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Possible Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Digital Marketing

Possible Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Digital Marketing
March 23, 2020

Possible Impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Digital Marketing

Mar 23, 2020
Chiranjeevi Maddala

Chiranjeevi Maddala is an award winning digital marketing strategist with over 18 Years of experience in Digital Media and Marketing. He is the Founder and Chief Mentor at Digital Ready.

As a digital marketer, I would be lying if I said that the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic is not making me anxious. Especially when I know that the infectious disease is caused by a strain of the deadly coronavirus that was discovered in December 2019. That’s only three months back and we don’t have a cure yet.

More than the nature of the coronavirus disease (I am quarantining myself which is the wisest thing to do right now), what is making me nervous is its possible impact on the economy. For me, this translates to its effects on the field of digital marketing, my bread and butter.

People staying indoors and consuming online resources, magnified attention spans and increased need for entertainment are all heavily influencing digital marketing trends. So, let’s take a few minutes to go over some of the unprecedented reverberations of this global healthcare emergency on the ever-buzzing web, marketing and metrics that we all care for.

How Coronavirus (COVID-19) May Impact the Digital World

It is mind-boggling that even as I highlight these digital predictions made by industry experts the trends are changing rapidly. Which is why I request a much-warranted mild caution here.

Change in Search Patterns 

COVID-19 has already been termed the biggest trend in Google search history. People are searching for information related to the coronavirus, but also about the economy, the stock market  and national leaders such as Donald Trump and Narendra Modi.

Even though topical searches haven’t stopped (for example, about the death of musician Kenny Rogers), searches associated with the outbreak have taken precedence. Some examples, mostly long-tail keywords:

  • Is any shopping centre closed?
  • Where can I get myself tested for coronavirus?
  • Top movies to watch during quarantine (Google reported a 900% increase in this search term)
  • Pandemic vs epidemic

This puts marketers like me in a lot of pressure. Targeting the right keyword while also developing my search strategy to be sensitive and thoughtful. That’s what my perfect self wants right now. But I am instead scrolling through Facebook and watching Italians sing to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” on loop.

Searches related to COVID-19 are here to stay with the possibility of more combination searches such as ‘COVID-19 + schools’ and ‘coronavirus + future of banking’.

Pro Tip – I don’t see any reason why you should focus on writing about COVID-19 specifically because even if you are a medical blog, search engines will give preference to health organizations and ministry websites over you. Google already has a dedicated section created by its sister concern Vitaly. Also, did you see the Wikipedia article on COVID-19 anywhere on the first page of Google when you search for ‘covid-19’? The knowledge panel has also snubbed the ‘pedia. No prizes for guessing why.

Change in Social Media Consumption

Social distancing is like the organic ranking of your website at #1. It is the need right now. So, naturally, the only way to take care of this need to socialize is through online networking. With more people working from home and needing frequent breaks, social media consumption has skyrocketed.

According to Singular, there has been a 29% increase in social media marketing activity in March 2020 (compared to the previous quarter) as self-quarantine measures were recommended in most countries. Why? Because almost all social sites like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit have reported a spike in their traffic, session durations, as well as new signups.

As more and more countries put their cities in lockdown, dependence on social media will only increase.

Change in Online Shopping

Amazon and other e-commerce giants have shifted their focus on delivering essentials first. This does not mean that online shopping of non-essential items has dwindled.

Stunted awareness about the plight of the services industry may have helped because consumers are avoiding buying items that they don’t need. Toilet rolls, pet food and sanitary essentials have taken precedence over furniture, designer clothes and toys. But, board games? Well, what do you do when you are quarantining yourself with the whole family?

But this trend will soon go back to normal regardless of the COVID-19 situation. Adobe’s startling report of people hoarding on food and other essentials is also a problem point.

Change in Content Consumption

Streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime have already received a directive from governmental bodies to reduce the quality of their content (from HD to standard) to minimize the load on web services. This only points to the rising consumption of content, mainly videos.

This is not just restricted to online streaming because Nielsen reported a 22% total increase in TV usage in the US alone. Whereas video-heavy platforms like Twitch, Facebook and Mixer saw an uptick in live-streaming by 66%.

This type of frenzied consumption is only going to rise with even unaffected countries suggesting self-quarantine. Group messages on WhatsApp will continue to be about films, videos and other media to watch while working from home. But, as we all know, there will also be the circulation of fake news and stories. Some even not related to the coronavirus. Fancy watching elephants getting drunk on corn wine?

Change in Channel Preference

This is a no-brainer. Your smartphone, your computer, then your TV – that’s the line of priority everyone is following both to keep abreast of the situation as well as calm themselves. 
The focus of marketing campaigns is, therefore, going to move singularly towards search engines, social media and media websites. Tie this up with the content consumption trends and you will see what you need to see. TV should also not be left behind. Ask the sanitizer and soap brands.

Pro Stat – In Italy, which is reeling under pressure and is one of the most-affected countries, first-time installs of Netflix stood at 57%. I won’t be wrong if I say that is only going to one, increase and two, replicate across other regions including India.
But how do you process so many statistics and predictions and tackle all this? I have some ideas.

How You Should Optimize Your Digital Marketing Process

As more people work from home and commute no longer a necessity, they have more time to devise digital marketing strategies. Whether it is an opportunistic content/SEO marketing plan for a sanitizer brand or a global media house scrambling to promote an infographic on how to wash hands for 21 seconds (because uniqueness calls for one more second), strategies can be fine-tuned well. 
So, while you and I both aspire to use this ‘free’ time to our advantage, let’s look at some things that we can do during these trying times. 

  • Review your accounts first. And do it every other day. Check for drops in traffic and impressions on your analytics tool and see what you can deduce from them. As every campaign is different, your  data will guide you best.
  • The balance between online and offline channels should be revisited. Offline placements may have worked for your business before but now it’s time to put most of the eggs on online channels such as YouTube display ads and Facebook Live
  • Add anticipatory elements to your online marketing strategy. As I have noted above, some of these trends and numbers I have highlighted are going to be obsolete by tomorrow. So, if you are going to devise a strategy today, make it future proof by coating it with some anticipatory elements like:
  1. Evolved search terms: instead of “best movies to watch during quarantine” use “your quarantine Netflix guide for the next 3 months”
  2. If your business needs an offline store to work effectively, set up a seamless virtual (3D) communication window for your patrons. Devise a content strategy around that concept
  • Heighten content vetting. You need to understand that this is a medical emergency and the best way to avoid fake or incorrect data is to scale up verification of all sorts. Even if it’s as small as an Instagram caption. Two things in that regard:
  1. Follow your country’s health guidelines
  2. Refer to international journals and websites like CDC and WHO instead of your local/national news websites (as these sites sometimes tend to disseminate incorrect information to earn traffic and increase ad revenue)
  • If you are an agency marketer like me, I would recommend keeping your clients apprised of every major development with their account. Whether it is the underperformance of that new sponsored post on Facebook or the disappearance of your website from search, it needs to be known immediately and preferably from you
  • Lastly a personal recommendation, avoid predatory practices. While I know your business still needs to go on, capitalizing on such a situation where people have lost their lives and the general wave is of desperation and hysteria, it is best to manoeuvre your brand safely and scrupulously.


A lot is at stake for digital marketers right now and I for one would like to claim my solidarity. But, instead of panicking, the best way to handle this situation is to observe the trends and take small actions. 

I know that you have a lot of time to develop a full-fledged content strategy for your client who has now also begun to manufacture sanitizers. I just highlighted that. But won’t it be better if you checked your existing performance first, made corrections and then use available insights to jump into the next bandwagon? It mostly is.

Meanwhile, just keep an eye on the numbers and stay safe. After all, we are all in this together.

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