COVID-19 – Is it time to stop social advertising?

Published on March 31, 2020

There is no escape from Coronavirus (COVID-19) at the moment. With business, sport and education grinding to a halt, it’s only natural that the news agenda is focussed solely on the global pandemic.

Now that life is becoming more contained, more and more businesses are having to cease trading. ‘Non-essential’ businesses such as gyms, pubs and fashion retailers have closed their doors, so it makes sense to halt advertising if you own such a business, doesn’t it?

Smartphones make work for idle hands

As families self-isolate, smartphone use is increasing rapidly – creating a media surge. According to Facebook, total messaging has increased more than 50% over the last month. As well as this, there have been sharp increases in use of online news, YouTube, TV and on-demand video over the past week alone. It seems that without a physical newspaper to hold, more and more people are clamouring online to get the latest updates on COVID-19.

But what does that mean for brands?

With plenty of your target audience online, there is also a growing opportunity to reach them at mass. However, at such a precarious time, the type of content you serve and tone of voice are more crucial than ever.

Image: Pixabay

Now is not the time to focus on ROI

Over the years, marketers have become a lot more direct with their social advertising. Gone are the days where thousands of likes on a post are the metrics measured for effective campaigns.

Redundancies and furloughed workers have led to 60% of us being worried about the impact of COVID-19 on our personal financial situation (Kantar, 2020). It’s not a time where people are in the habit of buying, online spend has even decreased by 6% over the past week (YouGov, 2020). So for brands, there is limited appetite to see conversion/sales campaigns.

Even though there are more people online these days, brands who approach this precarious time with a relentless message of sales may lose favour long term. It’s easy to slip up online, and the last thing you want is your brand to be seen as profiteering or taking advantage of people in a vulnerable state of mind.

Where is the solution? What is the point of posting content now if nobody is buying anything?

The answer is to change what you’re selling.

No longer are you selling products or items, what you are selling is what your brand stands for, how aware of the climate you are and also how well you understand the needs of your audience.

With schools closed, Joe Wicks, founder of The Body Coach, used his social media platforms to promote PE With Joe, half an hour every morning to keep parents and children active. On its first day alone, over two million people joined live and millions have been watching on a daily basis since.


Not all brands boast 3.3m Instagram followers though, so how do you get your message heard?

Re-adjust your marketing plan to ensure you don’t lose momentum

It’s hardly a secret, but the power of organic social for brands is practically zero. In recent times, Mark Zuckerburg himself has explained why:

“Recently we’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content — posts from businesses, brands, and media — is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.”

With an increased appetite for Facebook feeds to be full of meaningful, relevant content, we now see posts from Groups or local businesses placed above more generic brand messaging – making it harder than ever for brands to ‘cheat’ their way to the top.

It is advised at this stage that brands focus purely on customer communication. Customers need to know how your business is affected by COVID-19. Will there be a delay in postage? Have you enforced social distancing measures? Are you keeping your staff and the public safe in these unfortunate times? People want to know.

But what is the use of saying anything if no one sees it?

That’s where your marketing budget comes in. Re-structure your budget to ensure your usual conversion/sales campaigns can run once things are back up and running, but keep a little aside to drive awareness of your brand’s own COVID-19 action plan.

You can even build custom audiences from your CRM and/or website data to communicate to existed customers and inform them about how your business is changing.

Limit your spending to ensure you maintain a rapport with your customers

People want openness and honesty from brands, and with more time on your audiences’ hands currently – they’ll be checking up on you to ensure that you’re not on their ‘naughty list’ when life resumes as normal.