While all brands should stay true to their unique voice, they may need to temporarily adjust the tone of their messaging.

As #QuarantineLife becomes the new norm, restaurant brands are left questioning their marketing, communication and social media strategies during the COVID-19 crisis. The restaurant industry continues to enter uncharted territory and we’re all getting used to a new normal. Your social media messaging should follow suit. Instead of backing off, restaurants can use this as an opportunity to tighten the bond with their guests by providing relevant and thoughtful content.

Here are five ways to alter your brand communication on social media for the current business climate. 

1. Less snark and more heart

While all brands should stay true to their unique voice, they may need to temporarily adjust the tone of their messaging. What seemed funny yesterday may seem insensitive or downright awkward next to a Coronavirus update. Tread lightly and focus on posts that add value in today’s changing environment.

Chipotle is a great example. They are setting up Zoom lunches with celebrities. Their spin feels uplifting and creates a fun way to spend some time while quarantined. This week, Google began rolling out free access to advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities, and both Spectrum and Comcast announced they were offering free wi-fi for students. Think about how your brand can make an impact.

2. Pivot, but stay positive

Many (OK, most) states across the country are supporting social distancing by limiting dine-in opportunities. While you may be temporarily closing your dining rooms, you should emphasize drive-thru, curbside takeout and/or third-party delivery to keep America fed, and safe. Concentrate on what you CAN do and communicate that message to your guests. Social media is the perfect platform to pivot your messaging away from “making reservations” to “let us deliver.” Shout it from the rooftops (or, from every social channel): WE’RE OPEN!

3. Be picture perfect

In a social media-driven world, photos are often the difference between a brand that gets it and one that doesn’t. Hershey learned that lesson the hard way when they shared photos of people giving handshakes and hugs in recent ads. Although the photos were seemingly harmless, they got called out for showing too much person-to-person contact in our new socially distanced world. Now is the time to keep an eye on the details and make sure you are perceived as a brand that gets it. Look at your content calendars and consider swapping out lifestyle photos of large groups of people eating to more product or delivery-focused content. Encourage user-generated content from guests picking up at your restaurant or even from their front porches.

4. Take community management up a notch

Now, more than ever, your fans will be watching how you respond and engage on social media (especially because we’re all glued to our computers). Don’t ghost your social media channels.  In fact, you should be ramping up your customer service. Answer every question posted, from hours your restaurant is operating to what’s the best dessert to go with their take-out. Treat your social channels like an extension of your dining room. Provide excellent service and an experience they will never forget. When your restaurant re-opens for dine-in service, guests will remember your hospitality!

5. Get creative

While COVID-19 is not a marketing opportunity, it’s also not a reason to go dark. You’ve spent years cultivating trusted relationships with your followers and that doesn’t have to stop. You might be hitting pause on your regularly scheduled content, but you still have options. Use them!

Take a cue from museums around the world and give your guests a virtual experience. Can you post long-form content such as videos of your chef making their favorite dishes? Can you host a Facebook Live cooking class? 

Now is the time to get creative about staying connected with your fans. We might be social distancing, but we still have social media. Maintain a strong brand connection by keeping the conversation going online. Go all in and use this time while we’re all hunkered down to deepen your relationships. I’ll see you online!

Jami Sharp is a Senior Vice President of Public Relations for Champion. With a public relations and communications career that spans over 20 years, she has earned a reputation as a creative and savvy industry leader in corporate reputation strategies that maximize consumer and business engagement. She has spearheaded all aspects of communications from media training and messaging to brand positioning and crisis communications direction for C-suite executives. Prior to joining Champion, she was Director of Corporate Communication for Rave Restaurant Group, the parent company for more than 200 Pie Five Pizza Co. and Pizza Inn restaurants. Sharp was also the Director of Public Relations for Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants where she guided the brand through a period of unprecedented growth and evolution. She has also earned her stripes as a feature writer, entrepreneur, content creator and social media ninja.

Expert Takes, Feature, Marketing & Promotions