Social Networks: How brands can survive the Pandemic

As the country begins to slowly open up again after the first lockdown of 2021 (and we all desperately hope the last) it is interesting to begin the process of reflection on 2020; the year the world changed.

In March 2020 it was widely accepted that Social Media was an important part of the brand marketing toolkit – however it wasn’t until the pandemic hit the UK and we entered the first lockdown on 23/3/20 that “bricks and mortar” shops closed, local print press closed, leaflet drops ceased and one of the only avenues left open for customer communication (aside from established websites) was social media accounts.

We watched as retail giants collapsed; Debenhams, The Arcadia Group, EWM Group, Oasis & Warehouse Group, Laura Ashley and restaurant restructures meant that Zizzi, Carluccios, Itsu, Wahaca, Pizza Express, Leon, The Restaurant Group (Wagamama, Frankie & Bennys, Garfunkels) YoSushi all reduced the number of branches to re-open post-pandemic.

 (NB: at some point there will be a brilliant essay/dissertation written about how Primark has managed to survive with no online shopping capability!!!)

Huge organisations that were too large and clunky to pivot quickly – and if they hadn’t invested in their online presence pre-pandemic, it proved to be too late to try now.

Social Media gets a bad rep for trolling, bullying and negative behaviour but the UK lockdowns proved the positive side; keeping in touch, reaching out to those in need, helping communities to pull together and help each other. Facebook commissioned a “Communities Insights Survey” towards the back end of 2020 and commented that “91% of respondents said they have given some form of support to others during Covid-19 pandemic” via a Facebook Group of their choice.

It has been incredible to watch the agility of our smaller local independents as the pandemic has continued, and the various lockdowns gave us, the consumer, a huge appreciation of local. Whether it is a like, a save, a re-post or a purchase #supportlocal doesn’t seem to be diminishing as we venture along the Covid roadmap and the social networks are well aware of this!

Last summer Facebook launched a shortcut called “Businesses Nearby” to allow the customer to see the latest posts from businesses within a certain radius. A “Support Small Business” sticker was launched on Instagram and a #supportsmallbusiness hashtag in Facebook.

A headline in Business Insider, 24th September 2020 read “For small and midsize businesses that want to survive the pandemic, a social media presence is no longer an option.” Digital media is vital for continued post-pandemic success too. Even if you aren’t selling directly or via your DM’s on your social platforms (although Facebook is making this increasingly easy as it integrates with Shopify) this is where your audience is looking for you. 2020 was the year that we stopped talking about “digital detoxing” and were online more than ever (a flurry of studies shows our global online content consumption DOUBLED in 2020); we may have been physically distant from each other but digitally closer!

In 2021 a social media strategy is vital for thriving and not just surviving the early post-pandemic world. Huge importance will be placed on relevant real-time information, social shopping, more entertainment (Tik Tok), communities, keeping in touch whilst travel is still minimal and your brand personality; transparent, authentic, relationship building and proving your brand values (ethical/sustainable/inclusive), with a dose of nostalgia marketing thrown in for good measure.

It is also vital to keep one ear to the ground as Audio Social Media builds in popularity and zoom fatigue grows; from the simplicity of voice-notes on WhatsApp or Voice Tweets on Twitter to Cappuccino, Clubhouse, Discord – as soon as the content moderation is sorted! But that’s a subject for another day!