Marketing during an epidemic: Should my brand share coronavirus-related content?

Estimated read time: 8 minutes


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There’s so much coronavirus-related content being shared I kind of want to just turn my phone off. It’s all a bit overwhelming. There certainly is the information we must know! Then there’s all the opinions and typical social media arguments. Then we have brands adding content that relates to their areas.

Generally, I think it’s a useful strategy for brands to publish content when it makes sense and adds value so inserting yourself into the discussion may be okay. The keywords are may be.

Mael Roth

It “could seem like a PR thing, brands wanting to hijack attention for profit … it can be tricky,” said Germany-based content marketing expert Mael Roth. When “in doubt, stay off the topic unless the content is ACTUALLY helpful and not sales-y.”

At the end of the day, as Michelle Park Lazette and I discuss on this episode of the Business Storytelling Podcast recorded last year, always put your audience first. Before publishing any content ask yourself these questions:

  • How is this information helpful to my customers and prospects?
  • It is true?
  • Do we have something unique to share that hasn’t been shared, yet?
  • What’s the best way to share the content?
  • How do we get it to people?

Writer Jim Samuel puts it this way: “If your company or brand has a direct relationship to coronavirus, then content related to it may be appropriate. If you do not have a direct reason to comment, any attempt to do so can make you appear opportunistic and insincere.”

Certainly, there are ways to share valuable content for your audience if it makes sense.

As tempers are flaring up, keep in mind that even the most well-intentioned content can backfire and somebody somewhere will have an issue with it. I shared an article from a few days ago that discussed the chances to get coronavirus and it certainly felt like some people jumped me on social media.

What is unique content to share related to the coronavirus?

I was getting ready to say that we do not need any more brands sending emails saying that people need to wash their hands or touch things unnecessarily. And then I attended an Iowa state tournament basketball game. Sitting near the aisle I witnessed this:

Yup, a guy was eating food while walking down the stairs. He stopped, licked three fingers of his right hand and then promptly used that same hand to hold the railing walking down the steps. One more email by one more brand may have reached him? Or maybe they needed to make an announcement at the games?

Of course, I saw dozens of people also grab the railing from there on forward – touching where he had just touched.

The trick is for brands to share messages that have something to do with their area and that are helpful.

Lime – the scooter company – sent out an email discussing the topic and tied it back to what customers who plan on using scooters, which are shared by many, might find most useful:

From the email:

Steps you can take to protect yourself
  • Just as you should wipe down public and shared surfaces with disinfectant, we encourage you to do the same before riding a scooter or bike.
  • You could also consider wearing gloves as a precaution as well as washing your hands before and after riding.

Target sent out an email letting customers know that stores will get additional cleanings:

On top of our daily cleaning procedures, we’re adding hours to each store’s payroll to make our routines even more rigorous. This means more time will be spent cleaning our stores, including cleaning surfaces like checklanes and touchscreens at least every 30 minutes. (HT: Michelle Garrett)

Additionally, there are different ways to share the message. The Holderness Family made an engaging video about the importance of hand washing, for example.

Maybe the most creative way I’ve seen yet to share that message.

Bankers Trust in Cedar Rapids added an alert banner on their website.

 

When you click you get more information, including an informative infographic covering “ways to bank without going to the bank.” That’s content useful now and times without coronavirus — when we get there.

 

Info graphic on how to bank without going to a bank

 

TSA shared what you can pack into your carry-on to stay healthy. Timely and relevant. (HT: Stephanie Thum)

TSA healthy tips

Then there are the messages that send updates to how to work with a brand.

Best Western, the hotel chain, was the first to soften the fear of frequent travelers and their elite status: “Effective immediately, all BWR members globally will maintain their current status through January 31, 2022 without needing to fulfill the necessary qualifications.”

Airlines are waiving change fees is another example here. The NCAA basketball tournaments will be played without fans. The NBA is suspending its season. While those fall closer to the news category than content marketing, it’s still important to communicate quickly. Also, it’s important to share updates on refunds.


The decision time to share content

It’s a brand specific choice on whether you want to participate or not. It sometimes can be easier to just not do anything. I’ll give you an example:

American Airlines stocks are really going down right now. A novice like me is tempted to buy some. Certainly air travel will turn around at some point. Some articles say that exact same thing. Other articles are saying American Airlines are on the path to bankruptcy and I should not consider buying stock.

Which one is right? I have no idea, but if I do nothing (don’t buy stock) I’m probably okay.

The same can be true when it comes to content creation and syndication around the coronavirus. Your brand will probably be fine if it does absolutely nothing. But it can also be very helpful to customers when it shares the right content.

Take the state basketball tournament. I drove to Des Moines (two hours from me) twice this week to watch games. There was no communication from the tournament that I saw anywhere. I still went, bought food, saw my nephew advance to the state championship game and didn’t touch railings. It didn’t even cross my mind that I saw no updates surrounding the coronavirus – until I started writing this. Didn’t really matter for the most part.

If brands don’t participate, people may not even notice. They may not even take them to task for it. Nobody would say “Hey Bankers Trust, where’s your infographic on how I can bank without going to a bank?” But when Bankers Trust did share it, that felt helpful.


At the end of the day, communication and customer-focused communication is about communicating. Being quite is not usually what I would recommend, but also don’t try to exploit the situation.

What to share exactly depends on the brand.

As Jim said, hospitals can talk about precautionary matters anyone can take. Banks can talk about banking without going to the bank. Hygiene specialists could probably talk about what to do when you can’t find toilet paper.

Amanda Saunders-Johnston

Advent Health “launched coronavirusresourcehub.com, featuring our IP specialists and links to government resources (CDC/DHHS/DOH), so consumers can find everything easily,” said Amanda Saunders-Johnston of Advent Health. “Anything else they may need, they can always ask us directly on social or via our hotline.”


You may seen the social media pictures of empty aisles because people have bought all the toilet paper. One Facebook friend was even asking for recommendations where she might be able to find toilet paper since the stores she had gone to where out.

We ordered toilet paper from Target.com, but when the shipping date was pushed back I went to Hy-Vee to buy some. There was enough left but the aisle was definitely emptying out.


Do people consume all this coronavirus content?

There’s definitely been a huge uptick in Google searches for “coronavirus”.

Coronavirus searches on Google

Of course, that doesn’t mean that specific brands will rank for it. There’s a lot of news coverage happening right now, too, and media sites often rank high. Here’s how the search results page currently looks for me:

The Holderness video had 150,000 views at the time of this writing.

This is my third article on here that covers something related to the coronavirus. The first two were in the top 5 of most read content this past week. There’s definitely interest in topics related to the coronavirus. As you can see, I addressed very specific topics.

One article was about how to move conference to online only. The second one was about how to successfully work remote.


On what channels should I share my content?

As always, follow the Create Once, Publish Everywhere Model. Put the content on your website, consider a banner like Bankers Trust, send it to your email list and social media.

But don’t overdo it and keep your audience top of mind when you decide to share something.

And no matter what you do, stay sensitive. Run the content by others before it’s published. I killed some content after my editor said that could be taken out of context.

Rahul Welde
Rahul Welde

Are people being insensitive? According to Rahul Welde some are.

”Very embarrassing that many (including celebrities) post jokes and memes about a serious crisis,” he said. “How thoughtless and out of sync. The world needs maturity and compassion.”


Brainstorm

Before publishing anything, brainstorm with the team. But don’t go in with the attitude that you don’t want to publish. Go in with the mindset that you will publish something relevant and then find a way.

Want to brainstorm with me? Book 30 minutes on my calendar here now.