How Brands Can Connect With Consumers In Sensitive Times

Audi, McDonald’s, Mercedes. These brands were quick to engage with audiences on social media amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But did it work out? While originally intended to support rules rolled out around the globe, people judged the messages as inauthentic and ineffective.

Instagram fared much better. By collaborating directly with the World Health Organization, the social media platform not only worked to combat the spread of misinformation, but also sent out public service announcements.

Before you jump too quickly to be part of today’s highly charged conversations, think about how to properly engage audiences online.


Brands should look for partners that not only add new value to campaign messaging, but have also proven effective at interacting with online audiences. It’s not just about the size of the audience, since follower numbers can be inflated with pay-for-play campaigns. Look at what followers are saying, what the sentiment is, and how effective interactions are.



Looking back at the PSA that Instagram put together with the WHO, it’s clear it gained immediate credibility by working with a group that is on the front lines of appropriate communication. 


Brands need to invest time to learn about an audiences’ behavior online — not only likes and dislikes, but how they relate to the brand. 

For example, Vans created a campaign called Foot The Bill, which helps small businesses in the U.S. with a specially designed shoe collection. Their roots are in the small mom and pop skate and surf shops, and so that’s where they decided to focus their message, which connects directly with their core community.


A huge number of brands have found ways to give back. Many clothing manufacturers are making masks, or donating proceeds to charity. These contributions are all helpful, but some are particularly meaningful and engaging, which also gives them legs as a brand campaign. The streaming site Twitch quickly put together a virtual concert that raised $2.8 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Respond Fund, and earned a peak viewership of 135,000. 


With so much painful news, a lot of people are actually using social media and online content to escape. Brands can be part of the more uplifting element of online media, but they have to tread carefully. Authenticity and respect still matter.

Like any social elements of society, online culture is incredibly complex and people have a sixth sense for inauthentic attempts to engage. The situation is particularly sensitive now, with so many people’s lives upended. While brands have the voice and the resources to help, inform and entertain, it’s important that they do their homework to understand how to best use those resources online.
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