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Refining Social Media Messaging in a Time of Social Distancing

As governments around the country issue stay-at-home orders, BK&Co. Founder Betsey Kershaw helps clients communicate through the crisis.

Refining Social Media Messaging in a Time of Social Distancing
Photo by Hanna Voxland

As businesses close or adjust hours amid the Covid-19 pandemic, social media platforms are often the best way to communicate changes to consumers. Betsey Kershaw, founder of BK&Co., helps her clients make those difficult adjustments and announcements.

The Minneapolis-based marketing agency works with brands to reach audiences through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Now, Kershaw’s clients are leaning on her company to help with the crisis communication.

Still, it’s not an easy adjustment for anyone, she said. The situation seems to change day to day and minute by minute, especially for many of the higher ed clients BK&Co. works with. But with a focus on clear, transparent messaging, Kershaw hopes to make clients’ lives a little easier. And Google Hangouts with her team’s dogs certainly don’t hurt.

TCB: How has your work been changed or disrupted by coronavirus?

Kershaw: Being in social media, we’re kind of trained for crisis communication. We’re trained for unexpected news, or things that our clients have to address that are happening culturally.

But with coronavirus, it’s challenging because we’re so reliant on our clients. They’re figuring out what’s happening with their business, which is taking longer and becomes more complicated as new things happen every single day. They’re having to react to the latest information, develop communication plans, and we’re jumping in with them and helping them. But we’re also in a hurry-up-and-wait mode.

We think we have a story to share, but we’ve got to wait until we have the information. We can’t put it out there until we’ve done all of our fact-checking and made sure that it’s culturally sensitive and it’s got all the accurate information.

Typically, the clients that we work with already have marketing departments and internal communications departments. So, like everyone else, they’re scrambling to sort through all this and align their teams internally, and really tighten up their messaging.

Q: Have you lost any work because of coronavirus, or has it been more of the opposite?

A | Not yet, and I don’t anticipate that we will. But I do believe that the work that we do will change. I’m trying to work this out as we go. Our clients are having to re-think their business a little bit to serve their customers in a different way. That means how we do social media will also change. I think the root of it is that the businesses are changing.

Q: Is there anything you’re able to do right now to prepare for that type of change or to create new ways to address those changes?

A | First and foremost we’re advising our clients. We fundamentally believe that social media is a critical vehicle for communication and connection during a crisis like this. This is really where everyone is turning, it’s what we need as we isolate, as we stay away from one another. The best way for brands to connect with their consumers is through social media.

As it relates to our business, the message is that we’re continuing as usual. There might just be some new things we’re working on. But we just don’t have a crystal ball right now. I would love to keep my people on as long as possible. But again, back to that idea that those business models might be changing, and our clients might be facing layoffs. It’s just too soon for us to tell.

Q: Do you think that there are ways to compensate for the potential lost work or create new streams of revenue?

A | I think I'm being really careful at the moment. This is not the time to go after new business; it can come off as really tone deaf. I think because this crisis is something that every single person is dealing with, we have to be really sensitive to that.

Typically, that’s what you do in my business: You get new clients and people who want your services. But I’ve already seen a few people on LinkedIn saying, “We’re available if you need us.” And I just feel that’s not the right approach. We’re just going to stay quiet, hold onto what we have, and do the right thing. I’ll stand behind my team as long as I can.

Q: Do you anticipate things bouncing back quickly or are you bracing for the worst at this point?

A | Well, I lived in New York during 9/11, so I tend to do a little scenario mapping. And I like to prepare. I like to make sure that there’s a plan before things really do stop. But I really do think that what we do is of tremendous value to our clients and their communities right now. And I don’t think that need is going to go away.

Our job has truly morphed. How do we encourage people and stay connected? How do we inspire them with positive messages? How do we make them feel like they’re not alone?

Q: Are there any bright spots in this crisis? Any innovations coming out of the need to improvise?

A | We’re definitely seeing innovation on the client side, where they’re like, “All right, this is a time for new ideas, let’s put everything we know aside for a second.” It’s all about being more flexible, more responsive, more responsible, so it’s really all-hands-on deck. And it feels like there’s really good partnership there with our clients, because they also recognize the importance of social media.

Q: And what’s your work-at-home setup like?

A | I actually really dislike working from home, because I am such an extrovert. So this is a real challenge for me. I knew immediately it was going to be, but now I feel like I’ve got a pretty solid idea of how I want the day to flow. I really kind of role-play what a normal day would look like.

I have a dog, and I think the great part of working from home is that the dog forces me to take those breaks outside. That keeps me sane. That walk that needs to happen, no matter what.

I live in a small St. Paul home, and of course there’s not a lot of extra room for office equipment. And normally it would be fine, but because my husband is a professor and he’s teaching online now, he gets the quietest part of the house. Which I fully support.

Q: Do you have any advice for working at home, to make that an actually productive experience?

A | Stick to a schedule. Even if all of your meetings have been changed, I would recreate them for yourself. And I’d do some time-blocking to make sure that you’re sitting down and doing the work that you need to do, but also getting up and treating it like a normal work day. And then Slack. I don’t know what I’d do without Slack right now. I used to fight it, but now I’m so happy I can connect with my team. We have some channels we’re using just to keep each other’s spirits up.

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