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Crisis Communication Plans: Brands Managing The COVID-19 Crisis On Twitter, Instagram, And Facebook



Crisis Communication Plans: Brands Managing The COVID-19 Crisis On Twitter, Instagram, And Facebook

Crisis communication tends to be a real problem for all brands. Regardless of the crisis itself, the way businesses respond to impossible situations has always been a struggle, with no clear recipe for success.

While regular, internal business crises are destabilizing, the COVID pandemic is a harsh blow to each and every business across the globe, regardless of its size.

In some industries, such as HoReCa, selling has stopped altogether, while in other industries, like retail, sales are booming, perhaps even beyond businesses’ power to handle the situation.

While businesses turn to tools that improve remote work to survive the day-to-day, they should make social media communication a priority.

The one thing ALL industries have in common is the need for crisis management.

But some brands struggle more than others, and, in the end, looking at how other brands are handling the matter is the only source of inspiration.

Responsible communication, well-worded posts, and a high dosage of sensitivity are essential.

We looked at  958,829 posts regarding COVID-19 and social distancing to understand how brands communicate during this crisis. ⇣

COVID-19 communication on social media

Coronavirus communication case study

1. Acknowledge the issue: brands talk about COVID-19 on social media

2. Timeline: brands start to convey messages related to the crisis

3. Most brands center communication around social distancing

4. Brands use Twitter the most when talking about the coronavirus crisis

5. Most common hashtags in social media crisis communication

6. Methodology

No time? Here’s a PDF version of this research so you read these crisis management strategies later on👇

Acknowledge the issue: brands talk about COVID-19 on social media

Brands started communicating about coronavirus and social distancing early on, starting with, but not limited to news brands.

Acknowledging there is an issue at large is a sign of transparency, and this is typically well-received by the audience.

This is a well-known fact among social media specialists. We used the Socialinsider app to see how much are brands interested in communicating on the matter.

Between October 2019 and March 2020, we outlined a total of 958,829 posts related to the COVID-19 crisis on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as follows:

  • Facebook 177,036
  • Instagram 344,535
  • Twitter 432,786

Total number of posts about COVID and social distancing

We selected the posts whose messages contained any terms and hashtags such as “coronavirus”, “COVID”, “Covid - 19”, “pandemic”, “quarantine”, “corona medicine”, “wuhan coronavirus” and other spelling and wording variations.

Another distinguishing message has to do with social distancing, so we also included posts containing terms and hashtags about “social distancing”, “flatten the curve”, “stay at home”, “social distancing now” and other spelling and wording variations.

When dividing the posts between COVID based and social distancing based, posts that contain messages around “coronavirus” might also contain information about social distancing and vice versa.

The outcome is an obvious trend of brands taking this issue seriously and communicating with the audience on the matter.

Timeline: brands start to convey messages related to the crisis

Through the endless array of posts, most messages talk either about COVID - 19 directly and its impacts on health and businesses, or are more centered around messages of social distancing, and sometimes even both.

We created a timeline to see when brands started to mention the crisis and how communication on the topic increased.

Even as early as November 2019, a few messages started to pop up, despite the actual virus not being wide-spread public knowledge at the time.

Evolution of posts about covid and social distancing

We also see a faint spike in December 2019, just before the Chinese government confirmed that health authorities are treating dozens of cases of pneumonia of unknown causes, according to a timeline made by The New York Times.

By the beginning of March 2020, both COVID-19 and social distancing became viral topics.

To better understand the posts’ evolution, we’ve also separated the two main topics.

  • Messages about social distancing were communicated early on

When looking specifically at terms related to social distancing, it becomes apparent that this was the primary angle adopted in the early stage.

All of the posts that predated the official announcement touched on social distancing and staying at home.

Evolution of posts about social distancing

Safe to say, messages about social distancing started to be shared on social media, but especially on Twitter, a platform that, by its nature, encourages free discussions and exchanges of opinions more than any other.

However, we need to take into account the assumption that at the end of 2019, news brands were the ones conveying most of the messages, given the fact that most businesses around the world were not yet gravely affected.

But Instagram has slowly been catching up and becoming a popular home for such topics. As more information came up, the conversation slowly started to orbit towards Instagram and created a significant spike in the number of posts after March 9th.

  • Messages about COVID surfaced starting with January 13th

On January 11th, the first death was reported, while on January 13th, the first case of COVID-19 outside China was announced, as shown in the media.

January 13th  is also the time when brands started to post about COVID-19 specifically on all social media platforms, with a huge spike in numbers at the beginning of March, when the crisis intensified.

Evolution of posts about COVID

One interesting conclusion that results from all of this data is that most brands were quick to acknowledge the issue and address it.

This tactic opens communication between brands and their audience, which helps avoid unnecessary panic. In times of uncertainty, communication is always key.

Most brands center communication around social distancing

We also wanted to understand which of these two angles are more important in brand communication overall, so we divided the posts into two categories and looked at the numbers side by side: coronavirus posts and social distancing posts.

Posts about COVID vs posts about social distancing

  • While Twitter and Instagram remain the main platforms on which brands choose to talk about this crisis, they’re also the platforms they use to advise people on the importance of social distancing.

Around 277K tweets are about social distancing, while 166K tweets mention COVID, while 248K Instagram posts talk about social distancing, versus 112K Instagram posts on COVID.

Big players like Nike shared messages of staying at home in their own specific way.

Even smaller businesses chose social responsibility above profit and closed their doors in a timely matter to #flattenthecurve.

View this post on Instagram

We miss you already Sunshine!!!! ♥️♥️♥️ . . . It is with heavy hearts we have decided to close our doors at this time. We have decided to remain closed for the next few weeks until we have been advised that it is safe for restaurants and cafes to be operating. . . . We appreciate the overwhelming amount of love and support we have received from everyone! We can’t wait until we are back, baking our hearts out every morning! . . . We hope everyone stays safe, and keeps doing their part in flattening the curve with social isolation and distancing! We love you all, be sure to stop by our page for a lil’ Sunshine! . . . . . . . #sunshinedoughnuts #sunshine #eeeeeats #torontofood #lovefood #scratchmade #handmade #handcrafted #local #fresh #love #bakerlife #smallbatch #dough #madewithlove #doughnuts #burlington #hamilton #yyz #toronto #nomnom #instagood #foodporn #tuesday #doughnutshop #love #bakerlife #supportlocal #flattenthecurve @forkedup @Torontofood @tastethesix @donut.gram @donutmagazine @bestfood_aroundtheworld @to_finest @dailyfoodfeed @restaurants.of.insta @top_toronto_restaurants_ @best_foods_toronto @foodpornto @thatfoodfeed @bonappetitmag @instagram

A post shared by The Sunshine Doughnut Company (@sunshinedoughnuts) on

Advertising agencies also celebrated great initiatives.

Big-budget companies not only celebrate staying at home but also put their money where their mouth is by helping with resources to set up e-learning, just like Bank of America.

  • On the other hand, most subjects on Facebook focus on information about COVID-19.

Approximately 102K posts on Facebook mention COVID, versus 77K posts about social distancing.

For example, McDonald’s announces its services during the coronavirus crisis with a Facebook update.

Whether it’s Drive Thru or Delivery, we’re still here to take your order: bit.ly/McDonalds_Delivery A note on COVID-19: bit.ly/McDonalds_US_Coronavirus_Update

Gepostet von McDonald's am Samstag, 21. März 2020

Also, Harvard Business Review has offered free access to “resources for learning and working through #coronavirus”.

Given the age-range of audiences on all three platforms, this becomes a logical move.

Brands have chosen Instagram and Twitter, platforms believed to reach a younger age range, to share social messages, and convey the message given by all authorities around the world: stay at home and practice social distancing.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, information about the virus itself and necessary measures is more in focus on Facebook, which is perceived to have a more mature audience.

Brands use Twitter the most when talking about the coronavirus crisis

We already know that normally, brands post more on Twitter than on Facebook and Instagram combined, according to a social media content study.

Their affinity for this platform has not changed too much in times of crisis.

When addressing social distancing, 46% of brand posts are on Twitter, while 41.1% of the messages are posted on Instagram, and only 12.9% of them are posted on Facebook.

Posts about social distancing

When it comes to messages about COVID-19, 43% of them are from Twitter, 29.4% are on Instagram, and 26.8% are Facebook posts.

Posts on COVID

Most common hashtags in social media crisis communication

Whenever there’s any need for spreading the word and creating a movement, hashtags are the most common weapon.  Most brands share messages about the virus, social distancing, health, desired habits through specific hashtags.

#COVID on Instagram

On Instagram, you can notice straight away a tight connection between #covid and #stayathome, as hashtags often used together.

While numerically, the top hashtags used alongside #covid are #coronavirus, #covid19, #corona, and even #quarantine, as a sign of a dissociation between the virus and the social repercussion, the engagement shows where the real interest of the audience lies

Therefore, the hashtag with the most engagement out of all the other hashtags used next to #covid is #stayathome, which once again proves that social distancing is the main concern on Instagram.

#socialdistancing on Instagram

Looking at the hashtags surrounding social distancing on Instagram, the previous theory is confirmed: posts related to staying at home, flattening the curve, and keeping your distance are the most relevant and engaging.

Get insights into how to use Instagram hashtags.

#covid on Twitter

On Twitter, things are a bit different. The most used and most engaging hashtags used next to #covid are other hashtags related to the virus: #Covid-19, #confinementtotal, #coronaupdates, and other related terms.

The same rule applies to #socialdistancing, where related hashtags about staying at home and staying inside are more engaging.

#socialdistancing on Twitter

Simply put, on Twitter, there is a clearer division of interests between messages about the virus and messages about social distancing.


We used the Socialinsider app and the Socialinsider database to find posts with the desired keywords and hashtags, as well as our hashtag analytics to uncover information about engagement.

  • Timeline: October 2019 - March 2020

  • Total posts: 958,829 posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as follows:

    • Facebook 177,036
    • Instagram 344,535
    • Twitter 432,786
  • Coronavirus keywords and hashtags:

    • Coronavirus
    • COVID
    • Covid - 19
    • Pandemic
    • Quarantine
    • corona medicine
    • wuhan coronavirus
    • other spelling and wording variations
  • Social distancing keywords and hashtags:

    • social distancing
    • flatten the curve
    • stay at home
    • social distancing now
    • social distancing works
    • and other spelling and wording variations

When dividing the posts between COVID based and social distancing based, posts that contain messages around “coronavirus” might also contain information about social distancing and vice versa.

We also used the app to look at #covid and #socialdistancing performance on Twitter and Instagram.

Get insights about your brand with a FREE trial!

Final Thoughts

In short, it’s important to be relevant even in the context of a global crisis that affects us both on a health level, as well as on an economical and business level.

Brands need to be transparent towards their social media audience, and communicate responsible messages, without inducing panic.

Don’t talk about the coronavirus crisis just for the sake of it. Use your resources to help, share knowledge, or support governmental messages such as social distancing.

Use each of these three social media platforms in a way that makes sense for the audience that follows you on each of them.

Convey messages about social distancing on Instagram, create separate messages about COVID-19 and staying at home on Twitter, and talk mainly about the coronavirus on Facebook.

Social media crisis communication is all about responsibility. Empathy and well-documented information are your best friends.

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Teodora Lozan

Teodora Lozan

SaaS Marketer @ Socialinsider

I like to let curiosity lead the way both professionally and personally. In love with stories and facts, so I always try to get the best of both worlds.

Crisis Communication Plans: Brands Managing The COVID-19 Crisis On Twitter, Instagram, And Facebook