Business Unusual: Social Media During COVID

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In the first of a three-part interview, Jill and Melissa Barker discuss what it means to navigate social media in the time of coronavirus. Read on or watch the video for the full scoop!

Read the interview.

Jill McKenna: Hi, I’m Jill McKenna. I am the Campaign Marketing Manager at Ruby and today I’m so delighted to be speaking with Melissa Barker. Melissa is a business coach and social media consultant who has been helping businesses with marketing and sales strategy for over a decade. She’s a trailblazer in the field of social media and the author of the first college textbook, she’s literally written the book on social media marketing, the book is called Social Media Marketing: A Strategic Approach and it’s going into its third edition. Thanks for joining us, Melissa.


Melissa Barker:
Thank you so much for having me.

Jill McKenna:
Did I miss anything about the work that you do?

Melissa Barker:
No. I think you really covered it all. I also happen to teach courses in social media marketing and the social media master certification, which is specifically designed to help small business owners really master social media during this time.

Jill McKenna:
Oh, perfect. So many businesses who need it I’m sure. We have worked with you at Ruby, which is one reason I know you, and I’m so grateful that we have. Your work is incredible. Thank you for doing this.

Melissa Barker:
Appreciate that. I’m so excited for our conversation today.

Jill McKenna:
I’ve talked to you earlier this week and I feel like we could have riffed for two hours on what we’re seeing, what we’re experiencing, with me being in marketing and you being in social media, which is a form of marketing, there’s so much to talk about. I know so many of our customers and community members right now have a lot of questions about the right way to approach social media tools, or maybe not utilizing, or could utilize better and ways to grab some of these strategies that are popping up and use them going forward. I did come up with some questions today that I’d love to hear your thoughts on and I know that our community would as well.

Melissa Barker:
Awesome. That sounds great.

Jill McKenna:
I’ll dive in. I went home on March 15th. I know a lot of people went home around the same time and the change and what we were seeing and what we were receiving from journalists, to social media, to events being canceled, it was such a barrage of information and change immediately happening. I’m curious, from your perspective, how do you see that businesses responded on social media once the crisis hits?

Melissa Barker:
I really saw this like outpour, as I’m sure you did too, for calls for support and asks for helping their business. I find that those sort of calls tend to happen a lot when there’s localized crisis and the community always steps in to help support those businesses, but the problem is when it’s something so far-reaching as a global pandemic, when everyone is making those same asks, what we really saw was a lot of compassion fatigue. What I noticed too, was that there is this instinct to throw out marketing 101 and start going live without a strategy, create any type of offering to try and gain support. I think that now more than ever, what needed to happen is that businesses needed to take a moment and really think about how, instead of asking support, can I offer support?

Because when the customers are also being hit with the same crisis, with the same trouble, it’s very hard for them to reach out and the businesses who did do that, I saw a lot of success. Folks who immediately figured out, how can I give back maybe a portion of my profits, or how can I create a really awesome offering that can help people that are going through this very traumatic time?

I saw a couple of, actually folks that were more in the field of service space, people who immediately had to shut their businesses. Estheticians, a great example, who created these kits that were ritual kits to take care of their consumers and launch those immediately and gave 20% of the profit to the Oregon Food Bank. That was one of the main ones. I also saw a lot of business owners start to offer different ideas for self-care and providing information that maybe wasn’t even in line with their business, but things that they were doing for themselves or for their community. That was really powerful. I also saw restaurants who immediately made meal kits for their employees to send them home, even though they couldn’t work anymore. You see that some businesses took this as an opportunity to show up for their employees for their community and not make it about them and make it about being in a place of service.

Jill McKenna:
I want to backtrack a little, because you did say marketing 101 at first, in some ways, went out the window. Can you speak to which 101 components you saw fall off?

Melissa Barker:
I think one of the biggest things is target marketing. A lot of the asks were so general that it didn’t speak to anyone group or it didn’t speak to their audience even. I think making those very specific asks and providing that very specific information still through social media and not trying to make it a broader approach is where we saw a lot of success.

Jill McKenna:
That makes sense. It is easy to forget when you’re in the heat of it. Also you had mentioned compassion fatigue, there’s so many memes around about getting emails from every single company ever dealt with for the last 20 years. Can you speak about the state of compassion fatigue, for not only the audience, but for content producers and social media managers?

Melissa Barker:
I think you were even the one that mentioned when we were talking earlier about the statistic of what percentage of people now, when they see anything related to COVID, shut down. I think beyond the compassion fatigue for the end client, it’s also the same for business owners too. We’re dealing with this like mutual state of we’re all a little bit exhausted. I think the message here, for small business owners, especially social media managers, is to focus on, instead of the compassion fatigue element and those calls that are more around how can you help me, but really leaning towards how can we provide some inspiration and some relief and create some safety for people, even in a digital space? As you’re scrolling past someone’s content, you can still acknowledge what’s happening in the world, but it doesn’t need to be the focus of all of your content.

Jill McKenna:
That makes sense. I think that our instinct is often to create more. We feel the panic, so we want to do more. I’m curious about, you had mentioned that you saw a real instinct to hit record and start creating videos when COVID kicked off and we all went home, how it’s working for businesses, but how would you also suggest we reconsider that?

Melissa Barker:
I think the biggest thing is that it is working for some businesses. Some businesses are using it very strategically. I would say if there is that feeling, that urge, I need to create content, because everyone’s at home, I would say temper that for a moment and consider instead, what, again, come back to the value. What is the value that I’m going to add to this conversation, because more is not always better. Now more than ever, more is not better, because we are, in this state where we are constantly being bombarded with company content. I think the best thing to do is to think of a live like you would a webinar.

You wouldn’t start a webinar and hit the go button on Go to Meeting or whatever system you’re using without promoting it or without creating a lot of value or getting information from your audience, deciding what actually needs to be out there. I think the biggest piece of advice I have around this is to treat it like you would a webinar’s still. Still do a full social media launch before you go live and poll your audience. There’s so many capabilities with Instagram, with Facebook, where you can ask your customers what they want to hear from you. I think the businesses that are doing that, that are asking for feedback before creating, are the ones who are having a lot of success.

Jill McKenna:
I did want to ask you also, we had talked a little bit about events and how people out of need, understandably, creating events really, really quickly, because they have to move things to online. In that rush to create events, do you have any tips about best practice or things not to forget at this time?

Melissa Barker:
I think the biggest thing is to remember, what is your area or like zone of genius? How can you lean into that, because every business, every brand has their areas where they could give more. Focusing on where can I be adding value and is it timely? More than ever now, we can’t create that evergreen content and those evergreen events, that’s not what’s going to draw people in. It has to be super timely, super related to your zone of genius. I think the other thing is figuring out what happens after the event? How do we continue to either convert or keep them engaged?

Knowing what is your method and what is your CTA, your call to action, for how this event is going to be used. Then also not forgetting, another part of, maybe this is marketing 201, is how do we create urgency around event attendance? That can be either through scarcity or through saying, here there’s only a certain number of seats, or maybe you are creating some little bit of barrier to entry, but we still have to know that there is a psychology still to getting people to attend events through social media and leaning into that and utilizing the countdown features and things that can really drive people into your events, so you’re not creating all this valuable content without people getting to see it.

I think the other thing to note is that, as small businesses right now, seeding participation is really important. Asking your employees, asking your business besties, as I like to call them, to comment and share your content around launching your events, because right now the algorithm is based on engagement more than ever for all the different social media platforms. With so much competition, you need a whole lot more engagement to get your content surfaced.

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