Social Media Marketing of Brands in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Crisis-Related Content

Social Media Marketing of Brands in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Crisis-Related Content

Petek Tosun
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8674-7.ch004
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This chapter explores the social media marketing communication of brands in the first days of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak within the theoretical framework provided by signaling theory. The social media content of six Turkish brands was examined by content analysis. The findings have shown that brands shared posts in four themes: brand promotion, brand's COVID-19 messages, product promotion, and special day posts. Brands integrated the COVID-19 agenda in their social media communication in two ways. First, they designed and shared posts that focused solely on the pandemic. These COVID-19-related posts constituted a separate category that did not include any direct relevance to the brands' promotion activities. Second, they added COVID-19-related points in their social media posts. This study provides valuable findings for marketing practitioners and academicians regarding social media communication in a global health crisis.
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The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which was declared a global pandemic by World Health Organization on 11 March 2020, has caused severe anxiety and significant social and economic impacts across the globe (Wheaton et al., 2021). The pandemic was a shocking global event that changed the way people see the world (He and Harris, 2020). This dramatic health crisis resulted in closed schools and businesses and the governments’ “stay at home” messages and lockdowns (Garfin, 2020). Consumers found themselves in the middle of an outbreak and started to spend time at home and making online purchases (Winet and Winet, 2021). This collective trauma has led to a rise in technology utilization, media consumption, and social media usage (Garfin, 2020). Many people tried to recover from social distancing and lockdown measures by spending more time on social media (Shirdan, 2020). In 2020, social media usage has increased by 13%, with an additional 1.3 million new social media users included in the user pool every day (Wearesocial, 2021). As of January 2021, more than 53% of the global population uses social media, while 4.2 billion people actively use social media (Wearesocial, 2021).

In the last decade, digital platforms and social media have become inseparable from life, while brands increasingly need to be relevant, helpful, and recreative (Kocheilas, 2018). The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increase in the global usage of digital tools and platforms (Wearesocial, 2021). In addition to the rise in user numbers, the time spent on mobile phones has also increased, elevating smartphones to the “first screen” of users (Wearesocial, 2021). Connecting with customers has become more significant as social media has been more effectively used by brands to build and maintain connections with their customers. Within that context, the pandemic created a paradigm shift in the ways organizations connect with their general stakeholders and existing and potential customers (Winet and Winet, 2021).

Besides customer-brand relationships, the pandemic influenced the marketing activities of companies (He and Harris, 2020). Most of the organizations adjusted their marketing communication content due to the pandemic. Many brands responded quickly by sharing COVID-19-related videos and content (Sobande, 2020). Because stakeholders’ expectations from brands have been increasing in the last decades, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions of companies are also getting increased attention (Nguyen et al., 2019). CSR includes companies’ voluntary actions and sincere efforts to contribute to society, employees, and the environment in a sense that exceeds the legal, financial, and obligations (Carroll, 1979). Following this definition, this study considers CSR as the activities or messages that exceed product or brand promotion. Such messages may be related to social issues, health concerns, or the well-being of people.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Content Analysis: A broad and flexible research method that allows the analysis of text, images, or videos to examine patterns and reports them as quantitative analysis of qualitative data or as qualitative analysis.

Signaling: The process in which the sender (or a brand) conveys or reports information about itself to other parties (receivers or stakeholders) to reduce the information asymmetry between them.

Customer Engagement: An active brand-customer relationship that adopts an interactional perspective in all customer touchpoints and aims to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty by making customers active participants of brand meaning building.

Corporate Social Responsibility: The ethical and responsible actions of companies that go beyond their economic and legal responsibilities and include concerns about environmental sustainability and societal well-being, and consider their stakeholders including the society, government, employees, shareholders, and customers.

User-Generated Content: Non-commercial digital content such as photos, videos, or text created and shared by consumers online.

Content Marketing: Implicitly promoting a brand by creating and sharing digital content that consumers find relevant and engaging but do not see a direct product or service promotion.

Social Media Marketing: Utilizing social media channels such as social networking sites to promote a brand, acquire and retain customers, and increase sales and website traffic.

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