Social media is a great way for businesses to connect with their customers. But with the pandemic igniting so many changes, it can be difficult to uncover the best way to maintain customer retention and engagement going forward. Keep reading to find out key strategies businesses can utilize on social media that can translate into post-pandemic times.
Two years of the pandemic has completely changed businesses’ game plans in so many ways, especially when it comes to customer retention and engagement. Now, the question of what things may look like post-pandemic can weigh a bit heavy on the shoulders of business owners.
The same questions you likely asked yourself when the pandemic hit, such as how to connect with customers throughout this changing time, will likely be the same questions you ask yourself post-pandemic – how will I reconnect with them when this is over?
Well, here is some reassurance – it’s not about reconnecting with customers. It’s about pivoting your messaging while staying connected.
If you have remained active on social media throughout the pandemic, you and your customers are already connected. Hopefully, your customers have remained engaged with your posts, which has helped you to maintain your reputation as a business.
Your messaging may have changed throughout the pandemic, but who you are and your core values should not have wavered, and your customers have (hopefully) seen that. Additionally, your customers have discovered new ways to purchase, whether it be through e-commerce or “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) models such as curbside pickup or click and collect. If you’ve implemented these strategies, you have maintained a connection.
Rather than asking how to reconnect with your customers post-pandemic, the question should be focused more on how will you provide customers with what they are looking for. How might that have changed over the past few years?
All of the time and hard work that went into building your customer base pre-pandemic, as well as the effort that went into keeping those customers and acquiring new ones throughout the pandemic, doesn’t get thrown out the window along post-pandemic. What’s changed is what consumers want and need from you as a business, and that is because the environment around them (and all of us, really) has transformed.
This article will look a bit at how customer behaviours have changed throughout the pandemic and some of the challenges many have faced to stay connected to customers. It will also discuss more in-depth some strategies businesses can utilize on social media that can translate into post-pandemic times, and some tips for those who may have not maintained that customer connection as easily on social media.
*The topics and information discussed below are from the presentation, Reconnecting with Customers Post Pandemic with Reshift Media’s VP of Content and Social Media, Jen McDonnell, as part of the Canadian Franchise Association’s Leadership and Business Development Summit.
Changes in Customer Behaviour Throughout the Pandemic
We have all seen changes in the world around us during the pandemic, but on the business side of things, the models many have followed for years had to be quickly shut down or swiftly changed. From the very obvious change of not being able to freely shop in-store, to the more subtle changes like consumer expectations, updates have been and will continue to be inevitable as the pandemic continues and .
On the digital front, e-commerce accelerated by several years across all demographics and categories. With a reported 24.2 million digital buyers in Canada and approximately CAD $36.8B in e-commerce revenue in 2020, there is no slowdown in sight.
There was a significant increase in mobile usage throughout the pandemic with more individuals spending time on their phone. This has resulted in the need for businesses and e-commerce retailers to step up and improve their customer experience to fit the constraints of a mobile device. Consumers have begun to expect a seamless mobile experience, and that expectation will continue post-pandemic, so ensure your business’ mobile presence is optimized.
TIP #1: If you have products and services that can be bought or booked online, continue to make that as easy of a process as possible. For instance, when you’re testing out your checkout process, make sure you’re testing it on a mobile device and that it’s easy and fast to check out using your phone, just as it would be on a desktop. Explore all ecommerce avenues, such as Instagram Shopping, instead of limiting your customers to your ecommerce website.
Additionally, purchase options like curbside pickup, click and collect, and contactless payment have grown in popularity with consumers. It’s important to note that not only have these BOPIS models been successful to keep many businesses afloat when in-store shopping was not an option, but many consumers have adjusted to the convenience it offers and will expect it going forward, post-pandemic. Although in-store shopping will bounce back, implementing these pandemic strategies and promoting them on your social media will likely be here to stay.
Connecting with Customers
Unless a business completely shut down and went totally dark on social media, which most did not do, social media helped to maintain a constant conversation with consumers for most businesses. However, the overall messaging shifted more towards store hours, curbside pickup options, safety protocols, and so on. Lots of brands also leaned into fun through their messaging and pushed content that made people feel better during tough times, which helped to build a community online.
It is extremely important to create a dialogue with your customers, even with something as simple as asking them how you can help. Some businesses may implement more customer surveys to help gauge where their customers are at, and it has helped to dig into how their needs have changed. Instagram Story polls are a great way to get the pulse of your audience in a fun, interactive way. By doing this, it helps demonstrate that you care, that you are listening, and that you’re ready to serve them in this changing environment.
Repairing Broken Customer Relationships
Social media offers a mixed bag of both positive and negative reviews and comments. The best way to navigate any strained interactions is by first understanding that customers just want to be heard. One thing social media is great for is turning detractors into advocates.
Be sure to respond quickly to any comments and reviews and try to take things offline if someone left a negative response (either through DM or another form of communication). The public will see that you responded timely and are following up, but do not need to see an extended back and forth with each individual customer.
Communication Styles on Social Media
The way your brand communicates, your “voice”, should be consistent across all forms of communication – it is what helps build customer relationships and brand recognition. Whether you’re talking to someone in person, through the content on your website, in your newsletter, or through your posts on social media, it should all be the same tone, even if the messaging and platforms differ.
While some brands had to adopt a more tactical approach on social media during the pandemic to convey practical information like ever-changing hours and safety protocols, consider how to adapt your post-pandemic approach when those sorts of messages are no longer as prevalent.
TIP #2: Creating a brand style guide is a great way to not only ensure consistency across design but across all forms of communication as well. By establishing this early on, anyone that enters your business as either an employee or specialist will understand how you want to come across. Do you like using puns in your copy? What about replying to customers on social media with GIFs and memes? Do you want a more professional tone? This will help to create a brand image that customers will connect with and recall.
While your tone should remain consistent, your messaging will likely differ depending on whether you are talking to existing customers or prospecting for new ones. For example:
- Organic social media: Assuming that your organic followers are already mostly customers, you don’t want to come across on social media as always selling something. You’re preaching to the choir– they already understand who your brand is. While debuting new products/services and highlighting promotions should still be a priority, you also want to build a community – have conversations, talk about upcoming events, give advice, position yourself as in industry thought leader, etc.
- Paid social advertising: If you are targeting correctly, paid advertising (excluding remarketing) should target those who are not your customers yet, so your messaging may focus more on branding messages, selling messages, how you differ from your competition, etc.
TIP #3: Encourage communication between different departments and business locations about what’s trending, what customer service teams are hearing, what keywords people are searching to get to your website, what themes keep coming up in reviews and social comments, etc.
It’s important to have a full picture of what is happening with your customers, which makes it easier it is to connect with your customers on social media. Listen to what your customers are saying to you on every platform/medium.
Get Interactive on Social Media
Engaging, interactive tools are a great way to stay connected with your audience on social media. Live streams, Instagram Story polls, Instagram Reels, and Twitter polls are just some examples of the features social media platforms offer.
A lot of businesses got really creative during the pandemic when it came to connecting with their audience via social media (restaurants that were only doing takeout were posting recipe videos or live streams of wine tastings,gyms were offering virtual fitness classes, etc.) but some have since pulled back or resumed the types of posts they were doing pre-pandemic. Determine what worked best during the pandemic, and see if you can create similarly engaging content for a post-pandemic audience. Maintaining a consistent posting schedule also helps to keep the engagement following and show you are active.
TIP #4: Pick a social media platform or two that you are comfortable with and that you know your customers are active on, and focus on that. For example, if you have an audience primarily made up of Gen Z customers, TikTok might be the best option. If you’re unsure, we often recommend starting off with Facebook and Instagram, as combined, they can reach amount of people across all ages.
Since they are owned by the same company, the platform’s tools like Business Suite make it extremely easy to post on one or both platforms, all from one place. They also have an integrated Ads Manager, so you can create ads that run on both Facebook and Instagram, or one or the other from the same dashboard.
Create a Community
Whether you are a local business or a national brand, building an engaged community on social media is essential. Allow your audience a glimpse behind the curtain and feel like they know you. Live streaming, for example, is a cost-effective way give prospective customers a peek behind the scenes and teach them more about your brand and its personality. Another great way to achieve this is by hosting an information session to answer customer questions or do a how-to demonstration (if applicable). By creating an event beforehand and boosting it, you can reach people beyond your existing customers.
Customer testimonials and user-generated content are also great, cost-effective ways to create a community and build trust. People tend to trust other people’s opinions rather than branded messaging, so try to generate more positive reviews on Google, Facebook, Yelp, etc. You can do this by asking loyal customers to review you (but don’t incentivize them, as Google doesn’t allow that).
You can also encourage customers to share posts about your products or services (such as with a branded hashtag) and spotlight the best ones. Doing so will turn these customers into brand ambassadors, and demonstrate to prospective customers real-world usage.
During the pandemic, there was a rise in people wanting to support local businesses. Shopify recently did a survey and found that 57% of consumers say they seek out local businesses to support and 34% reported doing this more often since the pandemic began.
On social media, emphasize how you are part of the local community whenever possible, if applicable. Tag or partner with other businesses around you, talk about community events, and emphasize how you are active in the neighbourhood you’re in. If you are a franchise owner, talk about how you may be part of a bigger brand, but your individual store is locally owned and operated.
TIP #5: Geo-targeted advertising can be very effective and allow you to target exactly who you want to reach around your store. For example, spending as little as $5/day and targeting 5km around your store can be very effective.
Going forward, review what’s worked on social during the pandemic, , adjust your messaging for a post-pandemic environment, and listen to what your customers have to say. Social media is a great platform to build a community that supports and loves your brand, and it’s a cost-effective way to maintain a long-term connection.