person on phone using social media
From monitoring your promotions to acknowledging the crisis at hand, your business's Instagram can be an effective place to bond and resonate with customers during tough times. — Getty Images/Suwaree Tangbovornpichet

During a crisis, people tend to flock to social media for information, connection and entertainment. Facebook and Instagram saw a 40% increase in usage during COVID-19 as users tuned into live events, shared updates and supported one another with memes and content. Your customers are paying attention to your social media channels, but that doesn’t mean you should continue posting “business as usual” updates. Here’s how to use Instagram to communicate in times of crisis.

[Read more: 5 Top Tech Tools for Customer Communication During the Coronavirus]

Pause your promotions

Take a minute to reevaluate your planned Instagram posts. You may need to rethink what you had lined up or cancel your posts altogether. “It’s usually a good idea to pull back on anything that centers on the self-interest of the poster, like selling a product or a service, or inviting someone to a promotional event,” Tim O’Brien, founder and crisis PR consultant at O’Brien Communications, told CO–.

“During the pandemic, many brands decided not to launch new campaigns, branding initiatives or promotions since that really isn’t what people wanted to see at the time. Even if it didn’t offend, it would have fallen flat because for most people, their minds were primarily on the safety of friends, family, loved ones and even themselves,” he said.

The type of crisis you’re facing will inform your next step: communicating as openly as possible with your audience.

Acknowledge the crisis

Pretending everything is normal can come across as tone-deaf and inauthentic. Audiences appreciate honesty, and Instagram is a great place to share what’s going on with your business. “Even a simple, ‘It feels weird to promote something right now, but…’ can go a long way in showing your followers that you’re listening and caring,” write the experts at Later. Before you resume posting content, make sure you connect with your audience and let them know there’s a real person behind your images.

[Read more: 6 Ways to Provide Great Customer Service During a Crisis]

In a time of self-isolation, turning to social media — especially Instagram — to discover new experiences allows brands and companies to provide valuable content to new or existing audiences.

Sharon Lee Thony, founder, Sharon Lee Thony Consulting

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Focus on content, not sales

If a crisis has a silver lining, it’s that your audience is paying attention more closely than ever to what you have to say. Now is the time to focus on engagement, rather than constantly asking users to swipe up or tap to buy. Posts that focus on education and entertainment will build brand affinity during difficult times.

Sharon Lee Thony, founder and digital marketing guru at Sharon Lee Thony Consulting, told CO– that content that helps entertain and alleviate the stress during a crisis can go a long way.

“We've been helping our clients to get super creative with providing livestreams of yoga classes or tips from mental health experts on how to ease anxiety. People use social media to connect with others. In a time of self-isolation, turning to social media — especially Instagram — to discover new experiences allows brands and companies to provide valuable content to new or existing audiences,” she said.

Take advantage of Instagram’s features

Instagram Stories, Instagram Live, carousel posts, and hashtags are all tools you can use to keep your audience engaged during a crisis. “Instagram Stories is a great way to get immediate feedback from your customers and followers. The polls and questions features on Stories encourage a ton of engagement. Ask your audience what music they are listening to right now, or if you're stuck on what to post tomorrow, ask them what they'd want to hear from you!” Thony told CO–.

Get creative and share your expertise through Instagram Live. A restaurant owner, for instance, can host a live cooking class around lunchtime. A salon can host a session on how to do an at-home manicure. A personal trainer can host a live workout class. All your Live content can be repurposed as saved stories in your bio for your followers to access anytime.

Be flexible

News tends to move quickly during a crisis, which is why you should be prepared to adjust your strategy on the fly. “Some organizations put a halt on all scheduled posting since during a crisis,” said O’Brien. “Developments happen quickly and the situation is so fluid, what appeared to be a harmless post when you scheduled it could backfire later in the day when it hits the web because of something that happened in the interim.” Monitor your comments and direct messages and stay on top of official updates to avoid posting anything on your Instagram that appears tone-deaf.

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