The COVID-19 pandemic has had major impacts on virtually everything that we do. We're working from our homes, alongside our kids in virtual school classes, while shopping malls are emptied out, and even going for a walk can feel somewhat unsafe.
Logically, COVID-19 has also impacted what people talk about, with pretty much every conversation you have these days now referring, in some way, to the situation. For marketing and communications pros, that's also meant a re-think in focus. How do you continue maximizing brand exposure amid such an event? Should you even be looking to continue advertising during a pandemic?
The true answer is that there is no answer - no one knows, for sure, how to best respond because no one's ever operated in such an environment before.
For some brands that have chosen to reach out with messages of empathy, those efforts will help them maintain connection with their audiences, yet for others, who maybe take a different path, either by choice or due to the impacts, their messaging could backfire, and cause significant reputational damage.
Which category will your business fall into - and has consumer sentiment about your business changed already?
That's where monitoring brand sentiment comes in.
Here are some tips on how to get a pulse of audience response, and what you can then do to manage the situation.
1. Listen to what the Internet says about your brand
First, in order to get a sense of audience sentiment, you need a social listening tool to monitor mentions of your brand across the web. I recommend Awario (disclosure: I am on the Awario team), Brandwatch, or Talkwalker for this purpose.
These three tools are specifically beneficial in this respect because they each include a sentiment analysis element, which will break down your various brand mentions into 'positive', 'negative', and 'neutral' listings.
It's worth monitoring your sentiment charts for spikes, and to respond to each in kind. A spike in negative mentions signals could point to an upcoming reputation crisis, while a spike in neutral or positive mentions could mean that people are talking about your brand more than usual.
Keeping tabs, in either case, can help you to maximize any opportunities for improvement.
2. Monitor the impact of COVID-19 on your brand
Ideally, your social listening tool will pick up every topic and every conversation about your brand. But if you’re interested in digging a little deeper, and honing your efforts onto conversations that combine your brand and mentions of COVID-19 specifically (or, indeed, your brand and other specific issue), you’ll need to take your monitoring efforts to the next level.
For this, you’ll need a social listening tool that has a Boolean search capabilities. In short, Boolean search is a manual type of search query which enables you create more complicated parameters, including additional logic operators, such as AND, OR, which can facilitate more specific requirements.
Using these additional qualifiers, you can build search strings that sift the key mentions from the rest, automatically sorting through the broader stream to pick out the main points you need to know about.
This can help you improve your strategic approach to a situation like COVID-19, as it enables you to stay updated with the latest mentions of your business in relation to this specific scenario.
3. Respond to negative mentions ASAP
Now that you have a listing of all your brand mentions in relation to the issue streaming in, and separated into positive and negative mentions, you can take the next steps, starting with the most important element: the negative mentions.
Negative mentions are the ones most likely to lead to adverse consequences for your company, but research shows that people are generally appreciative of quick, active responses, and getting onto these posts and comments fast enough can enable you to turn negative sentiment around, and avoid broader damage.
You should look to respond to complaints and negative comments as soon as you see them. This also shows that you care about the opinions and problems of your audience, which can help to establish further connection.
4. Respond to influencers’ mentions
Ideally, you'll be able to respond to all mentions, both positive and negative, in a timely manner, as required - but depending on how many mentions you see, and the time you have to commit to the task, that won't always be possible.
If your capacity is limited, it's worth taking note of the mentions from the most influential users, as their experiences can have a much bigger impact on your overall brand sentiment.
Again, this is not the ideal, and you don't want to be in a position where you have to prioritize responses based on follower counts. But logically, when you're managing your time, this is the place you should consider looking, particularly in the case of a negative mention that you want to dilute before it becomes problematic.
5. Check your media coverage
Knowing your reputation among your customers, target audience, and social media users is vital, however, when we’re talking about serious reputation failures (as well as serious reputation successes), mass media is where the big shifts will occur.
Social listening tools can monitor a broad range of online sources, in addition to social platforms, including personal blogs (which can be extremely popular) and major news sites.
If your business is getting mentioned in major publications, you need to know about it, and active social listening, combined with sentiment analysis, will help you stay on top of this big mentions - and early notifications in this respect could end up being invaluable, dependent on the situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is unpredictable, and scary, for various reasons. Situations like this can leave people feeling out of control, fearing for everything at once, and assuming that you’re already taking care of your personal, physical health, it's worth also paying attention to your brand’s health as well.
Being aware of how the situation can impact the perception of your brand will enable you to act wisely, and avoid common mistakes.