Social media is one of the most popular marketing channels for businesses around the world. But in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic where everything is anything but business as usual, it can be challenging for brands to know how to proceed with social media marketing.

If your brand’s social content has been planned in advance, you now likely find yourself with a calendar of content that you can’t use. In the midst of a global crisis, even seemingly mundane references to things like working in an office, dining in a restaurant, taking a vacation or socializing with friends now becomes tone deaf and inappropriate. In addition, daily developments in the fight against the pandemic and the accompanying government guidelines and restrictions can mean that brands have new news and updates that they need to communicate with their followers.

So, when seemingly everything is in flux, how can you use social media effectively in a time of crisis?

1. Be proactive. Don’t wait for your followers to tell you what they need. Anticipate what questions they may have before they even need to ask them. In this time of crisis, common questions among customers abound. If you have a physical location, the most pressing question is whether your operating hours or procedures have changed. This can also be true if your brand’s interactions with customers are virtual. Is there a change in how they should contact your company? Even if the answer is that it’s status quo, let your followers know. This is an important part of communicating business continuity. Social listening can also help you understand your audience’s sentiment and concerns during this time. Remember, social media shouldn’t be a one-way street in ordinary times, and that holds even more true during a crisis.

2. Do what you do best. Right now, medical and public health professionals are vital sources of information. But, unless that also happens to be your brand’s area of expertise, stick to doing what you do best. For example, a flooring manufacturer shouldn’t try to share information about COVID-19 vaccine trials. While being helpful to your social audiences is essential at this time, it’s also important to stay in your brand’s lane. Tap into your organization’s area of expertise. Using our earlier example of a flooring manufacturer, a company in that space could share tips for safely sanitizing different types of flooring. It’s helpful and it’s relevant – two things your social media marketing should strive for in a time of crisis.

3. Mind your tone and images. April Fools’ Day can be an opportunity for brands to get creative and engage in some fun on social media. Fortunately, with the pranksters’ holiday falling in the midst of a global pandemic, many marketers read the room and decided to skip the annual social media shenanigans. While some brands still participated in April Fools’ social campaigns, the relative absence of these posts demonstrates how marketers are being mindful of their tone during this crisis. The world is a serious place right now, and while that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for brands being lighthearted on social media, such attempts should be framed properly and undertaken with care. In some situations, that could mean acknowledging the times we are living in and expressing that you want to share something positive by sharing employee pet photos, for example. Again, proceed with caution to avoid appearing tone deaf and be sure to never make light of the virus itself or people suffering from it. Also, mind the images you’re using for social posts. Something as simple as a stock photo of people gathered around a conference table for a business meeting can be inappropriate for the times depending on the context.

4. Keep posting. The social media marketing show must go on. It will just look different than it has in the past. The unfortunate reality is that the world will be facing this pandemic for months to come. As marketers, we must adapt. While there are no hard and fast rules for how often your brand should be posting as we move through this crisis, keep posting. For some brands – like those in the travel and hospitality industries, for example – the immediate future of social media marketing will be dictated by the pandemic. Other brands will see a move to more standard business messages balanced with content related to the crisis. Whichever category your brand falls in, be sure that your social channels don’t go silent. During a crisis, that silence can be especially deafening.

5. Think about the future. For better or for worse, social media has a long memory. As you develop your social media marketing plans during this crisis, work to ensure that the collective memory of your brand at this time will be a positive one. Avoid being opportunistic and aim to be helpful in every social post and encounter. Give people a reason to smile during a difficult and somber time.