The last three weeks have been the longest crisis comms drill of our entire lives. It’s absolutely nutso. And, there’s really no end in sight (sometime in May, please!). Comms teams have been on full-tilt since early March communicating with employees and stakeholders seemingly non-stop.
They’ve largely been using the traditional channels–email, intranets, town halls and social media.
But one channel has given a handful of companies a huge leg up on others in the crisis communications game: personal CEO social media profiles (mostly, on LinkedIn).
I’ve been beating on this drum for years–the importance of CEO social media profiles (again, especially on LinkedIn). Now we’re seeing WHY every day.
WHY #1 – these profiles serve as an additional way to build trust with employees, customers and shareholders.
WHY #2 – these profiles are now a channel where you can get something posted in minutes vs. hours/days via other channels (i.e., you’re extremely complicated web or intranet)–especially important during a crisis.
WHY #3 – these profiles are more personal and “human” vs. email and other channels that come across as messages obviously penned by communicators.
And, we’re seeing brands use their personal CEO profiles as part of their overall strategic communications plan. For example:
Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta, is leading with emotional intelligence as the airline industry goes through a pretty tough time.
Medtronic CEO, Omar Ishrak, is using his Twitter account to amplify key news that the company is open-sourcing its design for ventilators (which, incidentally, outperformed the brand account when it shared the same news):
3M CEO, Mike Roman, is sharing news about steps 3M is taking to address the pandemic.
And, the president of Mondolez International in Mainland China is giving us a glimpse into what life looks like after COVID-19.
These are just a few examples. There are more. Like Beth Ford, CEO of Land O Lakes, who’s been out in front of COVID-19 throughout March.
Or, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, who shared his memo to employees on his LinkedIn account–a move he’s done before with good success.
But, as you probably know, the number of CEOs with active, personal social media profiles is still fairly small. There is ample opportunity here–for all of us. Yes, this exact moment may not be the perfect time to ramp up an executive on social media. But after all this lets up (and it will let up), it’s probably time to take a closer look at your options. Because, the companies that do have that option right now are pretty glad they have it.
So, write a note to yourself right now: Approach CEO, again, about being active on LinkedIn. Even if it’s just a start. Even if it’s just brushing up his/her profile. Even if it’s just a post a month. That active profile will come in awful handy during the next crisis. And the one after that.
Last week, in one of my client meetings, an interesting discussion came up–what social networks were surging and which were lagging? And, which were CHANGING?
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones thinking about this. Matthew Kobach (director of social for the NYSE) led a similar discussion on Twitter (he’s a must-follow right now, btw, if you’re not already).
In terms of content consumption: Instagram live consumption has to be way up, whereas podcast consumption has to be way down
Any other content trends you’ve noticed or predict?
— Matthew Kobach (but staying home) (@mkobach) March 21, 2020
Obviously, a lot has changed in the last 2 weeks–including how and when we use social networks. But, that usage can and should play a role in how you make your social media marketing plans during these weird, weird times.
Now, I don’t have much scientific evidence or research to back up any of these claims just yet (just a few reports so far). After all, we’re only a couple weeks into this crisis. But, I will share my two cents based on my observations so far and where I think things will head from here in terms of usage:
Usage up – Twitter
For the last few years, Twitter has been trending toward being an information platform. It’s really no longer about engagement on Twitter–people are merely using it to get information. And, with the COVID-19 outbreak, Twitter has become the go-to resource for real-time information from journalists and scientists. My must-follows of the moment are Dave Pell, Matthew Kobach, Andy Slavitt But yeah, if my feed is any indication, Twitter use is way up.
Usage up – Twitch
WAY up, I’m guessing. After all, if you’re a young man (ages 14-30), during this outbreak, you’re either: binging the Office for the third time, or playing Call of Duty non-stop until your eyes bug out. And, if you’re gaming, Twitch is your go-to communications platform. It was already a huge emerging social platform for brands–but now, in the coming months, it will be even bigger. If you’re trying to reach young men right now, this is definitely a platform I would start exploring–fast.
Usage up – Instagram Stories
Probably no surprise here. Influencer marketing platform, Klear, came out with recent research that claims IG Stories usage is up 15% since the outbreak. That seems low based on what I’m seeing, but it’s still a sizable surge.
Usage changing – Facebook & Instagram
I say “changing” because people are certainly still using both platforms. In fact, we saw Facebook talk about having bandwidth issues last week (all we need is for social media to go down during this–can you imagine?!?!?). But, the way in which people use these two networks is changing. You’re seeing more interactive content like challenges, workouts and webinar-like content via livestreams (all the concerts from home have been great!). Insta is no longer the place to live your best life–those days might be long gone. Similarly, Facebook’s use seems to be changing, too. A colleague mentioned the other day that he’s seen way more news shared on the platform than before. People are still posting photos and notes about their families here, but pretty tough to post all those vacation pics here when there are no vacations. A more newsy focus for Facebook is good–as long as that news is reliable and accurate.
Usage up – LinkedIn
Many workers across the U.S. are now working from home full-time for the immediate future. And, thousands of Americans have been laid off in the last week due to coronavirus quarantines. Those two factors lead me to believe we’ll see an uptick in LinkedIn usage. Those working from home will find themselves with more free time than they previously had–no commute time, no longer lunches, no water cooler talk. Some of this downtime will most likely go to time spent on LinkedIn to check up on colleagues and friends in the workplace. On the other hand, it probably goes without saying, but those who just lost their jobs will be all over LinkedIn. After all, there are some industries and companies that are hiring during this outbreak (Amazon, of course, comes to mind).
Usage down – podcasting
The loss of the daily commute for the immediate future will probably impact podcasting the most. Sure, people are still taking walks and listening to podcasts. Sure, some people are mowing their lawns while listening to podcasts. But, according to the Infinite Dial Report in 2019, 52% of folks listened to a podcast while driving. That’s going to hurt podcasts in the near-term. I would guess numbers would recover this summer a bit, but for now, I’m be betting podcast numbers are down a little (and apparently, I’m not alone in that thinking–many of the responses to Liz Sheets post earlier this week were in the “my podcast usage has decreased” bucket).
Usage up – Zoom
Much like Twitch, WAY up. Especially if you’re targeting professional workers, educators or students. Zoom is quickly becoming the de facto video comms device during the outbreak. Sure, Zoom isn’t technically a social network, but it does have many of the makings of one–social interaction, chat functionality, ability to break off into groups. In fact, Chipotle experimented with an interesting way to use Zoom last week. I bet we’ll see other brands do something similar in the weeks ahead, as so many people are using this tool to communicate right now and familiarity with it is increasing exponentially by the day.
Usage up – TikTok
As if people weren’t spending enough time on TikTok (recent reports tell us we’re spending an average of 52 minutes per day on TikTok!). Usage numbers here have to be up (one recent report I saw claimed the video app saw an 18 percent increase in downloads, and was downloaded 2 million times between March 16 and 22). Especially considering you now have millions of young people ages 12-25 who either have no school, or online school, and suddenly have oodles of time on their hands. We’re seeing uber-creative executions on TikTok, too. Not that TikTok isn’t normally full of creative content, but we’re seeing it used in new and interesting ways (both my kids are getting a lot of information about #coronavirus right now via TikTok, for example).
That’s what I’m seeing for now. What about you? How do you see social networks changing during this very interesting, and scary, time?
So much of social media marketing, and marketing in general, for that fact, seems like it’s almost in the background right now. First and foremost, many people are worried about their health and the health of loved ones. Next, they’re worried about their jobs and income. That’s about where it ends–right now at least.
That’s why a lot of these creative content marketing opportunities we’ve seen the last week just seem to fall flat (see Chipotle’s attempt to use Zoom in a creative way, for example). It all just seems kinda forced.
Until, that is, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, came up with the best piece of content marketing I’ve seen yet during the COVID-19 crisis.
Partnering with the good folks at Allina Health, BCBSMN is launching a skilled volunteer opportunity to create masks for hospital staff–at a time when they desperately need it.
BCBSMN (specifically, Amanda Theisen, long-time KSTP employee-turned-PR-pro) penned this blog post explaining the initiative and exactly how people can help.
The post is pitch perfect. It hits all the right notes. It explains how the initiative came to be (with a good shoutout to Susan Schuster, one of the most connected people in the Twin Cities). It has a short video explaining how to make the masks. It lists out Allina Health locations where you can drop off the completed masks. And finally, one last call to action–if you can’t sew, donate through GiveMN.
Straight-forward and to the point. And, I thought it worked perfectly.
Of course, the wonderful thing about a partnership is you get double the distribution when both brands promote the effort on their social media channels. Here’s how BCBSMN promoted it on its Facebook page. I know both brands promoted it across social media–and it definitely received some media attention as well.
But BCBSMN didn’t stop there. Any good social media effort also needs solid community management. And, given the stakes have never been higher, this was more important than ever.
You can see on the Facebook post BCBSMN is actively responding to questions from its community–and good questions, too.
The blog post had 150+ comments last time I checked (when was the last time ANY blog post had 150+ comments?!?!?!), and I noticed BCBSMN replying to almost every comment and question. Again, I can’t remember the last time I saw that happen!
All in all I loved this content marketing case study for so many reasons–many of which I’ve highlighted above. But, most of all, because it will make a difference. For all of us here in Minnesota.
Thank you, BCBSMN team. For making a difference for Minnesota.
At the risk of adding yet another “what I’ve learned during the COVID-19 crisis” post to the internet ether, I just wasn’t sure what to write about this week. Clearly, COVID-19 has taken over our personal and professional lives. So, for the time being, it almost feels weird to write about anything BUT the virus.
But, for me, as with many others in our business, writing is cathartic. It helps us express our emotions and feelings in a different way. And, at least in this post, it will allow me to take stock and reflect back on one of the most intense and stressful weeks in my 25+-year career.
Because, there were a lot of factors playing into that this week:
- All COVID-19, all the time. Obviously, you couldn’t get away from it this week. Many of us in comms are news junkies. We love to track the news. The more information the better, right? But, in times like this when the news is almost always negative, that is not always a good thing. For me, that was definitely the case this week. The more news I consumed, the worse I felt. So, about mid-week, I made the conscious decision to pull back on my news and social media consumption. I was unusually busy, so that wasn’t all that tough. But, I also retreated to my family. To my health (I ran EVERY day this week!). To music. That all helped–immensely. I plan to continue that approach this week, too.
- Vacation hangover. Last week, when this was all breaking, my family and I were in Palm Springs with my parents. It was surreal to monitor all this from what I describe as “The Truman Show” (Palm Springs is sunny and 80 every day it seems–although this year, we did have two rainy days, which was a huge bummer). We returned very late Saturday, and had one day to get ready for the workweek. But, when Monday hit, it hit hard. I would have had a stressful week this week WITHOUT the virus news.
- Learning to teach remotely–on the fly. We found out the University of St. Thomas, where I teach as an adjunct professor, would be online until after spring break when I was in Palm Springs. So, when I got back, I had to figure out how the heck I was going to teach my class ON MONDAY virtually–something I, along with my professors I’m guessing, had never done. I took a quick Zoom class on Sunday night, reworked my syllabus a bit and jumped in. I told the students we’d figure this out together. I told them I was stressed and scared, just like they were. But, that this too shall pass. We made it through week one with no visible scars. Zoom actually worked pretty well! And, while my class is going to change drastically as a result of not teaching in person, life, and class, will go one. We will figure this out. Together.
So yeah, stressful week. And, I know I’m not alone. I know all of us had stressful weeks last week. For some, a lot more stressful than mine. But, I also learned a number of key lessons this week that I will be mindful of this week, and in future weeks, as this crisis evolves:
- Empathetic leadership will pay off. I was so impressed by one client this week who was managing a team remotely through this crisis. I’ve been on many of the calls, and through it all, she has managed with an incredibly high level of emotional intelligence. She’s quick to ask everyone how they’re doing on many of the calls (which might not be happening as much as you’d guess). She acknowledged hard work and team wins throughout the week (something we all need right now). She pushed hard, but she also did a lot of listening and leaning on key people to give her advice. In short, she was an amazing empathetic leader. I think those who lead this way through this crisis are going to come out the other end in a tremendously good place. And, I’m hoping we see a lot more of it in the weeks to come–because I think we’re going to need it.
- You HAVE to step away from the computer. This whole “work from home” thing is new to the majority of the workforce right now. And, I’m sure many are struggling to walk away from their computers this week. Partly because it’s been “all hands on deck” and partly because they’re still figuring all this out, and work can be a place of refuge. But, as someone who’s been doing this for 10+ years now, I can safely say you have to step away. Even if it’s just for 10-15 minutes for a walk outside. Or, to meditate. Get away from your computer for chunks of time. Your health depends on it right now.
- Human connection is needed more than ever. As the week wore on, I noticed something about myself. The more I talked to people (and SAW people on Zoom), the better I felt. I read something the other day that said they shouldn’t call is “social distancing” but “physical distancing”, and I think that’s so true. We need our social connections now more than ever. So, make sure to CALL people this week. Try a Zoom call with a colleague or friend. Heck, try a Zoom happy hour! (we did this with a couple friend of ours Saturday night). Sure, you want to stay connected with your family and extended family right now. But, don’t forget your work family, and your network right now. They’re stressed, too. They’re hurting. And, they’d probably love to hear from you.
It’s been repeated many times this past week, but I say it again: We’re in this together. Especially as communicators. We’re taking the brunt of it right now, in our day jobs. And, the stress doesn’t let up after we shut the computers. So, please, take it easy on yourself this week. Talk to friends, family and work connections. Practice gratitude. And, focus on kindness and empathy in your work lives. We’ve got a long ways to go, folks. Let’s take it easy on each other.
By now, the “war for talent” has been well-documented. We’re facing a shortage of talent. Employees hold all the cards. Employers need to adapt in terms of what employees really want in the new economy.
Except, here’s the problem: They’re not doing that.
Not even close.
According to Ragan’s 2020 Salary and Workplace Culture Survey, employers seem to be going through the motions when it comes to attracting and retaining key talent.
What am I talking about?
For starters, the survey found that a full 57% of respondents got a 1-3% salary increase in 2019. I’m so motivated just hearing that number! How do you expect to keep star employees motivated when you’re giving them, essentially, what amounts to a cost-of-living increase? If attracting and retaining talent is truly key to a company’s success, this just isn’t going to cut it.
Personal story: I worked for a health care company earlier in my career. This company offered the standard 1-3% increase each year. These increases were doled out to employees based on performance, believe it or not. As though the employee who received the 3% increase was saying “Man, I got a 3% increase! I’m going to work even harder next year to get 3% again!” This was extremely demotivating and actually was a contributing factor in me (and most likely many others, at the time) looking for other opportunities.
But, we know pay isn’t the only factor in attracting and retaining key talent. Benefits play a central role in 2020. Unfortunately, the gap between what employers are offering and what employees want could not be wider.
The Ragan survey asked respondents what they wanted, in terms of benefits, from their employer? Here were the top results:
Professional development – 63%
Ability to work from home – 63%
Free coffee – 62%
Flex hours – 55%
No surprise there, right? I’m constantly AMAZED in talking to friends and colleagues that companies refuse to pay for PRSA, IABC and MIMA memberships. I mean, we’re talking about $300-400! Worse, they’re usually not open to funding trips to professional development conferences and events either. Want to up your content marketing chops by going to Cleveland to hit Content Marketing World? That’s usually met with “why don’t you find a local event instead?” It’s time to start taking professional development seriously. It’s not a “nice to have”–it’s a MUST HAVE. This data is reinforcing what we already knew.
Or, what about the ability to work from home? Another huge perk almost every employee would value. I can’t think of one person I know who wouldn’t want to have the flexibility to work from home every now and then. Yet, companies simply refuse to adopt this cultural shift–for many reasons (namely, they don’t trust employees). This one feels like the easiest perk for employers to provide–with a huge upside. I mean, what’s the downside for employers here? Less real estate costs, potentially? More satisfied and fulfilled employees? I’d love to hear real, honest reasons about why more companies can’t do this. It just seems ludicrous in our field to not allow employees to work from home once in a while.
On the other side, here are the top benefits companies ARE providing employees in 2020:
Medical insurance – 98%
Vacation – 97%
Dental insurance – 95%
No one is complaining about receiving medical coverage and vacation time. But, we don’t see the most coveted benefits (professional development, flex time, ability to work from home) anywhere on this list–not at all.
What’s more, a key benefit on the compensation side is only offered to 15% of respondents–profit-sharing.
Companies don’t seem to be taking recruitment and retention seriously. Not really. Not when you see stats like these. Not when you hear stories like I do from colleagues complaining about not having the ability to work remotely, not getting paid what they’re worth, and not getting what they need in terms of professional development.
Now, that’s not to say this isn’t happening at all. Agencies like Bellmont Partners, locally here in Minneapolis, do encourage employees to work where they need to, as long as employees get their work done. Or, my friend Heather Whaling’s agency in Columbus, which “focuses on delivering high-quality results instead of billable hours.” Really smart.
So, it is happening–just not in big numbers. Not in the way it needs to if companies are going to attract and retain the talent they need to succeed in the next 10-20 years. It’s working…for now. Mostly because the Boomers are still in charge. Once that changes, over the next 10-20 years, I think you’re going to see a big shift in the way companies treat employees. Time will tell, of course, but that’s my thought–and hope.