It happened so fast. One day B2B marketers were prepping for Q2 and the next we were all wondering how to address a global pandemic. COVID-19 has put B2B marketers in uncharted territory: None of us has experience with a crisis of this scale and unfortunately, there is no rule book.
However, there are some guidelines. While there is no history to rely on to tell us what the pitfalls are and what the repercussions of poorly executed communications might be, I think it’s safe to say that there WILL be repercussions for those whose content marketing efforts come across as unfeeling or look like they are attempting to take advantage of a crisis. To come out of this with an audience that still respects you, trusts your brand, and is willing to do business with you, you have to be your best self. No matter what some might tell you, this is NOT the time for business as usual. We’ve gotten lots of questions about what to do, what to say, what to publish, and what not to. Here are some tips for navigating B2B communications during the coronavirus pandemic:
Don’t stop communicating with your audience
Communication during COVID-19 is not reserved for healthcare organizations and the CDC. If you want your audience to think of you as a trusted source of information, even during a crisis, you need to stay in touch with them and help them, regardless of your industry. Publish regularly and maintain a consistent presence with new, educational content, even if it’s on a reduced schedule. Weekly posts can become bi-weekly, but if you have an engaged audience, don’t abandon them.
The name of the game right now, though, is to be thoughtful, informative and educational — and nothing else. Your content has to be relevant and useful to your audience. Do not try to piggyback your unrelated sales pitch or product announcement onto the coronavirus crisis.
Be sensitive. Your great product or helpful service can feel icky if you pitch it like a used car during a crisis. How do you avoid that?
- Don’t start with the sell: educate about your topic
- Present solutions only to coronavirus-related issues and address current business pain points
- Only offer your product or service as a solution if you can do it tactfully. Instead of a “contact us now” call to action, offer additional resources on the subject.
Develop new topics
This is not business as usual. If you continue with content addressing only pre-pandemic subjects, you’ll be met with few results at best, anger and annoyance at worst. Pause any announcements or launches unless you can make a strong and useful connection to the crisis. Hold the blog posts, infographics, eBooks or whatever else you had planned, no matter how good the ideas are. Really the only time-sensitive topic right now is coronavirus related. Everything else is probably evergreen enough that you can hold it for later. This will pass eventually and then you’ll have content ready to go.
Starting now, realize that your editorial calendar is fluid and you and your team need to be nimble. Create a coronavirus section on your editorial calendar and brainstorm new topics regularly. Content has to be created and published quickly — think days and not weeks. Your content creators need turn those drafts around in 24 hours, and you need to be ready to publish. Wait too long and your topic will no longer be relevant.
Create content around the pain points your customers are experiencing. Find out what questions customers are calling with. Where can you step in with information to help them deal with situations they didn’t plan for right now? For instance:
- Can you help your audience understand how they need to prepare technically to have a work-from-home staff if you are in IT networking?
- Can you help companies plan and host virtual events in place of canceled conferences?
- Do you have advice for how a business’ remote workforce can be less vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks?
Explore new tactics
Also consider the types of content you are producing. A short video from your CEO (only if he/she has something valuable to say) on social is better than yet another email to customers. Webinars give work-from-home professionals an opportunity to feel more connected and to find solutions quickly and easily (and presented as a weekly series, they give you an opportunity to connect with customers/prospects regularly). A blog post broken up into 5 LinkedIn or Twitter posts might be more interesting to your audience than one longform piece. An interactive quiz or infographic might be attention-grabbing enough to get someone to stop scrolling and read. Consider thinking outside your norm during this time.
In all cases, at least for now, don’t sell your services, consider leaving off the call to action, ungate coronavirus-related pieces, and don’t include gimmicks or offers unless they are truly helpful (people can tell the difference, trust me).
Be ready for “after”
It’s not too early to start thinking about what issues customers will have to deal with after COVID-19 and how you can help. Brainstorming these ideas should be “Part 2” of your new editorial calendar. The business environment will not just go back to a pre-crisis state, so your job is to try to anticipate what the pain points and questions from your customers will be. You can probably see some of that now, so build on current customer concerns to try to hypothesize what the next set of issues might be. Start a list of ideas and plan to start rolling those topics out when you sense that the curve might be flattening.
Use social media creatively
If you’re going to keep publishing content, then you need to keep marketing what you publish. Social media use is up — Facebook and Twitter are reporting more than 20 percent increases in usage. In fact, every 45 milliseconds (yes, you read that right) someone searches the term “coronavirus” on Twitter. Consider evolving your strategy to take into account new levels of traffic. That strategy should include:
- What you post (In addition to promoting your original content, consider curating content related to your industry and coronavirus and include your comments.)
- What tone you use (Remember to be empathetic in social as well as in your content, acknowledging fears and uncertainty as appropriate.)
- How you engage with your audience (Who will monitor and respond to engagement and what will they say?)
Your communication will need to be more frequent and monitored closely. Think about how you’ll respond to common questions in advance and have an escalation plan for negative engagement.
Humanize your message, don’t worry about Google
Remember that no one has all the answers right now, regardless of industry, and everyone is a little on edge. It’s ok to acknowledge that to your audience. Tailor your message as much as possible by segments of your customer base if you are sending email or a newsletter. CEOs are trying to make business decisions that will affect them for some time to come. Their employees want information on how to do their jobs well during this weird time…because they want to still have jobs when this is over.
Make sure you write for humans right now, not as much for Google. I’m not saying you have to ignore SEO completely, but now is not the time to agonize over it. Make sure you get the best, most helpful message out to your audience, whether it helps your search rankings or not.
And don’t forget to communicate to your internal audience: your employees. They want to know you care, that you’re human, that you don’t know what’s going to happen but that you’re doing everything you can to keep your company healthy for them and your customers.
Even though there is no rule book, there are unwritten rules for content marketers during this unusual time. If you remain flexible enough to revise your plan frequently and stay sensitive to your audience and their pain points, you’ll come out of this on the other side with a loyal group of followers.