3 ways retailers can leverage social media during a crisis

Key insights from Walmart and Sprout Social

Social media is not only the place to see the latest fashion trends or newest TikTok dance. It’s also a place to learn about breaking news during a crisis, and it gives companies access to audiences around the world. Consumers today expect brands to have a strong presence on social media and provide content in line with brand values, which includes reacting to a critical moment.

When those moments happen, how do you know if your team should make a statement — or even what the right statement is? NRF hosted a conversation with Marissa Kargas, director of digital strategy and brand engagement for Walmart, and Ryan Barretto, president of Sprout Social, to discuss Walmart’s social media playbook during times of crisis and how retailers can use these strategies.

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Authentic messages

“Having a social strategy is vital during times of crisis, but you need to read the room,” Kargas said. “The data may show one thing but based on social listening, reporting or themes, we may need to do something different.” For example, her team’s data showed that while posting a GIF performs well, posting a lighthearted GIF in the middle of a crisis might not be the right decision. 

“Authenticity is all about human connection,” Barretto said. “Consumers have different expectations from brands and expect brands to have personality, authenticity and consistency.” Good judgment plays a role in knowing when and how your company should step into the conversation.

Kargas said brands should not add to the conversation with vague “thoughts and prayers” messages, but rather provide clear meaning or an action for the audience. Companies should showcase their point of view and be true to the brand — which could include user-generated content from senior leaders or company employees.

Team partnerships

An important takeaway from the conversation is that response plans must have a holistic approach in times of crisis. Communication with team members is essential to ensure everyone is aligned on messaging and prepared for how the audience responds, whether it’s positive or negative.

Kargas said employees should build both internal and external relationships, so key contacts are already aligned when a crisis occurs and your audience receives a better response. There’s nothing worse in a crisis, she said, than having to introduce yourself and ask for a favor.

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Have your playbook ready

It’s better to do proactive work than to get caught in a reactive mode, Kargas said. At Walmart, she and her team have taken the time to build content around topics to be ready when they might need to put out a quick statement.

In addition, she said brands should start sharing content from key executives and their C-suites to familiarize their social media audience. When an audience sees a companies’ key leaders on social media, it adds to the level of engagement and trust. If something does happen, that relationship is already formed and will compel the audience.

NRF members can exclusively watch the full conversation with NRF On Demand here. Thank you to our sponsor Sprout Social.

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