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What’s Working Now? Branding on Instagram Amid Coronavirus

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The coronavirus has changed just about everything, and using Instagram for brand promotion is no exception.

We’ve entered a period that is on the cusp of requiring the regular use of BC and AC (before coronavirus and after coronavirus). As in, posting pretty photos of runway looks or repurposing of an ad campaign featuring groups of frolicking young aesthetes is something a brand could do BC. Depending on the brand, posts like this would typically get a few thousand likes, maybe between 10,000 and 15,000 if follower count is in the millions. Designer Michael Kors posting a video of himself folding laundry and talking to his cat is AC to a tee. He’s getting hundreds of thousands of likes and views, exponentially more than for typical BC content.

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Virginia Nam, Instagram’s managing director of fashion partnerships, said a number of brands seem to be successfully pivoting to an AC mentality around content. “We’re seeing brands playing an important role in providing connection, education and a sense of community on Instagram,” she said. Video and Live seem to be working particularly well on Instagram, likely as so many people are at home and able to watch any video that comes up during a day they would normally be in an office or work environment.

But each brand needs to find their own approach to repositioning itself. “What works for one brand during this time may not work for another,” Nam said. Social audiences seem more sensitive than ever to content that strikes them as tone deaf or pretending that nothing is going on in the world. But overall, Nam is seeing a lot of brands have success in promoting good causes, offering support for the health-care community, speaking plainly against racism and a rise in xenophobia, talking about ways to improve general wellbeing and also “amplifying messages” about the coronavirus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

“A common thread is the shift toward honest conversations and moments — and with every corner of the fashion and beauty industry being affected by this crisis, it’s been powerful to see this happening,” Nam added.

Here, Nam explains five approaches brands can take to pivot their content strategy on Instagram, as everyone navigates the many changes to life and business caused by the coronavirus.


Nam suggested that brands not shy away from directly talking about the coronavirus and the state it’s left the brand and anyone else in. “Be honest about challenges and proceed with calls-to-action as appropriate,” she said. Also, “state your intent” for what will be posted going forward. So, if you want to offer moments of levity or beauty, say so, instead of simply flooding a brand page with luxurious images of product as though nothing has happened.

“Modify your tone and language and remember candid, thoughtful context inspires empathy,” Nam said.


This is part of being more direct, but simply asking what followers want to see and hear from you as a brand can go a long way in not only engaging your audience, but in aiding a content strategy that needs to evolve. Nam suggested using polls and question stickers in Stories, along with soliciting feedback in comments on regular posts.

Makeup brand Glossier posted a video of a baby goat eating a chair and asked it’s audience to comment on what they would like to see the brand post about. The video got more than 270,000 views and 850-plus comments, hundreds more than it normally gets on posts.

Entertain and Inspire

This one is best for video and live moments and Nam suggests, if a brand is able, to “host intimate conversations and performances.” It doesn’t have to be Chanel getting Belgian singer Angèle to perform, although that announcement alone got almost 70,000 likes and presumably as many or more views. It can be as simple as a designer creating personal videos or having a video/live chat with friends of the brand.

Nam noted that in the U.S., views on Instagram Live have increased by 70 percent since mid-March.

Lean Into the Moment

The coronavirus is first and foremost a health crisis, but it is unique in that it is affecting tens of millions of people that are not actually ill. A majority of people in the U.S. are under lockdown orders, as are most people in Europe and Asia. People are anxious; parents are now full-time teachers in addition to their actual jobs; calls to suicide hotlines are surging. So Nam suggests that brands communicate with their audiences in ways that can actually attempt to improve a person’s wellbeing. British Vogue has started posting weekly free workout videos that are getting about 100,000 views, much more than typical video posts.

Do Some Good

“Use your voice and platform to support worthy causes and organizations,” Nam said.

This is the most important tip of all, not only because a brand has an opportunity to create engagement and positive associations among the viewing public, but because a brand with thousands or millions of followers has reach. Nam pointed to Gucci, which for the last two weeks has posted almost nothing but PSA’s regarding the coronavirus, from hand washing to empathy, and the brand has made a donation of 1 million euros to the UN’s COVID-19 response fund, which Facebook (Instagram’s owner) will match at $10 million.

Many other brands and fashion conglomerates have donated money, like Michael Kors owner Capri Holdings, Armani, Chanel, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and more, but as the coronavirus drags on, so will the need for communications and aid increase.

For More, See:

What Are People Shopping for During Coronavirus Lockdown?

Post Coronavirus, Luxury Brands Must Focus on Culture, Not Products

Marketing in the Age of Coronavirus: The Dos and (Many) Don’ts