The Coronavirus crisis currently poses challenges to many areas of business, but also creates new opportunities. In the Serviceplan Group’s first live session of the webinar titled “Acting Successfully in the Corona Crisis”, Verena Letzner, Managing Director of Plan.Net NEO, presented her analysis of the effects of the crisis on social media. In her expert article, she looks at the current situation in Germany and explains what questions brands should ask themselves now, and why it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation in China.

The use of social media platforms, from Messenger and video platforms to classic social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others, has risen significantly. Due to the lockdown and social contact restrictions in Germany and the resulting social distancing, people increasingly use the Social Web to inform themselves, discuss and get in touch with others – including brands. This creates opportunities for brands to strengthen their market position sustainably during the crisis, however the procedure brands follow in order to do so is important. Only those brands that make a helpful contribution now will become part of the conversation and have the ability to emerge from the crisis stronger.

1. Improve people’s situation

Brands should create an offering on the Social Web that adds value to the many people who currently must stay at home. Brands can support important areas of life such as sports, health and education through their offerings, or create alternatives for activities that are restricted or completely forbidden during the lockdown phase, such as eating out together, shopping and maintaining physical social contacts.

2. Have a purpose and radiate optimism

Currently, the “Time with brands” is in a peak phase, which means that users engage more with brands on the Social Web than usual. For brands, it is important to use this time to authentically place values such as solidarity, community, care, trust and optimism at the centre of their communication, thereby increasing their brand capital in the long term.

3. Benefit from changes in media usage

Due to the withdrawal of many advertisers from the paid social sector, the advertising pressure and the competition for placements is currently decreasing. Therefore, it can be especially useful for brands to buy cheap advertising space or to get more reach for the same budget.

Five questions that brands should ask themselves now

In order to exploit the potential of social media during the Coronavirus crisis, brands now have to urgently address the question of a strong and relevant social media strategy. The following five questions provide a guideline:

  1. What role can social media play for my brand in the communication mix during the Coronavirus crisis?
  2. How do I deal with my community in times of crises?
  3. Which channels are the right ones for me?
  4. How can I establish a performance-oriented social media approach and invest my budget effectively?
  5. How do I measure my success ­– during and after the crisis?

A look towards China – Looking ahead

An interesting question is certainly what happens as soon as the lockdown in Germany eases. It is worth looking at China, where the crisis and its effects are ahead of European countries. In China, too, the social media use of various services and platforms increased significantly during the lockdown, and the personal exchange that usually takes place in shops, such as product or purchasing advice, shifted to the Social Web.

And after the lockdown phase? Social media use in China has remained high, only the daily usage time has decreased slightly again. In a survey of Chinese marketers on how they would invest budgets in the future or which fields they would use more after the crisis, most of the respondents cited the social media sector.  This shows that long-term business opportunities are seen here.

In order to master the challenges posed by the advancing digital transformation, many advertisers, media companies and agencies from the marketing and communications sector have invested in data-based technologies and infrastructure heavily in recent years. Despite this investment, however, they are often unsuccessful in getting this “horsepower” on the road and turning it into a relevant competitive advantage – this is due, among other reasons, to HiPPOs frequently operating on instinct.

The truth is that the digital transformation, that companies are facing, is not just a technical one, but also and primarily, a cultural one. For that reason, according to a Capgemini survey, problems in corporate culture are hindering the digital transformation to a far greater extent than factors like outdated IT systems or resource constraints.

At Plan.Net NEO we are intensively focused on establishing a consistently data-driven range of services, and on the data-based integration of media and content. These data, and the insights gained from them, are intended to serve both the creatives and the media experts on our team as “fuel” for the development of relevant content and its effective media activation.

This far-reaching process of transformation has taught us a great deal – not least about the critical importance of corporate cultural aspects on the journey to becoming a data-focused agency. The key lessons that we’ve learned can be distilled into five practical tips that are valid not just for agencies, but for all organisations.

  1. Develop and promote data skills

A data culture that is lived in practice begins with “empowerment” and the democratisation of data. It pays to equip your team with a range of technology to enable them to analyse data and make data-based decisions for themselves.

This is because the problem often faced by companies isn’t a lack of data, but a lack in the process of getting from data to decisions. When a company’s datasets are concentrated in the hands of a small number of experts, the potential that they represent for the company’s commercial success remains largely unexploited. In order for the company to extract the greatest possible benefit from them instead, every employee needs to be able to access the data and integrate them into their own decisions on a daily basis.

This doesn’t mean that every employee needs to become a data scientist (or that this should be possible). It does however mean that everybody should either already possess at least basic analytical skills, or be able to acquire them through qualifications, in order to be able to assess data-based issues and use data in decision-making.

  1. Technology has to adapt to the people who apply it, and not the other way around

The technology and tools used for realising the everyday use of data in the workplace play an important role. If these are to be used by team members other than data specialists, the following characteristics in particular are key to ensuring that they are broadly accepted among users and perceived as being usable and valuable in practice:

  • Convenience and intuitive operation

The easier and more intuitive data handling is set up for the user, the sooner they will appreciate its value for their daily working quality and no longer want to miss it.

  • Intelligent data visualisation

Dashboards and other display formats make it easier to rapidly grasp the central messages of the data and ensure that everybody involved sees the same picture. Reducing complexity in this way is an important prerequisite for efficient individual work and effective teamwork.

  • Opportunities for dynamic interaction with data

Decision-making processes seldom follow a linear path. That’s why data analysis platforms should make it as easy as possible to explore data, test hypotheses, and try out different scenarios.

A good example of data “empowerment” enabled through technology is the “Brand Investor” tool developed at our sister agency Plan.Net Business Intelligence, which we have been using for some time.

The tool enables our consultants and planners to determine an optimally efficient communication plan for our clients’ brands, without needing to rely extensively on the skills of data and BI specialists for this kind of demanding task as they did before. The Brand Investor uses artificial intelligence to make the knowledge gained from over 2,000 calculated media plans and more than 200 conducted marketing mix models available at the touch of a button. With the help of an interactive, visualisation-oriented user interface, users operating in “do-it-yourself mode” can optimise the budget allocation for their data-based decision-making. The results are shown through the significantly shorter time for planning scenarios of all kinds than before, and through forecasting their impact.

  1. Encouraging critical curiosity in interactions with data

Being fundamentally curious is a key driver of innovation and growth,  and also lays an important foundation for an analysis culture. After all, this is all about seeking out new approaches and the desire to try things out and experiment. At the same time, and especially where data are concerned, the cultural framework also needs to ensure that critical thinking doesn’t get neglected.

In particular, a “data first” corporate culture mustn’t mean blindly following indicators based on bare figures without discerning the broader context.  It’s far more important instead for the culture to motivate team members to be able to interpret data critically, so that your organisation doesn’t only base its decisions on reliable data, but also knows when it’s better not to do so with regard to data quality.

  1. Set the example for practicing a data culture from above

It may be less surprising to hear that successfully establishing a data-oriented corporate culture starts at the top. It’s important for management not to lose sight of this, however, as real life unfortunately shows that this is all too often forgotten amidst hectic everyday schedules.

Management teams need to set out a clear vision if data are to become ingrained in a company’s DNA. Rather than simply developing and diligently communicating this as a concept, however, it’s also important to set an example by practicing it on a daily basis. The key buzzphrase here is “walk the talk”: follow up your own words with actions.  When management teams set a good example, other managers and employees will be sure to quickly adapt their own behaviour – whether consciously or unconsciously.

At the same time, cultural change is also a two-way process: it works both from the top down and from the bottom up. It’s the role of management teams to set an example, but also to give focused encouragement to suitable and engaged employees, who will then go on to function as multipliers, or “agents of change”, in their respective teams.

  1. Don’t go with your gut

Closely linked with the previous point, our recommendation is to make every effort to replace gut feeling consistently, permanently and throughout the company with decisions that instead are based on data and facts.

Many company teams are still led by HiPPOs (HiPPO stands for “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”). This means that decisions are often made by the highest-paid members of the team, who can often be far removed from the actual issue or problem. This is especially problematic in cases where these HiPPOs make decisions based on their instincts, as informed by their subjective experience and intuition, rather than reaching out for their teams to provide analyses and recommendations supported by data which would enable them to arrive at a decision objectively.

If data play a genuinely central role for corporate culture, then as a requirement, all decisions taken in the course of daily business life has to be based on those data – without exception.