The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our day-to-day lives. From working from home and distancing from our social networks to how much time we’re spending online — and it’s all having a huge impact on digital marketing.

As people are spending more time at home, they are spending more time online. A global study of 25,000 consumers from March 14-24 found Facebook and Instagram usage up 40% among 18-34 year olds. Instagram and Facebook Live views doubled and messaging on Facebook’s app increased by 50%. At the same time, digital advertisers have pulled back or stopped altogether. This increased supply and decreased demand have pushed digital advertising costs very low.

Overall, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has seen a 40% increase in usage that grew from an initial 27% bump in the earlier days of the pandemic to 41% in the mid-phase.techcrunch.com

However, the COVID-19 crisis also brings new risks and challenges to digital marketers. We need to be mindful of the messages we’re running, as some people have been gravely affected by this virus. And, depending on the goal, some things are just off the table (or at least were, we’re starting to see things pick back up).

A lot of content has needed to be reimagined and replaced as old messages take on new, and sometimes insensitive, meanings in the current world. Initially, many organizations were quick to push out a message of corporate responsibility, but that quickly became repetitive. As our audiences settle into a sort of “new normal,” it’s important for advertisers to balance in providing information that their audience needs and will actually be interested in engaging with.

On top of content concerns, advertising platforms are updating their policies and facing their own changing work environment. This has led to delays and limitations for new campaigns. Automated disapprovals have gone up while appeals are delayed. Google has restricted all COVID-19 related ads and keywords (without getting an exception), and other platforms have pushed ahead with a range of restrictions and new policies. Make sure to look into the latest policies when planning any new initiative. 

From our experience so far, here are five key takeaways for digital engagement in 2020:

  1. Content review: Any social, email, ad or web content should be reviewed, especially on your homepage and news or blog section. Ensure things are appropriate in this current context. For example, consider avoiding photos with groups of people when folks are being asked not to congregate. Also, know that saying nothing or holding off until you have something impactful to say isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As time goes on and the rate of change lessens, this becomes less important.
  2. Take actions to help and tell your supporters: Whether you are providing help to your own employees or taking positive actions in your community. This shows that you’re an active part of the fight and can help motivate your audience to take action. For example, we’ve seen lots of brands adjust their manufacturing lines to produce masks and other PPE, hand sanitizer, and otherwise do what they can to give back.
  3. Use digital as an alternative method of contact and engagement: When you cannot provide face-to-face contact with clients, volunteers, or supporters, staying active and responsive online with things like surveys is a great alternative to keep your networks up to date and feeling valued. Engage responsibly to build a good reputation, but ensure your followers don’t think you are trying to be opportunistic from tragedy.
  4. Say thank you: During this time, use your digital channels to send thank yous to existing supporters, donors, or clients. Tell them how grateful the organization is for their ongoing support. Emphasize how their support is impacting the organization right now.
  5. Pay attention: Make sure you’re engaging with your audience and paying attention to what they are asking for and how they are reacting to the content you are putting out. If you see higher than normal unsubscribe rates, or a turn in the sentiment of reactions, reconsider!

Ultimately, it looks like we’re going to be facing some kind of physical separation for a while now, making digital increasingly important to your mix. Be cognizant, be compassionate, be smart about it — ça va bien aller. 


Need help getting your digital campaigns off the ground? Reach out.

About the author

Darrell DeanPh.D.

VP, Digital & Creative

Darrell started with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, but quickly returned to his love of web and graphic design, expanding that into a mastery of digital communications. More recently, he's had a focus on political communications, working at the Liberal Party of Canada for four years, and being a key player in the digital war room in Trudeau's 2015 and 2019 campaigns, serving as Director of Digital Content during the latter. Today, Darrell uses his creativity, clear communication skills, and mind for complex problems to help DS's clients deliver meaningful and effective full-service digital campaigns.