CMOs shift to social first for post-pandemic era

Digital channels have long been reshaping our human connections, but the coronavirus crisis means businesses are suddenly faced with a new reality: a near-total reliance on online communications and a need for a social-first approach.

During March 2020, as much of the world went into lockdown, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp calls doubled in frequency. More than a million people in the UK alone joined COVID-19 Facebook groups and numerous doctors shared health information on TikTok and Twitter. Reddit, the social news aggregator, saw almost a 50 per cent surge in traffic at times during the month.

The ways in which social media is being used during the lockdown, for many forms of interaction with customers, partners and staff, are quickly becoming the norm. They may remain long after this uncertain period has ended, according to Stéphanie Genin, vice president of global enterprise marketing at social media management firm Hootsuite, which is used by more than 80 per cent of the Fortune 1000.

Hootsuite infographic

“After weeks of adapting to Zoom parties, video appointments with doctors, online schooling, social distancing and tapping into social media for virtually everything, will people be happy to go back to their old ways of working and engaging with each other?” she asks. “In many cases, the answer will be no. Social media has been holding communities together and organisations will need to assess how to manage the new normal.”

For chief marketing officers (CMOs), preparing for the post-pandemic world means lining up advanced digital engagement. A social-first approach is key, given that customers have used social media as a primary channel for several months. In addition, more than half the world population will be actively using social media by the middle of the year, according to Hootsuite’s Digital 2020 report, with daily usage time now averaging 2 hours and 24 minutes.

“Social media has already been critical for customers in their buying journey, but many business leaders have not yet grasped its full importance as a necessary business tool to meet all these human-connection expectations,” says Genin. “It should be digital first, with social media at the heart.”

Social channels are also critical to other key areas of business, including sales and human resources, presenting an opportunity for marketing’s increased usage to set the tone for multiple business departments.

The maturity of social media starts with marketing teams, which then provide links between all other departments. As Forrester analyst Jessica Liu explains in The Social Marketing Playbook: “Marketers drive social media progress as other teams start exploring.” From there it is important to facilitate a unified social approach rooted in measurable objectives.

CMOs are increasingly creating a social-first, transparent culture that permeates the entire organisation’s communications from marketing and public relations to sales support, legal teams and talent recruitment. Genin explains: “Social should not be led by one department, but by everyone connected to your organisation.”

In the changing environment brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, marketing organisations will increasingly harness social media for faster, leaner, more intelligent ways of collaborating with other departments. By harnessing social intelligence with the rest of their business’s core information, internally and externally, companies can respond better to the numerous challenges presented by current conditions. A well-planned approach drives omnichannel integration and can show the bottom-line value of social media against clear performance indicators.

Social media has been holding communities together and organisations will need to assess how to manage the new normal

As Genin notes: “The new digital reality we are all operating in means it is marketing’s time to shine, with social media truly coming to the fore”.

There are numerous examples of these dynamics appearing in practice, such as at the food service and facilities management company Sodexo where an employee advocacy programme built trust effectively. Some 230 of the company’s executives are participating in the programme, which has doubled their monthly average new follower numbers and significantly boosted the number of C-suite followers engaging with their content.

“The employee experience and trust positively impacts the customer experience because it builds confidence with them, their confidence in our brand, and therefore hopefully better business results,” explains Kim Beddard-Fontaine, senior vice president of digital and employee communications at Sodexo.

With consumer confidence severely dampened by the prevailing uncertainty, businesses’ focus in the medium term will inevitably shift from sales to brand loyalty. The capacity to engender loyalty, enthusiasm and interest through social media will be a major battleground for competitive advantage, both now and in the long-term economic aftermath.

“The next generation of business innovation will be driven through understanding human connection, not channels. Companies will need to know as much as possible about their customers’ pain points, expectations, reactions to different types of content and what platforms they prefer to use and when,” says Genin.

“Whereas certain types of customer might previously have been considered non-tech savvy or non-users of digital platforms, nearly everyone will now have online expectations and businesses need to respond to these.”

Marketing has long been digitally powered, but with a near-global lockdown and the arrival of huge economic pressures, now is undoubtedly the opportunity for marketers to drive an advanced digital, social-first approach for deep success.

Register your interest for Hootsuite’s upcoming C-suite roundtable to discuss how being a social leader can transform your organisation. The online event is hosted by Flavia Brown, head of Raconteur’s new amp programme for business leaders, and Damian Corbet, renowned social leadership consultant and author of The Social CEO: How Social Media Can Make You A Stronger Leader. Email for details