At 1:30am on Friday morning of the Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix my agency team were sitting around a dining room table in Melbourne fielding urgent calls from the UK and USA. F1 racing team McLaren had just announced one of their staff on the ground in Melbourne had been diagnosed with COVID-19. This sent an already anxious sport into a tailspin as meetings in the early hours took place whilst misinformation and rumour spread with contagion.
Our agency holds the keys to a number of official social media channels who are directly related to F1 and we are responsible for creating, managing and posting entertaining content throughout the F1 season on their behalf. It became instantly clear that the next statements to come from our team needed to be accurate, timely, informative, sympathetic and truthful. That was the immediate, emergency management response our team is trained to step in and handle. Hours later, on Friday morning, the Australian Grand Prix was cancelled and with this news the darkest of clouds descended over one of the biggest travelling sports on earth.
What comes now?
F1 isn’t alone in these dark days of surviving COVID-19. Every brand is now facing an extremely volatile international environment. What comes now and what should brands be doing in the midst of social distancing and country lock downs?
Overhaul your social strategy What looked good in theory during those early January strategic sessions is highly unlikely to fit in this rapidly changing environment. Throw out the plans and start again.
Rediscover the needs of your audience What content did your audience crave from you in December 2019? Chances are this might be different today, unless of course you were already selling toilet paper, dry pasta or hand sanitiser.
Put yourself in their shoes and think about the key issues facing much of the globe. Times are uncertain, there are lock downs, social distancing, travel warnings and it could get worse before it gets better. People have more time with themselves, time to learn and to discover. They are thinking differently and will engage differently so create content that provides nourishment and adds value to their life right now.
Stay agile Things are changing by the hour. Check the sentiment of your audience’s dialogue and be empathetic with them. If your planned messaging is starting to miss the mark then change it immediately. Obsessively read through your audience comments and you’ll quickly understand their state of mind and if your messaging is helping or hindering this.
Re-focus on the role of social media The role of social media should be to entertain, engage, discover and delight. Many brands have forgotten the core principles of good social media practice. Brands can use their channels more than a sales channel in these times and use this period for deep engagement.
Help people People are spending more time cooking, reading, singing, talking, dancing, meditating and listening. What can your brand do to help people achieve a new skill or discover something different? How would teaching your audience something new position your brand in their minds especially when recovery comes?
Go for share of voice Diamonds are made under pressure and the next few weeks and months will see a shuffle of pack among all industries. While some brands will reduce or pull their messaging all together, the smart ones will increase content product and re-set their messaging. With less noise in the market and the world captive in their homes looking at their screens for entertainment there is ground to be won.
Position for recovery. It will come. Brands who plan and engage will pull through this, potentially with engagement and audience growth. These will be the brands in pole position to capture the lion’s share of the rebounding market.
These are bleak times but ultimately the most important time for social and digital teams to speak with a higher purpose and add real value to their fans and followers.