I’ve created this guide to help organizations on navigating how to use digital marketing in times of uncertainty to be prepared for a rebound.
This is a tough time for business. As during any time of crisis, businesses can’t operate and customers can’t shop the way they normally would. Having said that, there are still things that you can do as a business owner to ride the wave and give your business the best chance of surviving while it’s going on and thriving when it’s over.
Why It’s Important Use Digital Marketing in Times of Uncertainty
We’ve all been dealt a bad hand here. It sucks but, now that we have, we have to play that hand as best we can. If you’re fortunate enough to still be employed and/or conducting business during this time, there’s a good chance that you still have time to take a step back and assess some of your digital marketing efforts. A lot of you will now have the opportunity to put things on hold and focus your energies on improving or boning up on areas that you may not have been able to give attention to in the past.
The virus aside, one of the biggest barriers that businesses face right now (and increasingly over the past decade), is the diminishment of face-to-face interaction, the relationship with the customer, and word of mouth. These things are moving online with e-commerce, digital transactions, and online reviews. Embracing and doubling down on your digital marketing efforts can help you survive a time when most business is being done online and thrive in a world that’s moving in that direction.
Some business owners might think that now is the time to stop your marketing efforts or to slash those budgets. I’d argue that, if you can afford it, you should strongly consider increasing both. So many people are at home right now with nothing to do and nowhere to go, so they’re spending all of their time online. Not only do you still need to reach these people but you need to reach them through the barrage of additional content that they and everyone else are putting out and consuming.
If you’re already set up for an e-commerce business, then this can be your time to shine. If not, there’s still a lot that you can do with this extra time or increased flexibility that you have. By keeping up your digital marketing efforts, by keeping your followers engaged, and by creating a collection of new content, you can generate sales, leads, or prospects right now and also set yourself up to get those later once things return to normal.
The first thing to do is an internal audit of the resources you have at your disposal. This means existing content that you can share through your marketing channels and people who can help you create more. Start to think about what the people within your organization can do, what skills or talents they have, and what experience you can start to harness.
Once you know what you have, you can start thinking about what you need. This may not be clear until after you make marketing plans and goals for yourself but it’s something that you can start to think about. This is a prime opportunity to outsource to freelance creatives to help you turn your ideas into graphics, videos, or written content to help keep your social accounts and website current.
Depending on the type of business you have and its size, you may already have people in place to do your marketing strategy and measuring of results. If you don’t, get one or take it on to learn a bit more about these things during this time. It’s more important now than ever to be tracking your website traffic and social media metrics and if you don’t know-how, there are a ton of resources online to help you get started. If you or your team need some education in these or any other areas, embrace this time for that, too.
Make no mistake, your website is your biggest asset. It’s your digital storefront, which is even more important these days if people can’t visit your actual storefront. It’s your home on the internet that you own and have full control over. You can use it to keep people informed & updated, sell products & services, and collect leads to follow up with later.
If your website isn’t currently your primary source for reaching potential customers, it’s easy to let it fall by the wayside. You can use this time to whip it into shape and have it working for you. Making sure that it works well on mobile devices, that it loads quickly, or that you’re properly tracking visitors to the site are huge helps and easily implemented.
Whether you dabble in social media marketing or you’re an expert, you have an idea of how fast this world can change. Every day, it seems like there’s a new trend catching on or a new platform to learn.
There are a few problem areas that most people miss when using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and other platforms for marketing, which are all things that you can address during this time.
- Are you on all of these platforms? Have you played around with TikTok? It might not be right for your brand but you should get in there and see what all the fuss is about.
- Do you have every aspect of your profile filled out? Are your hours updated?
- Have you claimed your Google My Business listing?
We’ll go into each of these in more detail later.
People are often quick to dismiss email marketing because they associate it with spam and an endless slog of newsletters in their inboxes. I’d disagree and would say that it’s still a very important marketing channel. After your website, your email list is a resource that you own & control, can’t be taken away from you, and can build over time. Every other platform needs users to be scrolling their timelines to see your content, either organic or paid, but you can send your info to people directly to their inboxes. If you’re doing it right, they’ll read it and thank you for the value you provide them.
If you don’t have an email list, now is the time to start one. If you do, now is the time to organize it into different groups based on their interests or your offerings, and to communicate with them about what you can do for them during these tough times.
Train or Learn
The internet is a sea of opportunity for people who want to teach themselves a new skill or subject. Whether you want to learn by reading blog posts and putting it all together yourself or you want to take a structured course from a seasoned professional, there’s a place for you. There are a lot of free or paid versions and there are also a lot of sales & discounts available on them right now.
Facebook Blueprint courses are free all the time! As you might expect, a lot of their courses are focused on Facebook but they do offer general training and advice as well. Top off your education by taking their certification exams. They’re not accredited but they are still very beneficial; these tests will reinforce what you’ve learned, they’re a way to prove to people (employers, clients, etc.) what you know, and knowing that there’s a test will likely keep you focused.
As plentiful as those are, they don’t cover everything. Google has their own academy and a whole stack of Google Ads training and courses.
I’m going to go into more detail about the things that you can do right now to start improving these areas of your digital marketing.
The first thing you should do is update your website copy, which includes putting out a blog post or news update about what your company is (going to be) doing during this pandemic.
- Have you shut down?
- Do you have reduced hours?
- If you’re still operating, how have you adapted to keep your employees and customers safe?
- Have you had to adjust your offerings?
- Any other frequently asked questions that you get from employees or customers.
Like with any marketing, the goal is to answer people’s questions before they have a chance to ask them, so address people’s concerns before they start to wonder or worry. This goes for the new post as well as the rest of the written content on your website; you can add a disclaimer at the top of your ‘about,’ ‘products,’ or ‘contact’ sections with this information so that you don’t have to rewrite all of your content.
For those additional questions that people might have, consider adding a live chat/instant messaging feature to your site, even if just for the short-term, to reduce any barriers that people might have about contacting you. You can field incoming messages yourself or assign it to one of your employees. The main thing to consider when taking this on is how much activity you expect to get and how responsive you will be able to be.
The same kind of notice that you’d put on your website should also appear on your social media channels. Once you’ve shared it, you can ‘pin’ this post to the top of your page on Facebook or Twitter to help people see it much easier when they come to your page looking for information.
Everything is unpredictable right now and it’s hard to know what’s coming tomorrow, much less a few weeks from now. While you might usually prepare content calendars a month in advance, switch to doing them on a week-to-week basis. You can draft or brainstorm ideas for posts further out but don’t schedule anything too far because it’ll be harder on you to rewrite or reschedule everything if things take a sharp turn.
Responding to people who engage on your page is another thing that should be a priority but can also fall by the wayside when you get busy with other areas of your business. Try to respond to every message, comment, and online review to show people that you are listening to their feedback. This is also a good habit to develop that you can hopefully carry on when things return to normal.
Speaking of online reviews, check in on your Google My Business profile and treat it as you would your other social channels; make sure your information is current, post weekly to keep people informed, and respond to online reviews or questions.
We talked earlier about the benefits of an email list. You’ve likely seen some of those benefits first-hand since the beginning of this pandemic if you received an email from any business or organization that you’ve ever interacted with. Every one of them needed to put out an important statement about how they’re reacting to the crisis and email is the most prevalent channel for such things. Email is so much more dynamic, customizable, and accessible than social media posts. So, start an email list if you haven’t already.
If you do have one and use it regularly, stop. Not completely but definitely pause any recurring newsletters that you might have running. Give people a break from it when they want to be paying attention to other things and resume when things have quieted down.
What you can do is use this time to segment your subscribers. Break them up into different categories and develop a strategy to target those different segments. Depending on the size of your list, this may not be easy, but if you’re a local business, you should be able to divide your list into local and non-local people, which will benefit you all down the road with more targeted & relevant emails.
Those are all things that you can start and accomplish pretty quickly. For the things that aren’t that easy, you need a plan; goals to set or habits to start that are looking a little further ahead.
One of the biggest benefits of Google analytics, or data of any kind, is that it allows you to test, learn, change, and learn again. This is a great time to really dig into how your website is doing, where people are coming from, and experiment with ways to make it better. We talked about how you should update your website content and some of its benefits but now you can plan to watch and see how these changes affect how people use your website.
- Bring information from your most-visited page onto your homepage in order to help address people’s issues sooner.
- If you’ve made updates to improve your SEO, you can see how those changes are making a difference.
- Change your calls to action (what the call is, where it’s placed, etc.) to see if people interact with it differently.
- Add video to the pages to help those who’d prefer not to read all of your website content.
The same way you analyze data about your website, analyze it about your social accounts. Keep engaging with customers & followers but it’s even more important that you listen to what they’re saying, what your competitors are doing, and to changes in your industry.
As a general rule, keep your posts positive and focus on what you can do for your customers, no matter the current events. There’s a lot of negativity that already exists on social media, so be the brand that people like to hear from and read about. Because social media is an escape for many of us, it give people a place that they like to escape to and find a way to bring people together. This goes back to engagement but it’s also a good idea to create posts & content that really pushes people to want to get involved.
A part of your plan should also be to develop content that’s even more helpful and valuable to your followers and customers. Educate, entertain, and inform them based on what they want or need to know about. A lot of social media consumption is passive but so is a lot of social media creation. Text posts that share what’s going on at the company that day but you can go the extra mile and create graphics that help people get to know your business and your industry better. As we’ve talked about before, address people’s questions before they have a chance to ask them.
If your website isn’t optimized for search engines, then you’re leaving web traffic on the table. Search engine traffic is the attention that you could be getting without any additional expenses; people are looking for what you have to offer anyway, so why not make it as easy as possible for people to find it?
Google Search Console is something that you should get familiar with if you aren’t already. It’s a free tool that tells you how your site is performing on Google by providing you with data about how often your site is showing up in results, how often people are clicking on it, your top content that people are finding, and how you compare with other sites also showing up in similar results.
To maximize the effect that your content has, update it as regularly as is necessary. Regardless of your industry, things change over time. If something that’s relevant to your business does, go back and update a blog post or website copy so that it reflects this change. Google will rank you lower if your information is out of date as it risks leading users astray with misinformation.
I’ve mentioned several times that there are still benefits to doing marketing during this time. Depending on your type of business, you might not be able to make a sale right now, but if you get someone’s attention, you can use that little bit of exposure to your brand by remarketing to them later.
Warm audiences are people who are already at least somewhat familiar with your brand and they’ll be easier to convert than audiences who have never seen, heard, or interacted with your company or content before.
These are people who have seen your content on social media, visit your website, or are even previous customers. Half the work is already done because these people already know you exist, you just have to remind them what you have to offer. You can do this by tailoring your targeting & messaging to suit the individuals and how they were introduced to you; you can deliver different ads to people who have shopped your online store and people who have seen your video on Facebook. A tailored experience usually means better results.
Creating content is a long-game. You won’t see results from it when you create it but it has a ripple effect that will help you down the road. It can help you get attention on social media, it helps with your SEO, it informs customers, and (if you’re creating it yourself) helps you practice sharing information & digging deeper into your field.
That last part applied not just to you but to anyone in your company, so get other members of your team involved. Thinking about content that you can create is a habit that you can start to develop based on questions that you get from customers or new knowledge or experience that you get about your field. When you learn something new or help someone else learn something new, share it. Written content, graphics, video, or audio are all acceptable formats but create multiple for best results. Don’t forget, you can hire a freelancer to complement your skills, so if you can write but you can talk, make a video or audio recording and have someone else write something to accompany it.
Take this post, for example. A lot of the same advice appears in this written post and in the webinar video in order to help people learn how they best learn.
It’s also a good idea to start to think about a rebound campaign; what you’re going to do and put out when things get back to normal and get people coming back to your business again.
As with anything else, using the right tool for the job can make that job a lot easier. There are ways to manually check analytics or more rudimentary ways to stay in contact with your team but using the right tools can streamline these and other processes and make you more efficient and help you get better results.
A “martech stack” is a group of technologies that marketers use to execute, analyze, and improve their marketing across the customer lifecycle. You can use some of the downtime you have to explore, play around with, and review some of them for yourself:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)
The entire world is going through something stressful right now and it’s unclear what the future will hold. While we’re in this, we can do our best to make this time productive by developing or improving a digital marketing strategy. It’s understandable that you might think that now is the time to pause all of your marketing efforts but it’s not. If you can afford to, you should actually put more into them to cut through all of the noise and still try to help the customers that you can. Remember to keep your messaging contextual & empathetic and not insensitive to the situation.
With a little time, effort, and the right tools, you can survive this storm and come out the other side of it with some newfound knowledge, experience, and, hopefully, a lot of new leads & happy customers.