On March 26th, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry held a conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Instagram Live. The talk leveraged Curry’s personal platform as an opportunity to educate his followers on the seriousness of the coronavirus. No brand produced the online experience; it had no sponsored feel. This was a candid conversation from a content creator communicating critical information to his audience, leveraging the capabilities of a social media platform.

Users and brands participate in the social media landscape for one or more of these fundamental reasons:

  • To inform / be informed
  • To educate / be educated
  • To entertain / be entertained
  • To build relationships

COVID-19 has disrupted the very normalcy that we know online. It has created a lift in the volume of activity occurring on social media, and in a way, it has introduced users to a life that unfolds almost entirely online. For brands, COVID-19 has demanded a change in how we approach digital marketing, as online users are consuming content differently. The influx of content has made the social media newsfeed even more competitive.

The goal of experiential marketing is to inflict a lasting impression on consumers, so they feel inspired to share with others. This exchange ultimately leads to brand loyalty. But how can brands make this work in the new normal? How can you leverage experiential concepts in a virtual setting that features demand generation tendencies?

Well, it might be a little easier than you think.

Use the Instagram “Close Friends” Feature

When Instagram launched its “Close Friends” feature, users initially received this as a tool to differentiate between posting for everyone and posting to a self-identified group of close friends – a necessary feature for those who wanted to avoid sending frequent, multiple direct messages. Most brands regarded this as having greater utility for individual users or influencers than for businesses. However, brands can creatively leverage the new feature as a new way of disseminating gated content.       

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Create Virtual Experiences

Exclusivity in experiences is becoming the new norm. From backstage access at concerts to on-demand content from conferences, businesses are pivoting their approach in the age of digital democratization – and users are adjusting their online behaviors in response. More than 50,000 users tuned in to watch Stephen Curry’s livestream with Dr. Fauci. More than 100,000 total viewers attended the virtual party DJ Nice threw on March 21st. Names and brands like Jada Pinkett-Smith, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Janet Jackson, Michelle Obama, the NBA and NFL Sunday Ticket.

Begin Providing Exclusive Content

Imagine a scenario in which you launch an omnichannel advertising campaign that drives traffic to a landing page with the intent of acquiring potential leads. Within the form on the landing page, there is a field that requires users to include their Instagram account name to obtain access to exclusive content. This allows a brand to fill its database with new leads for additional marketing and communications efforts. But it doesn’t need to stop there capturing your prospects' Instagram accounts is just the beginning. A simple call-to-action, directing users to follow a brand's account, allows the brand to cross-reference its leads to start offering exclusive content on Instagram.

The brand can now add all users following its Instagram account into its Close Friends list. It can then leverage this tool to deliver exclusive owned content – whether it’s pre-produced content, an influencer takeover or gamification through Instagram Stories. In this way, the brand can utilize a platform not otherwise known for its ability to leverage a gated content experience, continuously pushing messages, sequences or episodic, easily digestible content to a curated audience group. Over time, as you begin to see higher engagement from your brand’s Close Friends, this could eventually serve as the new norm in your social approach to demand generation.

Don’t Discount Social Media as Being for Consumers Only

As a brand, you’re defined by the experiences you create. Because key decision-makers have exposure to technology that fosters a seamless and lasting experience, you can use that technology to maximize the value of each touchpoint you have with a user.

If you aren’t already, perhaps your brand can focus on creating content that both informs and entertains. Maybe you’re revealing new features about your product, or asking internal thought leaders to share tips with your core audience. Whatever it is, however you’re using it, you have a great opportunity to leverage Instagram in fresh ways, thus enhancing and diversifying the value of the channel – and of your brand.

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