5 tips for building strong social media communities during difficult times

People may have more time for social media now due to COVID-19, but if you don’t adapt your strategies, you could lose some of your audience.

For years, social media has been shifting away from its social roots to become more of a branding marketplace, but the COVID-19 pandemic gives us all a chance to swing the pendulum back in the social direction.

During these difficult times, more people are appreciating the value of real community, not just the number of likes on a post. Social media users want to form genuine connections with others, especially since they’re not getting that as much in person right now.

But that doesn’t mean brands are being shunned. They just need to adapt to the current environment, which often means building relationships—and ideally whole communities—that will pay off once life gets back to normal, rather than trying to go for the sale now.

 To build stronger social media communities, try these five tips:

1. Sell less, engage more. Even in normal times, always being salesy on social media, especially within organic posts, doesn’t work well. Your followers are often online to see what their friends are up to and to be entertained, not checking to see what a brand is selling.

During these difficult times, people are less likely to be receptive to sales pitches. Instead, they crave connection, which means you should be checking-in daily to ask your followers how they are and what you can do to help them. Even if it just means providing some conversation to help with the isolation so many of us are experiencing right now. Your efforts can go a long way toward building a loyal community.

2. Provide value. Since you don’t want to just post sales pitches, but you still want your audience to think of your brand as a trusted resource in your industry, use this time to focus more on how you can provide value to your audience.

For example, real estate agents might be limited in how much they can sell right now, but this is a great time to provide value to your community by sharing tips on organizing your home or hosting a Q&A to help your audience understand important issues like refinancing.

3. Set up specialized channels. Just as you might be setting up separate channels in Slack to better communicate with coworkers during this period, or hosting chats among different groups of friends on apps like Houseparty, now’s a great time to foster community among your audience with more specialized channels.

For example, set up a Facebook group for customers of your brand to network with each other during this crisis. You could also set up a private Slack channel for your most dedicated followers to gain more personalized access to your brand leaders.

4. Be empathetic to your community’s needs. Different brands need to strike different tones with their communities, and you need to think about what your followers are looking for at a time like this. Some brands may have followers that are looking to be entertained now more than ever, whereas others might be looking for more detailed information about how to financially get through the coming months.

In addition to adapting your tone, you also need to be empathetic to customers craving more information and transparency at a time like this. Err on the side of over-communicating, and keep your followers up-to-date on issues like specific store closings as they happen.

5. Activate employees and executives as the faces of your brand. There’s no better time to put faces to your brand than now when customers aren’t seeing many faces other than the ones in their homes.

To help build community by making your followers feel more connected to your brand on a personal level, use this time to highlight the faces within your company. For example, your leadership team can share video updates on Facebook or host Instagram Live sessions to connect with your audience on a more human level.

While the COVID-19 outbreak has been devastating in many ways, this crisis provides some opportunities to use social media more for its intended purpose of being social.

Then, once life gets back to normal, brands that have followed these tips will be in a good position to increase sales due to having wider brand recognition and deeper loyalty built during these difficult times.

Carlos Gil is an affiliate consultant with Ragan Consulting Group and author of The End of Marketing: Humanizing Your Brand in the Age of Social Media and AI. He specializes in social media consulting. Contact Kristin Hart at Kristin.Hart@raganconsulting.com to learn more about RCG. Follow RCG on LinkedIn here.

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