A necessary tonal shift in branded social during a global pandemic.

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It seems it was only yesterday that beloved fast food chains were tweeting that their burgers were “thicc,” sparking conversation centered around their content, to line up and dunk on them or posit whether or not the chain eats ass.

It wasn’t yesterday, but a mere nine days ago. Did something interesting occur on March 11th? Oh right, COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. And the brand posting came to a screeching halt. Temporarily.

What happens when social media makes a massive shift to maudlin, across the entire spectrum, when you’ve been cultivating a persona that only fits within its previous incarnation? An incarnation that was thematically the diametric opposite of what it is now?

The brands must adjust. Though we know what you get when you steer a large ship. It’s glacial business. Internally at least. But the average user sees any use of social media the way they use it themselves — it is nimble, fast, and direct.

So why did many of the brands we know for being ~so online~ go dark on March 11th and take almost a full week to post again, with their blanket COVID statement? Because most of the people running these companies, even the ones who seem to really, really understand the internet, still don’t give social the credence they give to other parts of the operation. They’re concerned about a million other things in a situation like this, which is understandable, but possibly a grave mistake.

Now more than ever, social media is a brand’s face. No matter the spend on print and broadcast, right now social is in the driver’s seat for every single brand whether they like it or not. For many people, it is the only access point they’ll have to a brand for the foreseeable future. People who have tweeted less than ten times in their lives are now glued to Twitter most hours of the day. Everyone is noticing everything. And if you’re not, someone else will point it out for you.

So it matters how the brands behave in this space. What are the best practices? They’re the same hallmarks of any social savvy account, crisis or not. Early adoption: the earlier you took this situation seriously and made moves to show that, the better the optics and sentiment. Quick, nimble responses: an understanding of the social space is an understanding of speed; brands that let this movement get internally clogged will always suffer. Fast adaptation: read the room, and adjust.

The latter brings us to the tonal shift. Is it the right choice? An amendment is necessary, of course, but is it whiplash to go from chaotic memes to crisis management? What if your product is firmly at the center of the panic and two weeks ago you were just making poop jokes?

Wild shit.

“The new normal” gets thrown around a lot during times like these, and for good reason. Very few things will go back to ~the way they were~. This is an unprecedented moment and much more important factors than advertising will be irrevocably changed. Alas, the advertising, if it wants to be effective, should reflect that.

Will we ever want brands to ~get~ humor again? Understand “weird Twitter”? What is weird Twitter in the quarantined fugue state that is now, when nearly everything is panic, dread, and absurdist meme production as a means of coping? The world is weird, weirder than ever, and we’re being looked at as consumers more and more than human citizens — even the President can’t keep from calling us consumers as he discusses the availability of life-saving testing kits. Maybe the only way for a brand to show that they “get it” is for them to simply shut the fuck up.

Of course, it’s important to stay top of mind if you have a service that does actually benefit people in this time, or is wanted, but it’s a delicate balance of existing within the space to act as a helpful reminder of goods and services, or come off as blood-sucking corporate account clogging the feed with what is essentially seen as war profiteering.

Cool, cool, cool.

Is there a single person out there who would be outraged, or even notice, if say, Warby Parker didn’t email them about their coronavirus precautions?

Brands are often so concerned with playing it safe, with making the move to cover their ass in case the one outlier customer does flip out over a non-response that they often lose sight of the larger context; that they are not merely a brand in a vacuum, and that to add the deafening noise of All the Brands Doing the Same Thing and absolutely inundating their customers with pointless, transparent bullshit does more to grow negative sentiment than doing nothing at all. (And sure there are some brands in which the pandemic directly affects their operations and certain information must be disseminated, but that’s not what I’m talking about.)

At any rate, businesses are losing money and running around like decapitated chickens. The need for acceptable, thoughtful messaging is at an all time high. For social strategists it’s a psychotic juggle of personal anxieties and fears, 24/7 news panics, and urgent client requests. We’re still in the phase of unknown change — it will be interesting, to say the least, to see where this goes. May god help us all.

Writer | California Son | alan-hanson.com

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