From some, we hear crickets.

From others, the volume could be turned down quite a bit.

And from a persistent few comes one more cringe-worthy #challenge. 

Welcome to the world of social media in these COVID-saturated times. Unlike other crises small businesses occasionally endure, like weather-related damage resulting in a few days closure, perhaps, or a strike by delivery workers impeding deliveries for a short time, this disaster, with the entirety of the commercial world shuttered, sees us wading into the murky depths of the unknown. 

Remarkably unprecedented, utterly frightening, and truly unfathomable. Yet, here we are, confined at home, growing restless, aching for some semblance of normalcy to return to our lives, when it’s back to business as usual. Oh, how we long for the usual. 

Meantime, we don’t want to be forgotten, yet we’re not certain what to communicate on our social channels. After all, our messaging should be relevant but not too commercial, lest we appear we’re taking advantage of the situation. Post too often and we might seem desperate. Post not often enough and we might seem uncaring. Post tiresome content and we might seem irrelevant. So, we hope for the best. But doing so is like throwing darts in the dark, hoping we’ll hit something. Rather, hit pause, think about your business and your customers — really think about them — and then craft a social media plan that considers today’s customer experience.

 

Engaging with Empathy 

That plan begins by thinking about your customers. In fact, said Parth Patel, your customers should be top of mind, directing your social media decisions as you wade through these next weeks and months. 

Spend a few minutes speaking with Parth and you learn just how customer-centric he is. Parth is founder of Detroit-based RheaBank, a service design group working with businesses to optimize their brands through elevated customer experiences. Parth Patel

Parth Patel has valuable advice for businesses navigating the COVID-19 crisis.

“My yoga studio is obviously closed, but for the past few weeks, each night it has a webinar to keep the relationships” with its clients. He added, “it’s so much better than getting an email about some promotion, or five tips on how to wash my hands … I know how to wash my hands.”

Indeed, as a customer, Parth said, “I want to know what the business owner and the brand can offer me during this crisis.”

The key, according to Parth, is engagement with empathy. “You want your customers to know you’re thinking about them,” he explained. And, for the takeaway to be that we’re all in this together. That is, don’t craft posts to read that your only concern is you. 

Remember, Parth said, “Customer experience is the only competitive advantage right now. Double down on [the customer experience] and the bigger the ROI will be when we get through this.” 

“The audience,” Parth said, “should always feel value, and shouldn’t wonder if you’re in it right now for profit or for people … right now it’s about people.” 

 

Rewriting the Conversation

But to get to the point where your messages are spot on, where your customers look forward to seeing your posts, where your engagement is active, you must fully understand today’s customer experience.

Pre-pandemic, Parth and his colleagues instilled in their clients the importance of thinking like their customers. Today, though, that idea is even more important because what we knew about them — or what we thought we knew — has fundamentally changed. parth and client looking over specs for Midnight Temple

Ask a business owner to tell you where her customers live, what they drive, where they dine, and what movies they enjoy … easy. But, ask that same entrepreneur how her customers behave during a crisis and you’re met with silence. The answer to that question is essential, according to Parth. “How do you get into their conversation today?” 

“The customer journey has been disrupted, so it’s important to understand how their time is being spent, what they and their families are doing at home each night, what social channels are they turning to,” Parth said, adding, “knowing their favorite restaurants and gyms … that’s irrelevant data right now.” 

Sure, your job just got tougher. But you’re not in this alone, as Parth suggests tapping into every business’ greatest asset: its employees. “Engage with your employees, ask what they’re going through, find their talents and together you’ll create stronger engagement.” 

Further, he said, “Ask how they think your business can stay relevant, give them a chance to share ideas.” Consider, too, that your employees are patrons of other businesses; ask what they want to hear from the businesses and services they support.  

Also, don’t wait for the customer to reach out. Sure, the most loyal of your customers will want to know how you’re doing, but the longer we’re on lockdown, those inquiries might be fewer and farther between. Better, then, that you take the lead. “Help them through this,” Parth said. Recognize, too, that “your job is to manage the conversation and remind customers what brought them to you in the first place.” 

Parth even suggests reaching out individually to simply “check in.” “A clothing store recently did that and I was blown away. It made me realize how they’re actually trying to do something for their customers.” 

You might want to connect with other stakeholders — vendors, investors, even competitors — and host a strategy session via teleconference. “Everyone is trying to get through something they have no control over,” Parth added. The exchange of ideas and information, especially from a fresh perspective, can be worthwhile. 

Finally, if you do sneak in a sales event, Parth is adamant about not exploiting the tragedy. “Don’t use Covid-19 [or similar verbiage] as the promo code. Instead, use a phrase like ‘we’ll be alright.’ People do notice those details.” 

 

Edward Nakfoor is a Birmingham, Michigan-based freelance writer and marketer for small businesses. How are you navigating the social media landscape today? Contact Ed at edwardnakfoor@gmail.com.

Connect with Parth @parthpkpatel

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