Disclaimer: I know and fully realize a lot of people have lost–and will lose–their jobs during COVID-19. This is not designed to be a glib discussion, but merely a different take on the “working from home during COVID changes everything” conversation.
Over the first four weeks of this #quarantine, there’s been a ton of talk about working from home.
Best practices on how to structure your day. Zoom tips. And, a whole bunch of people talking about how when this is over, how work will change completely.
The prevailing theory seems to be that the quarantine will prove we can all be efficient and effective in working from home. And, therefore, our employers should let us work from home whenever we’d like (and, if you listen to some people, this might be 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year!).
As someone who’s worked from home for 10+ years, but also spent 15 years before that working in an office, I have a unique vantage point on this topic.
And, I can tell you one thing: Most of you will be going back to work at the office when COVID-19 is over.
Not because your employer will be forcing you to do it–because you’ll be BEGGING to do it!
See, there’s a whole perspective few people are talking about in the remote work conversation right now. That is this: Most people simply aren’t built to work from home 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
You’re going to see that play out in the next few weeks.
My theory: it’s easy to work from home for a few days. Even a few weeks. But, a couple months? A year? That’s hard. I’ll rephrase: That’s not optimal for most people.
Again, watch what people say on social media the next few weeks for proof.
We’re social beings by nature. We want to be around people–even the introverts. Take me, for example. I’m probably in the middle–half extrovert, half introvert. Working from home works for me. But, I also desperately miss human interaction. This is why I grab so many coffees with folks. It’s part of why I started teaching at the University of St. Thomas. It’s why I’ve joined boards of directors in the past and volunteered.
People need to see, talk to and be around other people.
And you simply can’t do that when you work from home.
What’s more, some work is just better done in person. Have you had an online brainstorm recently with your clients or colleagues? Then you know what I’m talking about! Yes, some work can be done remotely. But, some work also is better served by doing it face-to-face. You can have all the technology in the world, but you can’t read full body language on Zoom. I can’t see my boss’ look on her face on Skype. In-person meetings and collaboration matters.
Finally, as you probably know by now, relationships are everything in our business. Relationships with your colleagues. Relationships with your bosses. Relationships with the media. The list goes on. And, the bulk of that relationship-building is done in person! Sure, some of it can be done digitally or electronically. But, you cement those relationships with in-person interactions. This is why I rarely do business with companies outside Minnesota–because I think seeing and interacting with my clients here makes a BIG difference in retention and future business. It’s the same reason agencies want to get on a plane and go see their clients each quarter.
So yeah, I don’t think employers will have to convince us to come back to work at all in a few months. I think we’ll be so ready, we’ll come running back ourselves.
Just a few months ago, I set out to create my annual social media trends presentation, which I’ve now given to a handful of audiences. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I’d be giving that presentation to other groups in the weeks ahead.
Instead, I’m re-evaluating that list and thinking about how wildly things have changed in the last four weeks on the social media marketing front. To recap the biggest shifts:
- Social media usage rates are through the roof–almost across platforms (with the sad exception of podcasts, which are suffering without commutes)
- Social media ad inventory and ROI is up–with everyone seemingly cutting or pausing their social media ad spend, this was inevitable.
- Layoffs are coming–we’re already starting to see them, but my guess is we’ll see a lot more in the creative industry and at the corporate level in the next 2-3 weeks.
Those three things alone change a lot. A LOT. You’re starting to see things shift already. In big ways (social media advertising inventory and ROI) and in smaller ways (is Zoom now a social media network?).
We’re only 3+ weeks into our “social distancing” experiment, but I’m already seeing a handful of trends emerge that could have long-lasting impacts:
Brands ratchet (way) back on content
Right now, this may be due to the crisis-level situation our country is facing. Brands want to stay quiet and, as a result, they’re pulling back on content. But, a fast-forward a few weeks, and I still see a situation where brands are ratcheting back on content. Partly because many teams may be resource-starved. Layoffs are coming. You don’t have a Great Depression-like recession and not have layoffs. When that happens, agencies and brands won’t have the manpower (or budgets) to develop content at the pace they’re used to. Content production will wane–for a while.
The community comeback
With many brands cutting, or at the very least pausing, social media ad campaigns for Q2 (and maybe Q3, according to what I’ve seen), community is poised to make a big comeback. After all, social media ad development and management takes up quite a bit of time. You take that off your social team’s plate and all of the sudden you have some free time. I think brands will devote more of that to community. Actively responding to more comments. Maybe even going back to active social listening and jumping into conversations around relevant topics and issues–conversations they were almost ignoring before.
Executive ramp up social media profiles (once and for all)
One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 outbreak may be that it finally forces (ahem, encourages) execs to start and build those personal social profiles. Largely, I’m talking about LinkedIn. I’ve been on this topic for years. But, #coronavirus has given us a moment in time to leverage, in a way. Just look at the companies with active CEOs on LinkedIn–Ed Bastian with Delta. Mike Roman with 3M. Beth Ford with Land O Lakes. All are leveraging those profiles to help distribute and share meaningful, human messages. And, it’s working. In many instances, these personal profiles are outperforming the brand profiles. And, keep in mind we’re talking about companies like 3M, Medtronic and Delta!
The social network of the future might not be a social network at all
Two of the hottest “social” platforms right now are certainly not traditional social media networks. The first–Zoom–probably isn’t a social platform at all. Except, it gets at the essence of everything social media was at one time. It’s real. Honest. Human. And, you’re already seeing brands trying to leverage it as a platform (see Chipotle’s “Chipotle Together” Zoom chats). The second–Twitch–is the real up-and-comer. And, if you think this is all about reaching teen gamer boys, you’re probably the same people who think tween girls are the only ones that use TikTok. The next big social networks may not be traditional social networks–at least not the way we know them now. But, we need to keep our eyes open because these shifts are happening–right now.
User-generated content takes center stage
You’re seeing big-time brands like Walmart, Lowe’s, and UPS leverage user- and employee-generated content during one of the most critical moments in our lives. Now, partly that’s because they can’t generate the kind of visual content they want to because everyone is stuck at home. But, I do think part of this is because people are getting tired of “branded content.” They want more human, realistic visual content. They want unfiltered content. And, I don’t think that goes away when the virus goes away.
Those are just a few of the early trends I’m seeing during the outbreak. I’m sure I’ll have more to share as the weeks go along. What are you seeing out there in terms of shifts in the social media landscape?
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.