Brand communications in time of crisis

Since the emergence and subsequent outbreak of COVID-19, there have been millions of Tweets and Retweets about the virus around the globe. 

We are seeing a COVID-19 related Tweet every 45 milliseconds and ‎#Coronavirus is now the second most used hashtag of 2020. These volumes reflect the huge appetite for seeing and sharing news and information related to this virus as it unfolds.

There’s no doubt about it, what we are facing is unprecedented. This is global, this is open-ended, and this could affect every brand, every business, and every individual. In times of crisis, people look to leaders and institutions for guidance, reassurance and information. Increasingly, they also look to businesses. 

Let’s be clear. This is not a ‘marketing opportunity’ to capitalise on, and we do not recommend brands opportunistically linking themselves to a health scare. However, we want to recognise that this is a new reality and requires thoughtful navigation, from all of us. 

We also know that Twitter is a platform that plays a significant role in crisis communications, and can be a powerful tool for you to communicate with your customers, employees, and the broader ecosystem at times like this. So while this is not a typical crisis, we’d like to share the advice we give in difficult circumstances. 

What’s appropriate for my brand right now? 

Know your brand. 

This is not about looking at what others are doing and copying. It’s about understanding the unique role your brand plays in people’s lives, how that has changed, and how your brand can help or be useful during this crisis. It’s also about looking for opportunities to lead by example, and do the right thing, where it makes sense for your business. 

Keep up to date with what’s happening 

Things are changing fast, what might have felt like a good message yesterday might not be the right thing today. Keep a close eye on the news and conversation, and be sure to consider the context before replying or broadcasting. And note, sometimes it’s better not to say anything at all.

When using Twitter, you’ll notice we have a prompt in place which directs people searching for Coronavirus content to accurate information from the relevant local bodies (e.g. CDC ). This is running in 64 countries and in 20 languages. We are also pushing the most important content to the top of our search results and in your home timelines. 

Be thoughtful about tone of voice 

Just like people, brands should evolve their tone depending on the context. Right now might not be the best time to be snarky or sarcastic, while empathy, understanding and even certain types of humour may go a long way.

One of the most shared COVID-19 related Tweets, speaks well to the importance of tone, as Kumail Nanjiani reminds people to think of others who may be more vulnerable to this virus. How do you get this right? The best way is by listening to what people, and your customers, are saying -- and reflecting that in your copy and tone appropriately.

Anticipate changes in your customer’s behaviour

As people are potentially asked to self-isolate, or stay home, there will be a number of behaviour changes that might impact their needs as well as how they interact with your business.

We’ve already seen the release of James Bond pushed back from April to November, in an effort to avoid a major global release when people are social distancing. We’ve also seen airlines offer flexible tickets, at no added cost, to reflect the realities of travel right now.

There are other consumer behaviour changes we can anticipate from China:

  • Increased shift to e-commerce. For retail brands, get ahead of this by ensuring you’re prepared to support the changing customer needs and connection points.
  • Significant boom in live-streaming. As events were cancelled and retail stores were closed in China, people and businesses took to live-streaming. Knowing this may happen elsewhere, think about how going live could help you extend planned live events (without attendees present), or connect with your customers. Check out to learn more about how our live brand studio can help. 

What might people need right now? 

Below are the types of things we see people seek out in times of crisis, and might be especially relevant right now. We’re not saying you should do any or all of this, but these are some need states that you might want to think about.

Accurate & Reliable Information. 

In times of crises, people want credible information. We’ve seen that verified people on Twitter are about 2.4x more likely to participate in COVID-19 conversation than non-verified people, and 75% of COVID-19 related Tweets are actually Retweets. In other words, the primary method of sharing information during a time of crisis is through Retweeting.

If you have useful and reliable information that might help people navigate the uncertainty, or keep people calm, you should share it. For example, retail / e-commerce brands can keep the public updated on stock to help mitigate panic buying. If you have important information that affects your company, or your employees (e.g. around transmission of the virus), you may want to consider sharing that publicly. 

When it comes to setting policies and supporting your employees through this uncertain period, there is truly an opportunity to lead by example and get others to follow in your steps. 

Customer Service & Support.

Inevitably, some brands are immediately more impacted by COVID-19, due to the nature of their business. Travel (Airline/Cruises/Hospitality/Tourism) and Finance Institutions are seeing the strongest associations with COVID-19 so far. 

If COVID-19 is directly affecting your business and your customers, use Twitter to interact 1:1 with your customers and support them, and to broadcast any initiatives you’re launching that widely address the issue. 

It’s important to listen and understand the concerns your customers have and to address them, as best you can. Demonstrating you’re doing your best in uncertain times, can go a long way. If you’re not directly affected, but have something meaningful to offer (that’s true to your brand), consider sharing. For example, health/wellbeing tips, meditation/calming content. 

Distraction & Levity

In times like this, when the newscycle can be overwhelming, a bit of light distraction and entertainment can go a long way.

The reality is that the average Twitter timeline is a mix of news, information and interests. In fact, since January 1st, COVID-19 related Tweets only represent 1% of total Tweets that have been sent on Twitter.

In other words, people on Twitter are switching between updates on COVID-19, while following elections, news, sports, TV & entertainment, and everyday lols. So long as you are thoughtful with copy and tone, you can contribute, and remember it’s better to stay in your lane and be true to your brand than to associate with the virus.

Community & Positivity

As humans, we’re programmed to seek out connection. While social distancing measures offer protection and security, they come with significant impact on individuals, communities and the world at large. In the face of home quarantining, we witnessed beautiful moments of connection emerge from China, showing the importance of positivity and connection right now.

We’ve also seen non-COVID-19 related positive stories capture people’s attention, because good things continue to happen, despite the context right now. Brands should continue to connect with and celebrate these moments, as and when appropriate. This could apply to events, trends and occasions from #IWD2020 to sports, TV premieres and culture. 

To get you started on how to communicate during this time, here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

Can you share positive stories that might uplift the people who connect with your brand on Twitter?

Do you have positive initiatives that you can talk about?

Can you bring your community on Twitter together, in a positive way?

March 12, 2020
  • Perspective

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