Last updated on April 25, 2023

Raj Nijjer
VP Marketing @ Yotpo
April 16th, 2020

As part of our weekly AMA series, I spoke with Matt Kobach, Head of Social Media at the NYSE, about strategies for using organic social and paid ads to build community and engage your customers right now. 

Table Of Contents

How can brands advertise right now? 

Brands are hesitant to advertise right now, meaning there’s a lot of low quality ads — and there’s a huge opportunity for yours to be relevant, empathetic, and a breath of fresh air.

Read the room

Acknowledge what’s going on and use that to create ads that don’t feel intrusive or tone deaf. Read the room and read the copy in your ad to ensure it’s appropriate. 

One ad that stood to me was an email from Oatly, the oat milk company. I don’t even drink oat milk and I thought the ad was great. It was something along the lines of “We’re just as surprised as you are that you’re seeing a product email given these times, but you know what, we thought maybe you wanted some oat milk, so we sent this.”

Being aware and reverent is something you can do right now. You don’t necessarily have to be pushing a product. 

Be generous

Another great approach is to simply be generous. Donate money, supplies, time, or resources. It’s getting covered, it’s well received, and it gets your name out there — while still giving back. 

Pivot to the WFH audience

Chubbies has taken their loungewear, targeted it to the WFH audience, and committed to a $5 donation per item. And they’re not the only ones — if you can target or reframe to cater to the WFH audience, do it. 

Adjust your creative & copy

I saw a shoe company, traditionally focused on being out-and-about in the world, that simply adjusted their creative and wording to make their ad relevant. They took pictures of someone wearing the boots on a couch and changed their copy to “for out in the world or sitting on your couch.” It’s the best performing ad they’ve had in the past month.

Measure brand performance

Traditionally in digital marketing, people are measuring what’s easiest to measure. But when you’re only focused only trying to get a click or a sale, at the end of the day, people probably aren’t thinking about you in times like this. 

When you’re able to build your brand and a lifestyle with customer loyalty, you have people thinking about you even when you’re not advertising or they’re not buying. 

Take the time to figure it out. Did we put too much emphasis on performance and not on our brand? If that’s the case, take this time to build your brand and put ad dollars behind it. 

Apple just advertises Apple. Coke just advertises happiness. You have to have patience. It can take six months or more, but when they’re ready to buy again, you’ve done enough brand marketing that they’ll remember you and keep coming back. 

Let’s talk about retail on the offline side. What advice do you have for those with a social following but closed stores?

You have to recreate that window shopping experience on your social, whether that’s through a video, existing assets, or social proof. 

If you’re used to using billboards, tv spots, print ads, or walk-ins and you’re transitioning to social, it’s the same end goal — just a different language. 

If you’ve heavily relied on physical store presence in the past, odds are people aren’t used to buying on your social. In that case, I would consider buying ads (if you’re able). If you haven’t trained your audience to use social media to purchase from you, it isn’t going to happen overnight. Instead, it’s a behavior you have to reinforce.

On an organic level, try Instagram Live, show off what you do, talk to and engage with your customers, Facetime them, try live chats. Find ways to be there for your customers in real time the same way you might in store. Use this time to work on building your audience so that when they’re ready to talk, you’re ready to make sales. 

Equinox quickly pivoted and launched an online brand with 30k followers doing online wellness classes. Obviously they have a massive following, but they successfully took that in-store experience, adjusted it, and invested in building that community online. 

Show your existing customers you care, and focus on customer loyalty. Consider giving your brand-loyal customers a platform. Feature them on your social or let them do a takeover. 

Gymshark did a great job of this by putting their personal trainers online to do classes. It promoted brand loyalty by highlighting brand champions while also keeping them employed and supporting their community. 

What are you seeing in terms of brand messaging on social? 

I’ve a lot of companies pause, step back, take a break, and ask “Alright, what do we do here?” And I think that’s the right approach.

Everything changed overnight, it happened so quickly that you needed to take a second to figure out if your current strategy was the right strategy. 

The one thing I’ve continued to hear people harp on is empathy. 

Empathy is just the ability to understand your audience. You should ask yourself, “What are they going through? How would this be received if it came through my newsfeed? What would I think about it?” Empathy, creativity, communication, and become essential skills in times like this.

The key is to really understand your brand. There’s no playbook for a global pandemic, you just have to react and trust your gut.

What advice do you have for brands right now, especially those that are struggling? 

If you have a following, you can take this time to keep the seat warm for 2 months, 6 months, or for whenever we’ve moved beyond this.

If I had a product that I knew people weren’t interested in buying right now, I would be using this time to leverage social media to build my brand. I wouldn’t ask for any direct sales. Instead, I’d focus on lifestyle and on finding more interesting ways to communicate and keep that relationship warm for when the time does inevitably come that this all blows over. I can’t imagine digital consumption has been higher than it is right now, so you’ll have an audience. Consider this a great time to cultivate your community.