Michael Murphy, Social Media Supervisor

Between a global pandemic that brought the world to a screeching halt, nationwide civil unrest in the ongoing fight for racial justice, and a highly contentious presidential election⏤all fighting for dominance in our news cycles and social feeds, it goes without saying that 2020 was perhaps the most complicated year for marketers in recent memory. (OK, probably ever, if we’re being honest.) 

But with its myriad challenges also came an invaluable learning experience — one that we definitely couldn’t have gotten in any college course or industry webinar before, and that radically changed the way brands were forced to approach their social media strategies.

As 2021 unfolds, many of those same challenges remain, albeit with a new glimmer of hope as the vaccine rollout makes headway and consumer confidence slowly rises from the ashes of a truly terrible year. 

So, how do brands even begin to navigate this dizzying landscape? It really boils down to one concept: proactivity.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you plan out your social strategy in a year filled with uncertainty:

Expect the unexpected. 

As cliche as that phrase sounds, it became the new norm in 2020 to anticipate bad things happening. (As “Debbie Downer” as that sounds). It’s important for social marketers to stay on top of what’s going on and make plans, and then make back-up plans for those plans, keeping every possible scenario in mind.

With this in mind, we recommended that our clients avoid posting any social content on Inauguration Day. This would allow for the free flow of information, should any violence occur, and also avoid appearing tone-deaf, with any pre-scheduled content going live during a potential national crisis.

Acknowledge and speak to the moment, but do so with intent. 

Staying silent in the wake of events of national or international importance, like the ones we’ve seen in the past twelve months, can have seriously negative impacts on brand perception. 70% of consumers say it’s important for brands to take a stand on social and political issues, which is up from 66% in 2017 (source: Sprout Social). Audiences today want to know that the brands they love are in tune with the current climate and aren’t afraid to speak up. In fact, many will begin to support a company if it takes a position — or, conversely, withdraw support for not doing so. (Bonus Tip: save the non-specific blanket statements about “coming together” without addressing the issue at hand; consumers are savvier than ever before, and are able to see through vague attempts to placate without principle.)

In the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, we advised that if our clients do want to make a statement, it must directly address the situation at-hand. We saw that brands using vague messaging (such as general calls for unity or the decidedly ambiguous “All Lives Matter” approach) were seeing significant blowback, which is indicative of the growing social savvy of consumers.

Find out how your business can fill a timely need and communicate that in your social content. 

There are ways other than bold political stances that brands can show support. The onset of the pandemic in particular saw a rapid and persistent shift in consumer needs that required continuous monitoring in order to speak to the moment. It is important to research and lay out what consumers are feeling and needing and figure out how your brand can provide a solution to those needs, in a way that focuses on empathy rather than promotion alone.

In 2020, we saw that consumers were cooking at home more amid restaurant restrictions and generally negative sentiment toward gathering in indoor spaces. For our food CPG brands, we pivoted our messaging approach to acknowledge this and provide creative, gourmet mealtime solutions using the products that could temporarily fill the dining-out gap.

In short, 2020 taught us that consumers are watching brands’ social channels closely — and they’re relying on the brands they love to meet them exactly where they are. While it’s impossible at times to know what’s coming down the pike next, it’s imperative that brands plan proactively for how they will respond to the ever-changing world in which we live, and use their social channels to communicate their unique value propositions.

If hindsight is 2020, foresight is 2021.