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The world feels a lot different than it did just a week and a half ago—before social distancing became something we all felt as much as we said it. Interestingly enough, one of the places we’re all feeling that change the most is our Instagram feeds.

While brands have spent a ton of time over the last few years building influencer and user-generated content strategies to create an “authentic” look that’s still highly curated, there are—right now—examples every day of brands throwing that out the window.

Instead of using the social playbooks that drove their brands forward, they’re refining them—sometimes even rewriting them—on the fly. Amidst COVID-19 and social distancing, brands are acting a little weird (posting videos of farm animals eating furniture), getting vulnerable (asking followers what they want to see), and being more human (hosting AMAs). That’s a lot to test and pull off in a quarter, much less in a week.

The best? Glossier.

Pick any five posts from March 13 forward and compare them to any five posts for as far back as you want to scroll. They got real—fast.

There’s a cliche in marketing that you need to “meet your customers where they are.” Most days, I’m not sure what that means. It’s lost its meaning (as cliches do).

Each of us are human, though, and the marketers responsible for driving brands forward and telling stories on social are figuring out how marketing should look and feel while we all try to make sense of COVID-19 and social distancing. It’s a big test. Some of these changes are going to land, some of them are going to fail.

But several brands, it seems, have agreed that they can’t just keep going with what was working two weeks ago.

“Sometimes it’s kinda hard when everything is normal and working,” said Emmett Shine, co-founder and executive creative director at Pattern Brands. “I feel like some things in here our team wanted to do… But when the shit hits the fan, it’s easier to say, ‘Fuck it, man, let’s just do stuff that makes people feel good.’”

To understand how those changes are getting made, we talked with several brands about the process.

4 e-commerce brands taking social marketing cues from social distancing

Calpak gets customer tagging

For luggage brand Calpak, there’s the reality that, well, not many folks are traveling right now. You’d think that’d cause a problem.

Not for the team at Calpak.

If you zoom out on why we travel, it’s often to connect with others, create memories with family and friends. So Calpak’s current hashtag campaign, #CALPAKconnect, is a perfect extension of that. Calpak is teaming up with True Botanicals and The Bouqs to give away a care package.

The ask? Share posts and Stories about “connecting” with friends digitally.

“The feedback has been great,” said  Giselle Romero, Calpak’s Social Media and Digital Content Manager. “We’re looking to get really creative and activating our community.”

Tracksmith leans further into culture

Running brand Tracksmith is the epitome of a lifestyle brand, paying homage to the old school grit of amateur running, the history of the sport, and the culture that surrounds it.

Running, though, is often a lonesome, outdoor activity. And while Tracksmith’s audience leans to the more “serious” runner, the brand recognizes that motivation for running can be tough right now, said Lee Glandorf, Tracksmith’s communications lead.

So, they launched the Tracksmith Culture Club, an Instagram Stories campaign highlighting running-related books, movies and podcasts.

“I don’t know about you, but sometimes, even though running is the nicest thing to do when you’re stuck at home, it’s nice to have a little something to get you motivated or excited to run. A reminder of why we run and a little inspiration.

Addison Bay builds ‘social connecting

At Addison Bay, the team scrambled to adjust its engagement strategy—and fill a need for its customers.

The young athleisure brand and retailer dresses on-the-go moms “from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” said Emily Britt, Social Media & Influencer Marketing Manager. But those moms? They’re home right now.

So, Britt launched a campaign, which started this week, to hold studio classes via IG Live.

The idea, she said, was to help consumers feel a sense of normalcy while also supporting local exercise studios who are struggling with COVID shutdowns. Britt sent participating instructors apparel to wear, and the kick-off week of classes are launching with a Friends & Family sale (coincidental timing).

“When we launched the stories … the reaction was insane,” Britt said. “All the analytics, all the emails to our customer service email, saying ‘Thank you so much. They were so grateful. And that means a lot. It’s a good positive reinforcement that our consumer is hearing us.”

Pattern Brands embraces vulnerability

Branding agency Gin Lane (noteworthy for their work with brands like Harry’s, Everlane, Sweetgreen) made headlines last summer when the team admitted to being burnt out and pivoted to building a DTC holding company that would focus on goods to improve everyday living, especially in the home. (It’s two brands to date are Open Spaces and Equal Parts.)

The connection there to all that COVID-19 and social distancing is making us deal with feels especially poignant, and Shine, Pattern Brands’ co-founder called that out.

“I just saw a lot of information online that we’re all spending more time online. It’s either hardcore helpful or pretty fluffy and out of touch,” he said. “I wanted to find a middle ground. Less be a brand telling you what to do and more being a brand telling you want other people are doing.”

To that end, he’s built a daily series on the @patternbrands handle called “At Home With,” where people are answering a set series of questions about how they’re responding to this new way of living. The luxury Pattern has, Shine says, is that Open Spaces and Equal Parts have their own handles and social presences.

“They’re businesses that are selling products. At the same time, we’re trying to be value driven,” Shine says. “Seems like a nice time to show a lot of people and bring people together… These aren’t even getting our best likes or engagement. But what is happening is a lot of people are DM’ing saying, ‘Thank you.’ In that sense, it’s really rewarding.”

Changes in social media strategies will stick after social distancing ends

The shift brands are making are noteworthy for a number of reasons, but the biggest is this: Brands are finding ways to execute in new ways that adjust even more to the authentic.

While these campaigns won’t last forever, the impact of them will: We’re willing to bet you’re going to find these approaches stick long after we recover from this period of social distancing. They may not drive the sales that product-focused posts and Stories drive on Instagram, but they build deeper connections with customers and generate engagement that goes beyond likes and comments. And for brands playing the long game? That matters.

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