How to Handle Content Marketing During a Crisis: 7 Do's and Don'ts

Ellie Diamond
Published: Oct 28, 2020
Last Updated:
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The world has changed, but it hasn’t stopped. People still have to work, care for their families, clean their homes, and keep their heads above water. They still have needs as consumers, even though those needs look very different than they did a year ago.

The same is true for businesses. It’s tempting to crawl into the shadows to weather the storm, but that’s not how survival happens. Companies need to stay in touch with their audiences, offering solutions and solace as they can, or someone else will step up to meet their customers’ needs.

Marketing during crises is necessary, but it isn’t easy. You need to find the right topic ideas and strike the right tone, knowing that you’re communicating with people whose lives are in turmoil. To help you navigate this tricky landscape, here are seven crisis content marketing do’s and don’ts that you can integrate into your strategy right now—no matter when you’re reading this article.

DON’T: Fall silent.

It’s natural for a marketer or content creator to wonder how their work fits into the current environment. When there’s a global crisis, selling can easily seem superficial, even crass.

Here’s the important thing, though. You’re not just selling. You’re communicating, and people desperately need that during a crisis. They need to feel like they’re “in the loop,” even if you’re just sending the message that you’re still there.

Even if you work in an industry that has effectively shut down for the duration of the crisis—hospitality or tourism, for example—you can still produce content that keeps you in touch with your audiences.

If you’re closed, let people know how you’re getting ready to reopen once you can. If you’re open, share how you’ve adapted to hygiene and distancing requirements. Just let them know you’re still there. It means a lot in a world that feels like it’s “gone dark.”

DO: Find your audience’s pain points.

Your crisis-era content shouldn’t focus solely on your business. Extend your scope a bit and think about how you can offer information, advice, and resources to help people with the many difficulties that they’re facing.

Remember that people’s concerns evolve alongside the crisis. Don’t assume that last month’s search will be popular today. Go to Google Trends and look for keywords that might be relevant.

Many are what you might expect. For example, the keyword "webinar" experienced a huge surge in popularity in March 2020, and search volumes are still above where they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

The same is true for other pandemic-related keywords like:

  • Work from home
  • Videoconference
  • Home office
  • Unemployment

“Remote learning” dipped a bit in the summer but spiked again in late July and August. “Face masks” experienced a similar trend. Is there a connection between some of these common concerns and what your business offers?

Think outside the box. You may not be able to offer the latest and greatest teleconferencing platform, but you might be able to make someone’s home workday a little bit easier with noise-canceling headphones. Find your niche and make it work.

DON’T: Capitalize on the crisis.

In March of 2020, the Toronto-based food ordering app Ritual sent out an email promoting its services as a resource during the (at the time) new pandemic guidelines:

@ritual_co so sad by the email I received today. You are making fun of the situation and using a virus to promote your business in such shameless way. Your marketing team is out of touch. Shame on you. I am deleting my app and sticking with morals. #CoronaVirusCanada #coronavirus

— Proud Little Monster (@imlittleMonster) March 12, 2020

The ad’s tongue-in-cheek tone and offhand treatment of the crisis had many people taking to the internet to express their outrage. The company had to pivot and issue a follow-up email saying that they hadn’t intended to “make light of a serious situation,” but still, people weren’t impressed. The damage was done—Ritual had already positioned itself as a money-grubber.

Maybe it didn’t mean to, but that’s part of the point. It’s easy for a brand to come across as insensitive during a crisis. Avoid being overly promotional and focus instead on providing reassurance and support.

DO: Put empathy first.

In April 2020, Search Engine Journal predicted that 80% of brands that stayed silent during the crisis would lose ground afterward. Only time will tell if that’s true, but it certainly makes sense. People will remember when brands like Dove came out in support of healthcare workers and launched the #StayHome hashtag.

Here’s another example that has made the rounds online:

Levi's COVID-19 email is a lesson in copywriting:

— Harry's Marketing Examples (@GoodMarketingHQ) March 23, 2020

This message does a good job of couching important information in a compassionate tone. The message is appropriately serious, avoiding inappropriate levity, and conveys important information in its context.

Campaigns like these are important examples for content marketers. They show that it’s possible to show care for the community, no matter how basic or straightforward the message is.

DON’T: Be vague.

If we all had a dollar (or whatever currency we use) for every time we’ve heard the word “unprecedented” this year, none of us would ever have to work again. No one needs to hear another company talk about how unusual our circumstances are or how the company is “here to help.”

It’s all just noise unless there’s action behind it. Use your content to show how your company cares for its employees, the broader community, or preferably both. Be specific, like Corona has been with its donation campaign.

How to handle Coronavirus if you're Corona beer:

— Harry's Marketing Examples (@GoodMarketingHQ) February 28, 2020

Granted, Corona hasn’t always been a model of pandemic marketing—they were called out in early 2020 for an ill-timed release of their hard seltzer line—but this campaign is a good example of how recovery is possible.

DO: Look for ways to be a thought leader.

Donations and community service aren’t the only ways that your company can be of service during a crisis. Your content itself can be helpful if you craft it carefully and think about what people need.

A global crisis leaves people with a lot of uncertainty—more than is healthy for them mentally, according to medical experts. Their home lives and their work lives are unstable, and they’re looking for information that can help them figure out what happens next.

Whether you produce content for businesses or consumers, you can offer valuable insights to help people navigate an unstable world. Don’t try to solve everyone’s biggest problems (unless, of course, you work in medical research). Instead, think about the expert insights you can share and educated predictions you can make. For example:

  • How has your industry responded to the crisis?
  • What trends are likely to emerge in the coming months?
  • What resources can your industry—and your company—offer to the public?

Offer your answers to these questions and invite readers to respond. If you have the opportunity to share a thought piece on social media, tag an influencer or respected expert and ask them for their take on the issue. You’ll generate goodwill and create the connections that people desperately need right now.

Plus, because of how social media algorithms work, Facebook’s in particular, posts that generate more discussion rank higher. The more connections you inspire, the higher your website is likely to rank.

DON’T: Give your content an expiration date.

Timely thought leadership content is important during a crisis, but don’t focus exclusively on creating work that’s going to expire. No emergency situation lasts forever, and you don’t want to invest all of your time in content that won’t be relevant 18 months from now.

Make sure that some of your content is what SEO experts call “evergreen”—material that doesn’t go out of date or become irrelevant when product or news cycles change. It's challenging to create content that’s evergreen and sensitive to a crisis atmosphere, but it can be done.

Consider the previous paragraphs in this section. You may not have noticed it, but none of the sentences before this one, since the last heading, mention the words “pandemic” or “coronavirus.” They could apply to almost any crisis, and that’s true of all the major points you’ve read in this article.

As you create your crisis-era content marketing strategy, aim for longevity in at least some of your material. People will probably keep working from home even when COVID-19 is no longer a major threat. There will always be someone needing to know how to cope with job loss. Avoid tying everything explicitly back to the current crisis, and your investment in readership will have a better chance of paying off in the future.

The Takeaway

No matter what industry you’re in, your customers’ needs have changed during the current crisis. Their priorities aren’t what they were before all of this started, and they don’t want companies pretending it’s “business as usual.”

Look at your content marketing strategy through the lens of meeting a need. How can you be as helpful as possible? What can you offer to the community?

Be sensitive and empathetic in the way you communicate. Remember that you’re talking to people who are worried and possibly grieving. Offer hope and reassurance when you can. Remember, in a topsy-turvy world, educated predictions can be even more reassuring than vague promises of “better days ahead.”

Finally, remember that those better days are ahead. What you do now is an investment in that much-anticipated future, as well as a service to your community today.

This article was written by writer Ellie Diamond.


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