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How Small Business Owners Can Stay Connected to Customers During COVID-19

In light of the pandemic, how can small business owners get creative with their content and messaging to feed their customers' needs in an impactful way?

When sales are down, your production may be halted or interrupted, and the future of many small businesses remains largely unclear, it’s pretty tempting to shy away from the limelight of social media and go quiet on your customers. And I get that. How could you possibly know what to say to your customers when you can barely make sense of things yourself?

As a content strategist, the best piece of advice I can offer to any small business owner navigating a rocky reality and uncertain future amidst COVID-19 is this: stay connected. Continue to prove to your audience that you’re here for them, whether or not you’re able to sell them products or invite them to your store in this moment. This too shall pass, and your actions now will likely determine your fate when this global pandemic is but a distant, albeit painful memory.

This week, Facebook released a 64-page guide to staying connected to customers during COVID-19. It opens up with some basic principles to keep in mind:

So, how can you start thinking about these principles in action for your business? With Facebook’s guide as a point of reference, here’s how I’ve approached communication strategy for my clients during quarantine.

Take Care: Reconnect with your Brand Mission

If you truly want to take care of your customers in a more personal way that resonates with who you are as a brand, you have to go all the way back to the beginning, to your why. Consider your purpose for building your business in the first place, beyond the products or services you sell.

If you’re a restaurant owner, that “why” likely includes something along the lines of providing an atmosphere for your community to unwind and enjoy the company of others. If you’re a beauty brand owner, perhaps that “why” is helping people gain self-confidence through artistic expression.

Hold onto that why for now, even though it may feel irrelevant amidst a pandemic. We’ll put it to work in a minute.

Share Good Values (But Get Specific)

Right now is actually the perfect time to reaffirm your brand values and put them to work. Take the time to consider what you value as a brand both internally and consumer-facing. Is ingredient or production transparency a core component of your messaging? What about sustainable sourcing practices?

The important thing here is to be specific and true to your brand. Don’t jump on a bandwagon of values that don’t resonate with your market, your brand, or your mission. Ideally, you’ll be able to point to these values in practice through your content over the years.

The values you’ve practiced since day one don’t have to, and shouldn’t, disappear just because your standard channels of communicating them might have dried up. Use them to steer your communication strategy and reaffirm your place in the market.

But how? I’m getting there. Stay with me.

Give Back: Consider Your Audience’s Pain Points

With your company’s mission and the values you’ve set in stone since day one under your belt, you can now turn your attention to how you want to give back during a time when so many of us are struggling.

If you did your homework in building your brand, you should have a clear understanding of your customers’ pain points. Before a global pandemic upended life as we knew it, your brand had a cut and dry method of responding to those pain points through your messaging and products. Now, everything’s different, but those customer pain points still exist, and your brand still has every opportunity to respond to them, just in a different way.

But, the key here is to be sure that the way in which you’re giving back to your audience not only resonates with their specific pain points, but it must also align with your mission and values, otherwise, you risk appearing unclear, confusing, or worse, insincere in your efforts. Your local community is likely facing many new challenges at the moment, which presents plenty of opportunities to solve those pain points, but equally as much opportunity to veer off course.

When considering the most useful way to meet customers where they’re at and give back in a sincere and positive way, start with the issues at hand. Consider how your customers might be struggling right now as it relates to your larger brand mission. Can you fill that gap through your products or your content?

Of course, it’s also important to understand just who your customers are, and how they may want to support their larger communities. Can your brand help facilitate their efforts in a way that aligns with your collective mission and values? Do your efforts feel out of left-field, or do they feel aligned with who you are at your core? Can you point to specific products, partnerships, or content that proves it?

Get Creative: Adjust Your Content Strategy Accordingly

With your mission and values as the drivers for the actions you should take to support your audience, you’ll have to adjust your content strategy to feed them with messaging that solves for those pain points while instilling your mission and values.

As a fairly simple example, if sustainability is a core value to your brand and you’ve got substantiators to prove it, can you facilitate a reusable mask production supported through customer purchases or donations?

Here’s another example: let’s say you’re a beauty brand built upon a mission to support self-expression and confidence, right now is the perfect time to double down on that message by encouraging your audience to experiment with skincare and makeup products that make them feel good at home. Your products are the perfect solve for that particular pain-point, so it makes sense to position them as such.

Perhaps your product or service isn’t necessarily the solution your customers need right now. In that case, let your products take a back seat at the moment, and your role becomes more about facilitating a connection between like-minded people who are interested in self-expression through beauty.

If your product, service, or retail location is out of commission for the time being, that’s okay. Your mission still exists and your customers still have pain points that need solving. Let your product or service take a back seat for the moment and consider what kinds of content you can create that will act as a stand-in to move toward your mission.

Here’s what that looks like: you’re a restaurant owner with a mission to provide a friendly atmosphere where customers can come together to enjoy each other’s company over a meal. IRL dinner dates are off the table (pun intended) at the moment, but that mission can still exist.

Now, let’s say, with that mission in mind, your restaurant values sustainability and your menu is chock full of sustainably-caught seafood and local produce. Perhaps the communication you have with your audience right now revolves around sharing some of the chef’s favorite recipes to make at home or grocery lists for those interested in experimenting with some elevated recipes during their free time.

If you want to take it a step further and really prove that you value connection through food, have your chef host Instagram Live dinners with your audience and invite them to tune in to cook together.

A Last Note on The Importance of Connection

There are endless possibilities to connect virtually with your customers and community right now and they should absolutely be taken advantage of. Even with a very uncertain future in front of us as small business owners, our customers are counting on us to be there for them. The brands that get it right today will surely be the ones that thrive tomorrow.

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