Small business owners have been hit hard in recent months. From forced closures to staff layoffs and increased pressure to connect with customers authentically, the road has been far from smooth. Many businesses have lost most of their communication avenues with customers except for social media.

For those not accustomed to prioritizing social, this has presented a steep learning curve. For businesses that already had a social media strategy, many components of carefully crafted plans have been put on hold or shelved. There’s a real sense of confusion and worry about how to best leverage social media, continue to grow and avoid alienating the current customer base.

As states reopen in phases, there will again be a shift. Businesses that were forced to close may now need to share updates with their followers about their plans for reopening, while others that aren’t reopening now will need to stay connected with customers in the meantime. For either group, there are five key things you should prioritize when creating a new social strategy.

Add to the conversation, not the noise

By and large, it’s a good idea for small businesses to keep posting on social if there are resources to do so. For many businesses, this is now the main customer communication tool available. The key to success lines in providing value to your followers, not just more content to sort through. Whether your business is closed or open in some capacity, you likely have things to offer customers beyond your products and services.

Consider what insights or opportunities for connection you can provide. Can you give a behind-the-scenes look at how your products are produced with a live stream? If you are a wellness-focused company, are there tips and advice for navigating our ever-changing situation that you can share?

What can you do to make your social channels a place for community? Consider creating a private group for your followers to connect, and offer conversation prompts, contests, etc. Focus on content that doesn’t ask much of your followers but gives them ways to engage further if they’d like.

If there’s a lot of unknowns for your business right now, things aren’t going well in your community or managing social media feels like added weight on your mental health, it’s OK to wave the white flag and shelve this piece. Post a brief message letting followers know you’re on hiatus and take the space you need.

Prioritize safety and be transparent

Any step toward normalcy is both exciting and anxiety-inducing in this era. If you’ve had to shutter your business temporarily and are now getting ready to reopen in some capacity, you likely have a long to-do list, a short time to get it done and a cloud of confusion surrounding everything. Your customers want to support small businesses right now and are eagerly awaiting news about your reopening. However, they’re also anxious and confused.

In your posts about reopening, lead with safety. Cover what new procedures you have in place for your business and staff to ensure the comfort and health of your customers. Even small details like having staff wash their hands multiple times a day go a long way toward helping customers feel at ease.

Keep your communications about reopening and safety straightforward and clear on social media. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and customers will want to get the key information quickly. In addition to new procedures for staff, be sure to address what you’re asking customers to do as well (asking them to wear masks, not come if they have symptoms, etc.). Be transparent and don’t be afraid to be human. Let followers know what you’re still figuring out, be available for questions that come through in comments and messages and extend the same patience you’d like in return.

Maintain a respectful tone

COVID-19 fatigue set in weeks ago; you don’t have to directly address the current situation in every post unless your business has timely updates or policy changes to share. However, you should consider that everything you post will be viewed through the coronavirus/social distancing lens for a long time to come.

A post from a local spa sharing ideas for a spa day at home is great; a post encouraging a spa day with your friends is not. A fashion brand posting about a sale on loungewear that supports relief efforts through profits is fine, but a post about essential wardrobe items for your next vacation would be quite tone-deaf.

It’s also important to consider the language you use on social, even for your positive, well-intentioned content. Any health advice you share should come directly from the CDC or WHO unless your business is an established, healthcare-related one. If you’re wishing your followers well, avoid phrases like “staying sane.” While the intent is an admirable one, the phrasing can be insensitive to those struggling with mental health issues. Recognize that “health” is a very subjective term; we recommend using phrasing around “wellness” instead.

Finally, don’t forget one of your most important audiences: your employees. If you’ve had to make difficult decisions about staffing over the past few months, consider how you can be transparent about this with your social media followers. In addition, consider how your employees will perceive the content you put up on social and how you can support them through this medium.

Experiment and engage new audiences

Though it may seem counterintuitive, now is a great time to try new things with your social platforms. As a small business owner, you may have shied away from creating video due to the logistics and time investment. However, you don’t need a professional camera and studio to make quality social media video; you just need a cellphone and a willingness to be human.

The opportunities for leveraging video are endless — behind-the-scenes videos, team profiles, Q&As, interactive livestreams and more. Video typically offers greater engagement and reach than other content types, so there’s a lot to gain and little to risk by giving it a shot.

Likewise, now is the time to experiment with social media ads if you haven’t done so previously. Just as with your organic content, ensure that you’re adding to the conversation and not the noise. People do not like to be sold to, and there are more ads than ever on social media. Build your ads around resources and useful information you can provide.

Your products may fit that bill, but ensure that your ad copy doesn’t read like a sales pitch, includes a call to action and offers something viewers can’t get elsewhere. Used strategically, social media ads can put your business in front of new audiences you’d struggle to reach otherwise.

Leverage free analytics and be flexible

As a small business owner, budgets are often tight. There’s probably not room for an expensive social media management platform right now. Though these tools can streamline your posting process and give you access to in-depth analytics reports, you can get a solid sense of how your content is doing with the built-in analytics on most platforms.

For any channel that offers an export of detailed data for the entire month — Facebook, for example — make sure to download this sheet for the best information. Focus on the month as a whole, looking at impressions, reach, engagement and clicks. Consider your social analytics alongside your Google Analytics reports, and look for connections and patterns.

Did you have a spike in traffic to your site in the middle of the week? Check and see what you posted on each of your social channels that day. Did your follower count rise significantly this month? Consider the types of content you posted and what days/times it was published.

In the COVID-19 era, staying flexible in your social strategy is key. Try new things, ask for grace and offer it in return, and expect that not everything will work out as intended. If you stick with it, your business will reach new audiences, boost engagement and increase brand awareness — long after the pandemic subsides. Take the opportunity now to lay a new foundation, build something new and create real connections.