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A Quick Audit to See If Your Content Passes a COVID-19 Exam

Nearly every brand has shared content about adapting to the reality of the pandemic. Admirable and effective (if somewhat repetitive), many of these messages have been delivered with sensitivity and shared responsibility.

But what about your brand’s content unrelated to COVID-19? If your other content doesn’t convey a similar awareness and sensitivity to this all-encompassing issue, you can bet it is affecting your audience’s perception of your brand. It could even undo any goodwill earned from your crisis-response initiatives.

Non-coronavirus #content still requires awareness and sensitivity to the pandemic, says @Joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

To pass consumers’ COVID-19-era litmus test, it’s a good idea to do an interim audit of your popular, recent, and upcoming content assets. Take the steps below to avoid inadvertently publishing or promoting content that might be perceived as tone deaf, out of touch, or off-putting.

Key triggers for tone-deafness

As Julia McCoy discusses in her post on auditing analytics, content currency is a key evaluation factor in any standard audit: Does the content incorporate the most up-to-date information you have about the topic? Has there been a change in the consensus on the topic since it was posted?

This should be the crux of your COVID-19 audit, too. But also consider the tone of your text, audio, and visual communication.

COVID-19 audit criteria

A million little content details perfectly acceptable in December might feel passé, awkward, or downright irresponsible today. While some concepts might bounce back, others might not. With no way to tell exactly where the dividing line might fall, aim to keep your brand’s content firmly grounded in the here and now.

That process first looks for the warning signs of situational tone-deafness. These might include:

  • Dismissive remarks or snarky statements making light of the issue’s severity: A pandemic is no laughing matter. While we could all use a little levity these days, leave the glib or comedic takes to professional entertainers and focus on creating content that your audience will find universally relatable, desirable, and worthwhile.
  • Insensitive phrasing and us-vs.-them positioning: You can’t know what each of your audience members might be going through, so it’s best to avoid language that conveys an assumption of equal standing (for example, between men and women in domestic responsibilities during COVID-19), speaks from a position of privilege (not everyone can shelter in a safe home, let alone bathe in rose petals, y’all), or polarizes your audience with reckless bandwagon jumping or misinformation (see: Elon Musk).
Avoid equal-standing language b/c your audience might have different experiences, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
  • Flirtations with controversy: Under normal circumstances, taking a strong stand on a controversial topic can convey desirable brand traits like confidence, uniqueness, and authority. But now, referencing concepts like “reopening the economy” or “getting back to normal” more likely makes your brand look opportunistic rather than enviable. You also risk having to walk back your messaging should new facts come to light.
  • Failure to speak from a human voice: The remarkable spike in Zoom usage shows people crave the personal, face-to-face interactions we took for granted. It’s not the best time to deliver algorithm-driven content, bland boilerplate statements, or vague, impersonal advice. Like it or not, we’re in the midst of a shared human experience that elicits a range of emotional responses. Make sure you capture and reflect that reality in the words and actions described. Not sure how to manage that authentically? Consider New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily news updates from the point of view of someone stricken by the virus to be your spirit guide.
  • Mixed messages: The best brands align what they say with what they do. Those that don’t, risk getting called out. Your content should always put into practice what your brand preaches, and now that means double checking for message consistency – in your text, visuals, and any other format you use.

Where to check for signs of trouble

Let’s look at the key components to check when evaluating your content for COVID-19 suitability. Even small adjustments in these areas can speak volumes about how situationally aware your brand is and how responsible and responsive your content conversations are:

  • Copy: Check the main body of your content as well as the text in each asset’s headline, teaser, email subject lines, calls to action, and image captions. And don’t forget to double check the additional copy you’re using when you share that content on social media, too!
  • Metadata: Update the text that lives behind your copy for situational relevance to ensure that audiences discover your content at its most responsive, forgoing the surface of outdated or insensitive assets.
Update your #metadata to ensure that your #content is at its most responsive, says @joderama via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet
  • Visual imagery: Pay attention to the subtle or nonverbal messages to ensure that they don’t conflict with your carefully considered copy. For example, including older photos of happy diners gathering closely in your restaurant or airline passengers crammed into middle seats puts the credibility of your social distancing messaging in doubt.
  • Choice of topics and how you approach them: While you can adjust copy, images, and metadata to fit your COVID-19-impacted reality, some subjects are best avoided. For example, now is not the time to dole out health advice or weigh in on virus trends, unless your brand is a reputable firsthand resource for health information. It’s not the time to make promises as a “wellness influencer.” If you find any of this content in your audit, take it down.
  • Use of data: Are the stats you cite in COVID-19-related conversations current, accurate, and beyond reproach? Given how quickly new information is emerging and being revised or debunked, it’s hard to be 100% certain all the time. Making claims based on an evolving situation likely will lead public opinion to call your brand out at some point.
  • Time-sensitive materials and events: Does your original content reference an event or initiative that has been canceled or altered radically? Does it frame discussions or make projections from a pre-COVID-19 point of view? While you can’t rewrite history, you can revise event information, add editor’s notes (and publication dates) to make it clear the content was created (or research conducted) before the full impact of COVID-19 hit or that information has changed since it was published.

Conducting your audit

When CMI published a post by Aaron Agius on content audits at the beginning of this year, we had no idea we would need to revisit the concept a few months later.

You owe it to the business to keep your #content in good working order, says @iamaaronagius via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Nevertheless, his basic framework for a more comprehensive audit can serve this narrowly focused COVID-19 review with a few small adjustments and additions:

  1. Create or update your content inventory. This at-a-glance view can help you more easily determine which assets to explore more deeply.
  2. Review your audience insights and your goals. Be aware of precisely how your business strategies, actions, and view of your audience’s needs have shifted. Make updates accordingly. After all, you don’t want to get called out for publishing misinformation during the content’s second time around.
  3. Set your audit priorities. It may not be feasible to reevaluate every asset on your content calendar nor do you necessarily need to. Focus on what you can address quickly with the information you have now, don’t attempt to rewrite your entire content history. Make sure the topic choices in the next several months are still relevant and that you cover them with due sensitivity.

If you have the time to broaden your audit, look at your top-performing assets – the ones driving the best 10% to 20% of your traffic, leads, conversions, or other goals. These efforts have the greatest visibility and thus, the greatest likelihood of being judged by today’s new standards for acceptability.

Look to these key data points to help make that judgment call:

  • Number of people visiting your published content, such as:
    • Average organic search traffic per month
    • Average overall traffic per month
    • Bounce rate
    • Average time on page
  • Engagement rates for those assets, such as:
    • Number of “likes” and comments on social media
    • Video view numbers and length watched
    • Email click-through and open rates
  • EO indicators, such as:
    • Number and quality of backlinks
    • Metadata quality
    • Keyword density
  1. Gauge situational relevance. Once you decide which posts are worth updating, look at each one to determine the steps to update for accuracy, emotional resonance, and social responsibility.

Remember, you must view your audit list through a lens of what’s appropriate today and tomorrow (in other words, the near term). No one can predict how long COVID-19 will remain a top conversation, but it’s a safe bet the impact will ripple through your content for years.

Keep your brand value safe and healthy

Trust is an extremely relevant topic now. That presents a rare opportunity for your content to make a better impression the second time around. Exercising sound judgment and practicing good sense in what and how your content communicates to your audiences could determine whether your brand continues to be welcomed into their lives or gets tuned out permanently.

Gain expert insight and more practical advice to elevate the how of your content marketing. Join us for the now-virtual ContentTECH Summit this August. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute