Why a content-marketing driven approach to social media is more important than ever

Since everyone’s world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have been working tirelessly to re-organise themselves to navigate the unprecedented challenges faced by their customers, colleagues and suppliers.

From a social media communications perspective the immediate reaction by many brands was, quite understandably, to pause all activity. However, while physical distancing measures continue, businesses have been evaluating what their social media marketing should look like going forward.

Going back to first principles around content marketing seems like a good approach.


Every organisation is thinking very carefully about what they communicate to the outside world at this time. Balancing the fundamental requirement of keeping employees and customers safe with operating something commercially viable is clearly extremely challenging. You don’t want to post something that’s perceived as insensitive or inappropriate nor to be seen as profiteering from such an incredibly difficult time.

But of course that doesn’t mean all marketing communications should stop. Businesses large and small are finding innovative ways to keep going, adapting how and who they serve as best they can in the situation they find themselves. And in a world where face-to-face interactions are currently rare, the role of digital communications (particularly over social media) are growing in importance. It’s hardy surprising that the social networks have seen sizeable increases in use over recent weeks.

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So, how to address the question I’m hearing a lot – what should we be posting on social media right now?

Initially this seemed like a slightly tricky one to answer, but a recent client comment helped the penny to drop…

“I don’t think what we’d planned to post is relevant any more. That’s not the priority for our customers right now… although we know what challenges they’re all facing”.

… the solution it seems is going back to basics, and in this case, the first principles of content marketing.

I describe the essence of content marketing as being about providing genuine value to your audience through entertainment, inspiration or education (insert your own variation on those themes). You want to demonstrate your expertise around stuff that genuinely matters to consumers and your ability to empathise with their challenges. By repeatedly doing this over time you’re able to build trust and crucially the holy grail of becoming part of their ‘consideration set’ for whatever it is you sell.

By definition, if we’re following a best practice approach to content marketing, we shouldn’t ever be delivering marketing communications that are seen as irrelevant or annoying for the consumer. We’ll have done the hard work to understand them and determine appropriate content themes or ‘pillars’ around which to communicate.

Here’s the first task for businesses. How well do you understand your ‘April 2020 audience’ compared to your ‘December 2019 audience’? They’re probably very similar in terms of the actual people, but different in mindset and key challenges.

Once we’ve completed this audience reframing exercise, we go back to what we’re good at and understand how we can still add value (task number two).

Perhaps in today’s world we have to step a little further away from the products and services we offer when considering this. We need to think a little more laterally about how our knowledge can still be used to positively connect with people. The communication equivalent of BrewDog creating hand sanitiser if you will.

Of course that’s no easy task. At the best of times the bar for getting your audience’s attention on social media is increasingly difficult. As I’ve written before, the bar for content is getting ever higher and mediocre content is not only ineffective, but potentially brand damaging.

But in both business-to-consumer and business-to-business worlds, people are still trying to move forward with whatever it is they do. They probably still want some version of your products and services, just perhaps not quite in the configuration they did previously. So we shouldn’t be scared to embrace that and do our best to support their new (for now) normal – we’re all in the same boat.

We often talk about businesses being inside-out in their communications (broadcasting what they want the world to hear), rather than being outside-in and absorbing what consumers are interested in (and shaping what they say accordingly). Right now, more than ever, we must focus on the latter.

To the benefit of many things (far beyond how businesses communicate), hopefully one silver lining of the current situation is that we’ll see a collective increase in the capacity for empathy.

How has your approach to content changed in recent weeks?

Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/sW_BS0OVgv0

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