Digital Marketing During COVID-19

Social media users (which, if we’re being honest is most of us) tend to be a rather curious bunch. We’ve taken it for granted that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now TikTok, have become a natural extension of our lives that not being on any of the platforms – whether as users or consumers – causes phantom FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

It’s also caused a surge in content creation, including the quality and creativity behind it, from people who are looking for an outlet while stuck at home. For those looking to turn their creativity into a paying gig or looking to take advantage of these unprecedented times to increase their online visibility, industry leaders including David Perell, the founder of Write of Passage, are sharing gems of advice, such as this:

I believe this going to result in a marked shift on a long-term, if not a permanent basis in terms through the rise of individual entrepreneurs carving out spaces for themselves in specific niches as a reaction to the global community turning to support one another.

This is also affecting the way Big Brands are maneuvering digitally – from pulling the plug abruptly on campaigns to scrambling how to remain relevant. Great examples of this are LVMH pivoting to create face masks, Nike’s #Playfortheworld campaign, and in an offbeat way, Steak-umm, a US-based steak company, has used its Twitter account to share thoughtful posts that have caused it to be dubbed as “being a voice of reason in a pandemic”.

Hubspot, the US-based developer and marketer of software products for inbound marketing, sales, and customer service, has released its first weekly survey of how COVID-19 is impacting sales and marketing performance with some interesting findings:

  1. The weekly average of deals created decreased globally by 17% the week of March 16 and fell by 23% by the week of March 30th 
  2. Average marketing email volume increased 29% the week of March 16th, while open rates increased by 53% the same week – and across the month, open rate increased by 21% overall 
  3. Average monthly website traffic increased by 13% in March, compared to February 
  4. On a per-week basis, companies sent 23% more sales emails the week of March 16th compared to prior weekly averages in Q1 – response rate to those emails began falling the first week of March, with a total decrease of 27% in March compared to February

What does that mean?

While it might seem like there’s a contradiction between the number of deals and marketing emails, there’s a simple explanation: people aren’t shopping for anything beyond the basics they currently need. There was an initial surge in online retail as people began stockpiling ahead of being quarantined but now that’s leveled off to simple purchases to top off existing supplies. As for the emails, it’s mainly brands and companies sending out messages of reassurance and how they are dealing with the pandemic (my inbox was clogged for a week with those).

OK, great, fine. So people aren’t spending much online, what else is new?

What’s new is the – obviously – sharp increase in online activity, especially on social media, which has resulted in some interesting metrics.

Social Bakers, a global AI-powered social media marketing company offering a marketing software-as-a-service platform, has released its COVID-19 Impact Report that included some interesting nuggets:

  1. […] posts mentioning the coronavirus have been far more common on Facebook than on Instagram, according to Social Bakers’ data. That suggests that people turn to Facebook more often when looking for news and updates, while Instagram has often been a place to get away from those things.

2. As the coronavirus moved from country to country, one of the biggest single-day spikes in posts came on March 16, and the following day was the peak with more than 11,000 Facebook posts and 3,300 Instagram posts about the pandemic. That, to date, was the single-highest volume day during the crisis. (note: this could be attributed to multiple countries shutting their borders and imposing quarantine and in the USA, it was the news that New York Mayor Bill De Blasio’s to close the city’s bars, theaters, and cinemas thus driving home the seriousness of the situation to Americans)

3. Interestingly though, ad spend seems to be making a comeback, starting with East Asia where ad spend rose by 21.5% since the start of March. This means that we’re going to start seeing more paid ads in our feeds again as brands and organisation figure out how to market to us without seeming to be tone-deaf, especially in regions or countries where it seems that the pandemic is under control or at least, starting to be controlled.

Example of an extremely tone-deaf ad:

This was posted on February 4 but I’m still receiving the ad, which makes me wonder if the ad manager or agency responsible for this had advised Lincoln Middle East to halt the campaign since everyone is staying indoors full-time (or at least most of the time) and are focusing on saving their money/spending it on essential items only instead of luxury ones, such as a new car.

It’s fascinating to me that even with all the negative sentiment around Facebook’s algorithms when it comes to sharing news, people still turn to it as a source. On a personal note, I’ve seen Instagram users also share quite a bit of news and information around COVID-19 while still balancing that against the platform’s main purpose of sharing engaging, “escapist” content.

The report also has a whole other section devoted to ad spend costs that I’m going to dig into on another day.

So far, Covid-19 has been an interesting experience in seeing how we’ve all re-interpreted what the platforms mean to us, how we function within them, and most importantly, where we’ve come together to create online communities on a scale and level of bonding that’s different from pre-coronavirus life.

I’m curious to see how things play out in the upcoming months, especially with major events such as Ramadan on the horizon – we’ve already seen its impact on Easter celebrations, albeit it was offset by Andrea Boccelli’s moving performance at the Duomo di Milano.

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