Doors closed, DMs open – social media hints and tips for pubs during the coronavirus shutdown

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Shutdown social: 'all content needs to be sympathetic to the current situation, but also be true to your usual tone of voice – it’s a balancing act'
Shutdown social: 'all content needs to be sympathetic to the current situation, but also be true to your usual tone of voice – it’s a balancing act'

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With publicans unable to speak to customers directly during the Covid-19 shutdown, digital experts from Molson Coors and communications agency Jam outline why it’s important for pubs to be on the same social media page.

Shutdown social media in numbers

Throughout March, creative agency Wunderman Thompson UK examined tens of millions of posts on websites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Mumsnet and more to gauge what impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on how, why and what people are sharing on social media. It also delved into how certain major UK brands are faring in light of their response to the pandemic.

Here’s a closer look at its findings:

  • The number of posts on social media using the word ‘community’ jumped by 82%
  • Almost half (47%) of social posts mentioning ‘community’ or ‘community spirit’ were shared by those aged 55 or older
  • References to the spirit of the Blitz increased by 70 times year-on-year
  • The use of #shoplocal has trebled
  • The number of social media posts mentioning fashion or travel almost halved
  • The number of posts about sport fell by 46%
  • Pub giant JD Wetherspoon saw its mentions soar by more than 3,000% following Tim Martin’s announcement that he didn’t think pubs should close
  • However, the sentiment score of JDW’s social mentions plummeted from 61% positive to 80% negative
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“The analysis shows that we’re beginning to see the green shoots of collectivism and people pulling together in the interests of their communities,” Neil Godber, joint head of planning at Wunderman Thompson explained. 

“There are innumerable reports of children spending their pocket money on loo roll for the elderly, regular cries of ‘I’m going to the shops, can I get you anything?’ from neighbours, and the silent decorum when our eyes meet in the queue for the supermarket. It’s all around us.

“If the national mood is shifting to one where all of us are a little more mindful, doing what we can for each other and wanting to lift everybody’s spirits, this is also likely to have an impact on how we’re spending our cash.

“At a time when most of us will be reining in our spending, brands that feel a part of this zeitgeist, and not at odds with it, are likely to attract a higher share of wallet when the chips are down. 

“We’ve already seen how sentiment can sharply change when a brand is perceived to do the right – or the wrong – thing.”

According to Jaime Gee, managing director of leisure and hospitality communications agency Jam, just because Britain’s pubs have been offline since 20 March it doesn’t mean their social media accounts should follow suit. 

In fact, she argues that it’s imperative for pubs to maintain an active presence across the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram now more than ever as visibility during the Covid-19 shutdown can keep customers engaged and informed. 

“During this time of crisis, your social media can be used as the main channel to communicate with your customer base and keep your business front of mind,” she explains. “As many people stay off work, work from home or self-isolate, they will rely more and more on social feeds for communication as well as information and entertainment.”

However, as Gee, and Molson Coors head of digital Jack Daniel tell The Morning Advertiser​ (MA​), there’s a fine balance to be struck in maintaining a pub’s digital presence during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak – now is far from the right time to focus on going viral.

Keep your community connected

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Daniel explains that while social media is a vital link between a pub and its local community, it’s important that you have something tactful and timely to say rather than trying to break the internet in an ongoing crisis. 

“All content needs to be sympathetic to the current situation, but also be true to your usual tone of voice – it’s a balancing act,” he says. “Be clear about what you want to talk about by planning content in advance and map out those key themes and topics your customers would want to hear about, but also stay close to what’s going on in your local community during this current time.”

He adds that publicans – especially those in more rural locations – are more likely to see their social pages serve as community hubs and should factor this into any social media content.

“Helping people stay connected, whether that’s through virtual pub quizzes, sharing food and drink pairings, or just creating an online place for customers to keep in touch with each other through this difficult period keeps pubs at the heart of the community even in these unusual times,” he adds.

Crisis communications

Jam’s Gee explains: “In times like this, it’s a good plan to update your website and social feeds regularly with informative posts letting your customers and other stakeholders know how you are handling the crisis and what you are doing from an operational perspective.

“If you are closing and cancelling events, what are your staff or supplier policies? Are you honouring any vouchers or competition wins, and how you are supporting the local business landscape?”

Additionally, Gee adds that social media can provide an outlet for publicans to keep their voice heard amid the chaos.

“As a business owner, you will no doubt have strong opinions on the unfolding situation, the Government response and how it all affects the sector,” she says.

“Consider sticking your head above the parapet and commenting on the crisis. Offer comment and insight to local newspapers, industry publications and trade websites.

“You can also share your thoughts on platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and engage in other conversations too, to ensure your voice is heard during this crisis.”

Be creative and relevant

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“Keep your target media up to date with news stories about any initiatives you are taking part in, charity or community work and any news about how you may be tweaking your offering to provide new services in light of the situation – offering take-out food for example – or discount vouchers for future meals or drinks,” Gee continues.

“A steady stream of relevant, authentic news will keep your business front of mind with consumers and stakeholders, helping you to push through the crisis and – hopefully – come out stronger when we emerge. 

“There may not seem to be much positive news about at present, and it can feel a tad tricky to navigate the landscape to ensure that your tone is sensitive, but at the same time, the news outlets still require content – and uplifting stories might be exactly what’s required.”

Chance to improve social skills

According to Google Trends, since Covid-19 lockdown began to unfold and more people have been forced to self-isolate, searches for webinars and online learning have soared. With pubs closed as of 20 March, now is an ideal chance for operators to add new strings to their bow.

Gee says: “It’s rare to find the time to upskill yourself and broaden your knowledge in other areas as a hospitality owner, so take any quiet time to do just that with free online tutorials and downloads. 

“Look for courses in digital marketing, PR, social planning and content writing – all of which will help you to push your business and promote your services when things pick back up again.

“Another good idea to take this time to get some amazing photography of your products and your venue – either do them yourself or (if possible) consider using a local photographer who will be looking for work to replace cancelled events and may offer you a good deal. 

Daniel concurs that the shutdown could offer publicans a “good opportunity” to add to their digital skillset.

“Often, it’s a difficult area to get to when things are busy,” he says. “Taking the time to familiarise yourself with the basics and putting a social media plan in place will help publicans hit the ground running when the shutdown period is over. 

“Getting the digital basics in order now will help put you in good stead when everything is back up and running again.”

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