Pandemic has made social media engagement real time, reactive, sensitive, say experts

It has become difficult to imagine a life without social media today. From the moment we wake up to the time we wrap up the day, we are constantly checking our screens, commenting, posting, connecting, debating and perhaps even trolling in the digital space. Moreover, the global pandemic and lockdown exacerbated the transition to digital. According to Digital 2020 October Global Statshot Report, there were 4.14 billion social media users as of October 2020.

Businesses, celebrities, influencers – all have started engaging more and more with the public via social media and they are keenly followed. The platforms available today are many – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, LinkedIn – and most often the influencers are present on multiple platforms.

With the growing use and keen scrutiny, any faux pas is instantly picked up and often amplified to some very unpleasant consequences. There have been several instances in recent times when celebrities and even businesses have faltered in their social media communication and have been at the receiving end of flak from the public. #Boycott*anything* has become the norm every time someone does, comments or posts something unpalatable to the people.

In the very recent times we have seen harsh exchanges on social media – be it the Capitol Hill Rights in the US, the astonishing jump in Gamestop’s stock price or global celebrities highlighting the Farmers’ Protests in the outskirts of Delhi. Sharp divisions arise as public tolerance has become wafer thin.

All this brings to the fore an important issue – understanding the new norms for social media engagement. The entire game has changed today, but how prepared are our businesses, celebrities and influencers? In today’s highly hyper-sensitive times, what are the new set of Do’s and Don’ts that one needs to keep in mind? How to counter any severe backlash on social media?

Adgully’s weekly flagship property, #TwitterChat, turned the spotlight on ‘The New Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Engagement’ in its latest edition, held on Friday, February 5, 2021 from 3 pm to 4 pm.

Joining in the discussions were:

Abhinav Srivastava, COO, SPAG Asia & DYellow Elephant

Indu Sharma, Head - Corporate Communications, Reckitt Benckiser Health

Shahnaz Jain, National Digital Lead, Archetype India

Manish Kumar, CEO, Digiosmosis

Megha Ahuja, Group Director, Brand Communications, Gozoop

Prachi Bali, National Head - Client Partnerships & Business Head- North, FoxyMoron

Tejal Daftary, Founder, Alphabet Media

Vishal Mehra, Digital Head - North, DDB Mudra Group

Keeping in mind the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussions began by first focusing on the evolution of social media engagement for businesses during this time.

Giving his insight on the evolution of the platforms Manish Kumar said, “Platforms are constantly evolving to suit audience consumption patterns. New platform features are leading to new metrics of engagement. The pandemic led to increased usage of these platforms and gave people a chance to explore these platforms better, especially in terms of content creation, thereby increasing the followers and engagement of platforms.”

Giving the outlook of businesses, Tejal Daftary said, “Businesses are keeping a close eye on emerging trends like concept of screen free media, increase in subscription services in areas of health, etc., and customising their strategies around that.” Adding further, she said, “What’s been interesting to notice is that the baby boomer audiences have been spending more time on social platforms. This gives a fairly new audience a chance to embrace new habits, a trend that is likely to be more impactful in the longer run.Social media gives people a sense of escape, instead of feeling that they constantly need to acknowledge the difficulties of our times, thus resulting in higher engagements. Brands have understood that tougher times require greater emotional intelligence. Listening to consumer needs and knowing how they feel have helped brands navigate them to a new world through products services and actions.” Giving an interesting insight, Daftary also said, “Google reports have shown that global searches for phrases like ‘Available near me’ have doubled. We see location-based marketing play a higher role with more localised strategy being adapted and promote places and convey experiences.”

Talking about the effect of the pandemic on social media engagement, Prachi Bali said, “The #Covid19 pandemic has made social media engagement real time, reactive and sensitive. Having said this, credibility of the messaging plays a vital role in making an impact amongst a brand’s audience and, therefore, engagement.”

Providing some consumer perspective, Indu Sharma said, “The pandemic has changed expectations of current consumers, drawn more people to social media, increasing the base, added new customers. Its added layers and increased consumer segmentation. Now, brands are expected to tell their Purpose Story to get consumers interested and instil brand loyalty.” She further noted, “The pandemic has pulled brands out of their narcissism and compelled an empathetic focus towards real consumer issues and challenges.”

Noting how the relevance of social media engagement has increased in the pandemic times, Abhinav Srivastava said, “The growth has been phenomenal, with everyone relying on specific tools and campaigns to target audiences, organically and through paid aspects of performance marketing. We have also seen that change overall with online media, where static content has evolved into dynamic.”

Giving some valuable statistics, Vishal Mehra observed, “Social media has become critical to marketing during the pandemic. Some surveys indicated that spending has increased from 13.3% of marketing budgets in February 2020 to 23.2% in June 2020 – a lift of 74%. Meanwhile, spending on traditional advertising declined.” Mehra further said, “Engagement has also increased manifold as most consumers interact not just for post-service queries, but also pre-purchase information and other activities. That’s why many brands have seen staggering ROI on their investments. Many CMOs estimate more investments this year.”

Shahnaz Jain added here how businesses have looked at the pandemic in different ways – some opportunistically and some empathetically, often, empathetically opportunistic or opportunistically empathetic. And their social media engagements reflect these priorities. According to Jain, the opportunistic would talk about what they could sell you to ease the impact of the pandemic, while the empathetic would just do their good deed and you might never know they did it.

Jain further said, “The empathetically opportunistic/ opportunistically empathetic will possibly give to the community and broadcast it on social to a greater or lesser degree. None of these are right or wrong, but the truth is that the pandemic has forced companies to adapt fast and often make spot decisions on how they want to be seen. The impact is universal. How you respond to it is, for want of a better word.”

Megha Ahuja noted that social media is now being used to stay up-to-date with news and current events – a definite shift from entertainment. “The social media world we increasingly live in now – go viral or go home – is more active than passive,” she added.

Catch the complete conversation on our Twitter page and follow @adgully on Twitter for more such weekly discussions.


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