Welcome to a world where crisis meets opportunity coming from the sage advice of so many marketers that seem to have been here before. But before I get off to a start where I sound overly quizzical and apprehensive about the surge in marketing ads and opinions that I’ve heard in the past 30 days, let’s look at a few facts:

  • Stay at home, shelter in place will be happening without a doubt for another month, as the State of Washington just extended their order to May 4th, thus setting the bar any other state would be remiss in undercutting.
  • People are working from home in record numbers, so their habits and day-to-day activities are going to consist of a lot more telecommuting, streaming services, and overall participation in activities in front of a computer screen.
  • The landscape for essential needs has adjusted much like what has been designated as essential services. While we have an absence of live entertainment, sports, travel, and hospitality, we also have an absence in what consumers believe are products and services that are necessary at a time like this, coupled with financial uncertainty.

Now back to marketers – marketers are always predisposed to finding opportunities. I mean, can you blame them? The silver lining is that it’s literally the livelihood of most marketers to present a product or service (or a situation) in a way where it can be appealing in any social and/or financial situation. I like optimism at times like these. I also like realism, though, based on facts and surveys.

The purpose of this article is to explain why marketers believe that social media ads at this time are a good marketing buy, especially on budgets that often need to be reeled in, or, in some cases, would take money away from other channels that could be working and funneled where we’re convinced could be even more effective. We need to be cautious at this time about marketing decisions. We may not necessarily grow as a business in a time of crisis, but we can certainly hold steady and come out on top with many fine-tuned campaigns and initiatives, and experience growth right away when the economy is definitively back on track. 

Going back to time spent on social media – I’m as guilty as most people at this time. We’re on social media a lot more to feel a sense of connection during a time of profoundly increased isolation. We want to know peoples’ thoughts and feedback on their own COVID situations, along with any other news about what’s happening via (hopefully) reliable news sources.  So many people simply have more time on their hands. Now insert our marketer: the one who, of course, has the right mindset to pursue social media more heavily at this time. After all, there are more people on social media, with more time to consume the information being presented. We’re off to a great start.

If you start doing some searches online to confirm these numbers, they’ll be there. According to Bultin.com, the cost for impressions has dropped dramatically. Most marketers I’m speaking with speculate the costs can be down since so many industries are temporarily pulling out, like hospitality, entertainment, and sports. It could also be a quieter incentive from Facebook’s own stock prices taking a hit. The consumption rates are sort of a no-brainer (which will be corroborated later), so what’s the issue with running social ads right now in any industry? One simple concept: user intent.

I didn’t formally study traditional marketing much academically, but I’d imagine that Marketing 101 would say something along the lines of presenting your product or service to an audience that would likely be the most inclined to engage with it. We are in a period where user intent for many, many products and services are significantly down — by as much as 80-99%. Although I mostly discuss how this pertains to the legal industry, this also applies to any industry — including the one you’re in as a reader: How does user intent look when our shelter and stay at home orders are in place, and no one (even in some instances legally) should be out doing their normal activities? Arrests are down 80-90% in most places; that’s for your criminal defense lawyers. Accidents are down 80% in most places around the country; that’s for the PI attorneys.

There are too many places to cite; you can simply do a few searches to see these trends:

“Arrests Down” keyword search

“Accidents Down” keyword search

Of course, going back to opportunity, you can find what could be considered opportunities elsewhere for each.

Curfew violations, illegal possession of a firearm, theft, burglary, etc.

Medical malpractice, unsafe conditions.

Child custody battles, unlawful employment practices. The list goes on. The volume isn’t going to be as opportunistic as people may think, though. 

So why am I being bombarded with more marketing guides, videos, courses, products, software, consultants, experts, and additional educational materials than I have in modern history? Is the concept of spending more during an inevitable recession as contradictorily brilliant as everyone has made it out to be? Did we learn anything during the 2008 Housing Bubble that is still fresh in our memory, and can be applied today?

If a majority of businesses in the same industry heeds the call as an opportunity and increases their marketing budgets simultaneously when user intent is down 80% (and in turn, only 1 out of 5 people is interested in working with them where it would normally be 5 out of 5), how does the ROI measure up for that one lone potential customer now bombarded by marketing messages all at once?

I wanted to confirm first, in a sample of 250 people, that everything I was seeing about consumer engagement on social media first was true. In this survey, we found out the following to create the base for the rest of this blog:

  •         How Often Have You Been on Social Media Since March 1st?
  •         How Often Have You Been Receiving Ads Since March 1st on Social Media?
  •         How Often Are You Interacting with Ads You’re Seeing on Social Media Since March 1st ?
  •         How Often Are You Making Purchasing Decisions from Social Media Ads Since March 1st?
  •         How Often Do the Ads Tend to be Using More Urgency Since March 1st?
  •         How Often Do You Find the Ads to be More Off-putting Than Ads You’ve Seen Prior to March 1st?
  •         What Social Platforms Have You Been Using More Often Since March 1st?

All of these questions were asked on a scale from 1-10 (besides which social platforms have you been on), 1 being “much less often” and 10 being “much more often.”  5 was neutral, meaning in this survey the participant didn’t believe there was any difference. 

How Often Have You Been on Social Media Since March 1st?

This one shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it’s important to confirm anything that could be speculation, especially at a time like this when marketing decisions need to be on point with money on the line. 

Average 7.11
Median 7
Mode 8
Weighted 7.35

The consensus for this one was a straight “more,” confirming that most people agreed that they were on social media as a whole more often in the past 30 days, which included time spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, and other platforms.

How Often Have You Been Receiving Ads Since March 1st on Social Media?

Average 5.7
Median 5
Mode 5
Weighted 5.28

This one I was a little surprised about, seeing that most people didn’t think they were receiving any more ads than they had been in the past. I suppose this would make sense and actually made me feel silly for a while – the fact is, no matter what, social platforms are going to present the same number of ads to you regardless of the timing. The better question on my part would have been if there was a shift in the kinds of ads being presented, as you will always have a consistent allocation of ads in your social feeds from whatever sources are actively participating in paid social media. 

For example, let’s say on an average day, you receive 50 ads in your feed from Facebook, and Facebook decides that based on your interests, you’ll receive 20 from Entertainment businesses, 20 from Marketing businesses, and 10 from Lifestyle businesses. If all of the Entertainment businesses pull out of social media since they don’t have anything to promote at this time, and Marketing businesses jump into the game on social media to promote timely products and services (even surpassing the budgets of the Entertainment businesses before social distancing, and surpassing them tenfold), you’ll still receive 50 ads in your feed on your average day. They may be closer to 40+ ads from Marketing businesses and 10 from Lifestyle, though. If you have the average person online 20-30% a day, you can expect them to now get 50-60 ads from Marketing a day. That can really start to give the impression that you’re being inordinately bombarded from a certain industry during this time.

How Often Are You Interacting with Ads You’re Seeing on Social Media Since March 1st ?

Average 3.57
Median 3
Mode 1
Weighted 2.63

At this point, here comes how people are interacting with social media. Respondents reported that they were interacting with ads less now than before. Based on this fact, I can’t help but be speculative since I don’t have a why from this question. I think people are using social media much more because of what I mentioned at the beginning: they want to feel connected with their friends, family, and community and look for ways of being comforted and informed.

How Often Are You Making Purchasing Decisions from Social Media Ads Since March 1st?

Average 3.37
Median 3
Mode 1
Weighted 2.55

My speculation can be supported somewhat by the fact that respondents said they aren’t making purchasing decisions from ads compared to before COVID-19 became more widespread. This isn’t a correlation with an increase in ads – it’s simply a mindset. A lot of the supposed surplus in ads for some industries could be falling on people with no user intent.  Of course, the easiest way to dispute these facts would be to study the sales numbers and lead numbers from the businesses that are running the ads right now, comparing them to their performance pre-COVID-19.

How Often Do the Ads Tend to be Using More Urgency Since March 1st?

Average 5.22
Median 5
Mode 5
Weighted 5.09

I was glad to see there was only a slight uptick here. Businesses engaging in paid social ads right now may be looking at this time as an opportunity as far as availability and cost to run ads, but the ads themselves aren’t positioned as being overly-opportunistic.

How Often Do You Find the Ads to be More Off-putting Than Ads You’ve Seen Prior to March 1st?

Average 5.44
Median 5
Mode 5
Weighted 5.17

Again, not much of a difference here.  I would have given this a resounding 8 out of 10 and been a minor outlier (in fact, 48 respondents answered an 8-10 here, but surprisingly 30 answered a 1-2 as if this would be a time for ads to be less aggressive …). I could see these numbers changing significantly in another month – either society will see much of these changes as being the new norm and get used to it, or stress and tension will slowly build up. That’s not for me to speculate.

As far as which social media platforms respondents were on more often:

Facebook 129 51.60%
Twitter 72 28.80%
Instagram 70 28.00%
Reddit 37 14.80%
YouTube 25 10.00%
TikTok 2 0.80%
Snapchat 9 3.60%

I thought TikTok was more popular nowadays. Perhaps it wasn’t a social media platform that necessarily came to mind.

So is social media automatically a platform people should double down on right now just because the CPM is cheaper?  Based on what I’ve seen, if you want to give it a shot, I wouldn’t think activating your run of the mill ads from the past is an obvious approach.  I think I’d be more diligent on how I wanted to get in front of the right people. Some marketers would argue that surveying 250 random people is too general since you can select certain audiences, or do lookalike audiences based on previous data, to target people that would be far more likely to engage with your ads. There’s no argument with the fact that user intent is down dramatically across the board. If it’s down now and you want to get in front of the trend by being on the up and up, doubling down on organic would be the way to go. Preparing now is preparing for the future, and some of the people in my field I believe in the most are in agreement on this. 

Another important consideration is the “push” vs. “pull.” Social media ads have also been a push game: hoping your ads fall on the ideal audience and they take action. Organic and Google Ads have always been a pull game, working tirelessly to position yourself on SERPs to be the choice, or hopefully small group of choices, from a searcher with true intent based on the context of the query. Analyzing opportunities for Google Ads at this time is an entirely different conversation that we plan on covering, along with getting exposure for the expedited evolution in searches at this time. 

Many in my industry (legal marketing) have a habit of downplaying the significance of a marketing channel when they either don’t participate in it or don’t understand it. Organic reach isn’t going anywhere – aren’t we talking about Google here? It’s also vastly the most complicated – aren’t we talking about Google engineers from MIT re-forging some of the most renowned and talked-about algorithms in the history of the internet? Just like most things in life, there likely isn’t an easy way to start getting business during a crisis from just “doing social media ads because they happen to be somewhat cheaper right now.” It’s taking time to evaluate your options, research, and be diligent on how to get in front of the limited traffic that’s available right now, and look ahead to see how you can have a strong position when user intent inevitably has a true rebound.  

Looking Ahead to the National Recovery and Your Online Marketing Plan

Everybody is hopeful that our economy can get back on track by May, and in the meantime, it’s going to remain a lot of Stay At Home Orders, working from home, and social distancing. What we do know is that people are online more often; do you have a strategy to reach them? If you’re struggling to develop a plan at this time, team up with dedicated professionals who believe in you and want to help you succeed. At Market My Market, our legal marketing agency has helped many law firms attract and retain quality leads by maintaining all aspects of their websites, managing their online reputation, helping them generate stellar reviews, and more. See how we can provide a long-term strategy for you during a free consultation.