by Craig Hannabus (@crayg)In the last few days, covid-19 has hit South Africa and it’s raised some interesting issues in the world of social media marketing. When things are going smoothly, social platforms such as Facebook seem to run smoothly. But, when a stress test like the coronavirus pandemic happens, the cracks will inevitably show.

If you’ve done any kind of work in social media, you’ll be familiar with the idea of a content plan. Usually, content plans will cover an entire month and outline what content’s going to be posted on what day. There is a process around this, with some to-ing and fro-ing between the agency and the client until it’s all been signed off. Once signoff happens, posts are scheduled and away we go.

The one benefit to this process is that it allows the agency to optimise the hours used. A content plan starts as a text document and, once that’s approved, it then moves into design. It saves the designer time not having to create imagery for copy that might not be approved. The downside to this process has always been a lack of relevance, though. No matter what’s happening in the world around it, a brand’s content will remain unchanged for that month.

#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing
#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing

Most of the time, this isn’t a problem. However, the novel coronavirus has highlighted that this can turn into a huge problem. While there are some shining examples of brands which have put their monthly, generic content on hold and are now talking specifically about covid-19, there are other brands that seem to be living in a parallel universe where the disease doesn’t exist. The issue is that, in the midst of this crisis, there’s much misinformation being disseminated.

It’s vital that these pieces of content are combatted so that more people are exposed to sound advice. I’ve received ‘official’ advice stating that, just by drinking water, I can eliminate the virus. This isn’t true. There are brands out there that have a huge amount of credibility in this space, and yet their always-on content just ticks by without anyone giving a thought to changing it. The result is that insidious organisations and trolls are spreading lies while potential positive changemakers are bogged down by a process.

There are many challenges when it comes to escaping the world of the monthly content plan. I’ve stood in front of many marketing leads, talking about the concept of brand affinity on social media — the simple idea that, when brands serve their communities (as opposed to sell to), the response will be far more positive. I’ve talked about dialling down product push content. I’ve talked about finding a bigger, overarching purpose for brand Facebook pages. Everyone agrees in principle but there are numbers to hit. There are metrics and KPIs. Unfortunately, getting people to fall in love with your brand doesn’t really have a short-term metric that you can show off at the monthly sales meeting.

#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing
#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing

The second issue lies with how social media teams are structured. In a perfect world, a social team should operate like a newsroom. There should be stories coming in and story pitches going out. Right now, the best we can do is look at predictable “special days”. Yet what if we could be braver and create content around breaking news stories? It would mean we’d have to throw content plans out the window but people would definitely be far more interested in reading brand content than they are now.

Finally, and possibly the largest obstacle, is social media itself. What was once a free-for-all set of marketing platforms has turned into a pay-for-play channel. This means that, if you want eyes on content, you need to pay up. Not many brands want to pay to have their handwashing tips sent out to their audience; they’d rather try and sell more product.

Coronavirus is a dangerous and potentially devastating pandemic, but what it’s done is shown us just how broken our social platforms really are. It’s time for a dramatic change — do we have the guts?

#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing
#CoronavirusSA: Covid-19’s lessons for social media marketing

Currently the strategic director at Rogerwilco, Craig Hannabus (@crayg) has spent his adult life in the tech and marketing industry, exploring both the development and the content creation aspects. He began as a developer, writing software to integrate cell phones with GPS systems, thus building one of South Africa’s first vehicle tracking systems. Through the years, he’s developed a strong interest in exploring the world of customer experience and has worked on brands including Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestle, and Caxton.

This MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page.

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