thinking before hitting “post.”

Before sharing, critically assess the purpose of your post and ask yourself, is this:


In this time when many people’s lives have been completely reimagined, they have a lot of new and previously unforeseen needs, and are looking to brands to meet some of those. That’s why you see fitness studios launching live classes, bookstores hosting virtual book clubs, and so on. One interesting example of a brand doing this right comes from an unexpected place: home décor company West Elm. The brand responded to the sudden increase in virtual meetings by providing stylish, customized Zoom backgrounds, made from images that have been posted on its site, for people who don’t want their co-workers to see the piles of dirty laundry that may be behind them in real life. And an online wedding invitation shop, JesMarried, has responded to the overwhelming number of couples changing their spring and summer wedding dates by offering on Facebook and Instagram free “Change the Date” templates for couples to download.


Both Facebook and Instagram have tried to direct users to reliable content from health organizations and have committed to eliminating misinformation during the coronavirus. But brands have a role to play, too, in sharing accurate information. That’s why you see Clorox’s Instagram populated with “bleach dos and don’ts” and instructions on how to disinfect surfaces. Delta Air Lines is another brand that has done a great job from the start of this pandemic, both keeping customers abreast of news developments on social and providing an information center where customers can go for all relevant information. Delta has really understood that what matters most right now to people who must still travel is the issue of cleanliness, and the airline has used this crisis to create permanent new standards of cleanliness for its planes, leveraging that decision across all its social channels.


You cannot be late when it comes to crisis management. This situation is changing every day, so it’s important to acknowledge what is currently going on and to respond to news in a timely fashion. Nike is an example of a brand that has done a great job on this front—immediately pivoting its content strategy while staying true to its brand ethos through a simple message that empowered people to stay active while they are staying home by making its Nike Training Club app available free of charge. Since then, Nike has continued to publish empowering and uplifting messages related to the crisis on a regular basis.


Every day at 7 p.m. we hear our neighborhoods come alive to applaud healthcare workers—and this kind of compassionate, grateful response is spreading all over the world. It’s important to acknowledge that times are very hard for some people right now, and we could all use a bit of encouragement. One brand that has done a fantastic and creative job of changing gears from promoting products to promoting goodwill is Target. The company is reaching out on all its social channels to share ideas for staying happy and sane during the crisis—and, vitally, it is using its channels to ask customers what type of content they would like to see. Other companies should consider adopting this approach, for example using poll or questions features.


I’ve always said that social media is a two-way street; it’s not a channel for brands to speak at people, but rather to engage in dialogue with them. Having a human perspective and showing that you understand your audience’s situation on a personal level is critical. Our client UNICEF has done an exemplary job of focusing on the audience that matters most to them: children. UNICEF has turned its focus on social to providing parents with resources, including a comic book designed to help them understand what is going on. UNICEF also has been repurposing relevant content to get important messages out, including a viral video showing a boy in Vietnam doing the “wash your hands dance.” And on an Instagram feed post, it simply asked its followers to “leave a kind note for someone—it can be a classmate or grandparent you miss or an essential worker you know.”

Creating meaningful content in this environment is not easy, and it requires the right kind of thinking, research and processes.

Stay sensitive to the current climate, understand what your customer needs, what your company stands for at the core and how these values can guide your angle in content. If you can find a white space to say something new, relevant and useful—while being mindful of the HATCH method and playing each platform to its strengths—your brand can build goodwill while contributing positively to people’s lives during this difficult time.

For more information on how to communicate during the COVID-19 crisis, download Red Havas’ new white paper.