COVID era digital engagement: 8 tips from Jelly Marketing, Traction on Demand and Rogers

Insights from three of BC's top companies on how to harness the web for customer engagement and community building.

Remember the viral video where two children interrupt a live BBC interview? Remember? Professor Robert Kelly, an expert of South Korea, is discussing geopolitics with news anchor James Menendez and two toddlers stroll into the room he’s broadcasting from. His wife scrambles to collect them, while Kelly tries to stay composed.

With nearly 44 million video views, it’s one of the most entertaining and popular videos of 2017. But what happened then is now a common occurrence. “It’s 50 percent of the calls you’re on these days,” Chris Peacock, the CMO of Traction of Demand, said at a recent virtual event on the topic of digital engagement. “You have that same scenario now and it’s not even a thing.”

Peacock’s comments speak to how much the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the way we live, work and play. His remarks were made at an event hosted by the BC Tech Association as part of their #WhatWorks series on Resilience. I moderated a conversation featuring Peacock, as well as Darian Kovacs, managing partner at Jelly Digital Marketing & PR, and Eiman Abadi, director of marketing at Rogers.

Recognizing that digital engagement has shifted greatly in the past year, the panellists’ discussion explored internal communications and tech tools, what trends and impacts businesses are seeing in how they market, and what shifts in the digital and mobile space will stick post-COVID. Here are eight things I took away from the conversation.

1. A clever process for setting clear task-related expectations. At Kovacs’ company, all assigned tasks come with a corresponding number, from 1 to 4. 1 means drop everything, this is urgent. With a 2, there’s a specific due date. 3 means think about this when you’re done your 1s and 2s. 4 means let’s blue sky this. “That number system gave really clear expectations, especially in a time when you don't see body language,” Kovacs shared. “Basecamp allowed us to make objectives and tasks very, very clear and, like in any relationship, romantic or you know friendship, or you know, a work-related one, clear expectations help all things.”

2. Meet customers where they’re at. As the markets changed, Rogers had to understand what was comfortable for customers in the new reality, Abadi explained. “We understood that doing transactions online was very important, so that's one of the capabilities that we quickly sped up and brought it up to speed,” he said. One of the key opportunities for his team, he said, was iterating and getting better at providing customers with the right means and methods for communication.

3. Create community and communities. Peacock shared that his customer conversations were happening on LinkedIn, Whatsapp, Facebook and Messenger because people don’t limit their online activity to any single channel. Whether it’s a connection of three people or your entire prospect or customer base, companies have an opportunity to create micro-communities in these digital spaces, Peacock said. “You need to go where people want to be, or where they're comfortable to do what everyone wants to do, which is connect, communicate and create that community,” he added.

4. Embrace COVID as an opportunity to try new things. “Our world and our environment got turned upside down and we had to learn a new way of doing business,” Abadi acknowledged. He doesn’t believe business and life will go back to what it was, and this presents an opportunity for people and businesses to learn and grow, he said. “So it's not all doom and gloom as some folks would say,” he added. “I think if anything it's opened our eyes and it's gotten us to really learn a new way of doing business.”

5. “People buy and companies pay.” Businesses often differentiate between B2B (business-to-business) and B2C (business-to-consumer). However, Peacock said that at the end of the day, it’s all B2P—business-to-people. “We have this saying, which is that ‘people buy and companies pay,’” he shared. When it comes to building a relationship in the context of your business, he says it’s always still personal, and reciprocity is required. “If it’s not fair, it will end just like a human relationship,” Peacock noted.

6. Beat Zoom fatigue with novelty. As Zoom fatigue remains a reality, companies must make sure to add real value for their customers, according to Kovacs. People have gotten really picky when it comes to what they’ll engage with online, he said. To demonstrate a creative way to connect with customers, Kovacs described how one company invited him to participate in an online whiskey seminar. The seminar got him to engage with a brand he may not have originally considered paying any attention to. “I think people are getting a lot more discerning and getting wiser with what they're saying yes to and, more importantly, what they're saying no to,” he observed.

7. With social, remember that you’re on leased land. When businesses consider the social tools they’re using, they need to remember that they’re on “leased land,” Kovacs explained. Brands don’t actually own the fans on their Facebook page, he says, as an example. But brands do own their email newsletters, and the more email addresses you can collect, the better, he said. “That is where you should put your efforts,” he suggested. “The social channels are great and awesome and are fun little parties—but know that you will never own that party, you are there as a visitor.”

8. Don’t change who you are. “Don't reinvent what you do because of the pandemic, or why you do it,” said Peacock. “Reimagine how you do it.” Whether your work is a product or a service, your core should remain your core. “We have to continue to keep our heads up and look for opportunities to find new ways of driving our missions and accomplishing our purpose,” he concluded.