Was 2020 just tactical firefighting on social media? (and why a social media framework is the fix)

In the face of widespread change and disruption, most businesses had to adapt how they worked in 2020. For social media teams this often meant focusing time on tactical communications instead of delivering against strategic plans. In 2021 strong social media frameworks will be the key for helping teams navigate the new normal without feeling like everything is reactive firefighting.


Last year saw businesses in almost every sector forced to review their operating models in response to the sudden changes in consumer needs and unimaginable restrictions imposed by governments in the wake of coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly this often led to strategic communications taking a back seat and, particularly in social media, a doubling down on:

  • Delivering updates on how the business was reacting to the evolving situation
  • Flagging potential disruptions as quickly as possible to help maintain business continuity
  • Working through customer service enquiries across all manner of ‘new’ topics

Of course COVID-19 wasn’t the only thing that made a significant impact on the world last year. Important social movements such as Black Lives Matters, the political ramifications of Brexit and US elections, the increased impact of climate change and the dominance of technology giants seemed to constantly be in the headlines.

Brands increasingly found themselves required to ‘take a position’ instead of waiting until things ‘quietened down a bit’. This was probably most prominent on social media, which we know can be a lightening rod for negative sentiment if brands misjudge the tone or approach to their messaging.

The world isn’t slowing down

As we begin 2021 we can probably all agree the frequency with which ‘unprecedented’ things are happening will continue to be, well, unprecedented. The new normal feels like more an ongoing ‘lack of normal’.

In this context a clear, strategic framework for the governance and management of social media feels more important than it was before. Here are half a dozen reasons why:

1. More events we couldn’t imagine will transpire

Historically the occasional event would see brands, en masse, take to social media to acknowledge it or clarify their position (be that a crisis or a common celebration like a royal baby 👶). This has become a far more frequent occurrence, demanding organisations to have the right processes to engage the right internal stakeholders, in a timely manner.

A good example was the act of posting a black square on social media as part of BlackoutTuesday in solidarity around the death of George Floyd. How many organisations were caught on the hop about how to react? If they didn’t post something immediately had they ‘missed the boat’? Was it the right thing to do? What were competitors doing?

2. Operations will continue to be disrupted, pressurising customer services

It’s probably fair to say businesses will continue to face disruption in 2021. And disruption inevitably leads to increased customer service queries in social media. But these aren’t ‘expected spikes’ which can be planned for, instead businesses need the right mix of technology and process to support their people in managing these sudden pressure points.

This isn’t purely a question of capacity, but also continuity and consistency. With things ‘on the ground’ changing so rapidly, businesses need communication flows in place to ensure customer services have visibility of what customers are experiencing across other channels (offline and online).

3. With increased ‘online noise’, reinforcing brand values is key

Regardless of what else is happening in the world, every brand must continue to communicate their values and points of differentiation.

At a time when there is so much information being communicated (especially on social media), customers and prospects have even less ‘cognitive headspace’ to take on board new news. That would suggest a framework that keeps content laser-focused on a small number of points makes sense. Then, when you do get that headspace with your audience, you’re reinforcing a common message.

4. When you have the opportunity you need to strike while the iron’s hot

Amongst the challenges and issues we’ve all been facing, there are of course opportunities for brands to unleash their creative flair, deliver a little light relief and be memorable.

Identifying an opportunity and coming up with a nice idea is one thing… being able to execute it is something else. When the world is changing so quickly, taking three days to bring an idea to life can be too tardy. The next ‘thing’ has happening and the moment is old news.

The right resources and right framework are critical for enabling those great ideas to come to life in a timely manner.

5. Consumers are facing new experiences and talking about them online

Unexpected events experienced by many people – well that sums up 2020! And it’s also a perfect recipe for inspiring people to take to social media to voice their reaction or opinion.

As major events increase in frequency, the likelihood of brands being involved in online mentions (or their competitors or their sector) will only increase.

Brands can find the outputs of ‘social listening’ activity a little underwhelming or repetitive, with the ‘same old topics’ being identified. However, in these times, customers and prospects are facing brand new challenges on a regular basis, and likely to be talking about experiences they’ve not faced before.

It’s these comments, where consumers lay out what bugs them (or what they love) about a product/ service/ brand, which can be the gold dust to drive new insight. It’s probably worth dusting off the social listening approach and giving it a refresh.

6. Helping everyone understand the role for social media avoids ambiguity

When there’s so much going on, having a clear view on the role of social media and how it is organised is key. Important at the quietest of times, these principles are essential for helping social media teams organise and manage their activity as effectively as possible. Consider:

  • If the business needs to publish ‘latest updates’, where will that happen… does Twitter flip to being the platform/ destination that all ‘breaking news’ is delivered through?
  • Where do we focus our customer care on social media?
  • Do we dedicate certain social media accounts to delivering light relief and keep them clear of anything ‘issue related’?

Individually these points aren’t revolutionary. However, when combined, they can ensure social media teams have a structure around which to work consistently, in a brand-safe manner and without everything feeling like reactive firefighting, which can so often be the case in times of crisis. And we know that’s often draining and demotivating, limiting us from doing our best work.

What changes did you make to your social media approach in 2020 as a result of the changing world? What do you have planned for the year ahead?

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Image credit: unsplash.com/@glencarrie

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