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Following the appearance of COVID-19 in America in March, Facebook put in place a number of restrictions which entirely banned the sale of face masks. Now, as most states are reopening and chances of a medical supply shortage are lessening, the company is relaxing some of these rules on non-medical face masks.

Why Non-Medical Face Masks

While medical professions are still seeing a limited supply of face masks, demand for KN95 or other medical-grade masks has fallen. Instead, many are opting for cloth coverings which are considered acceptable by many health experts. 

This has created an increased demand for these non-medical face masks while reducing the overall demand for non-medical masks. 

Medical Masks Vs. Non-Medical Masks

Under these newly relaxed guidelines, advertisers can now start selling non-medical masks. According to facebook, these include masks which are:

  • Non-medical grade
  • Not promoted with medical or health claims
  • Handmade or fabric masks
  • Designed to be reusable
  • Made of refashioned materials

Phased In Restrictions

To prevent a tidal wave of advertisers all trying to sell face masks en mass or an increase in bad actors, Facebook is lifting the ban in phases. For now, advertisers wishing to promote their masks will have to meet a few specific requirements:

  • Advertisers must be in good standing with Facebook ads, having no violations or disabled ads due to policy violations
  • Ad accounts must have an advertising history of at least 4 months. This means those who created an ad account a year ago but have not used it would not be eligible, while those who have been running ads for at least 4 months will be. 
  • Ad accounts cannot be from a country with unusually high rates of ad policy violations for selling masks during the bad, including Cameroon, China, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, and Vietnam.

What Can Be In The Ads

Additionally, Facebook is still mandating a few restrictions to ensure that advertisers only promote non-medical masks. 

For instance, absolutely no medical or health claims can be made in the ad, including the mention of disease prevention or protection of the respiratory system. 

Any mention of community benefits of wearing masks can not include health mentions or overstate the benefits of masks.

To give an idea what this looks like in practice, Facebook provided an example in their policy guidance:

“‘We’ve pivoted our business to making masks to help keep our community healthy’ would be allowed, but stating ‘We’re stopping the spread of COVID-19 by making masks’ would not be allowed.”

Facebook Policy

Notably, while Facebook is reducing the restrictions on masks, they are still banning ads promoting hand sanitizers, surface wipes, COVID-19 test kits, and other related medical products.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted or changed almost every part of our daily lives in some way, and that holds very true when it comes to online search. 

Google has been tracking these shifts from the initial outbreak to our current time where over 4 billion people are staying home around the world and many in America are returning to work. 

In particular, Google says it has seen five key trends reflecting how online search behavior, consumers’ interests, and purchasing behavior have shifted over the past few months.

The five key trends in online search after COVID-19 include:

  1. More consumers are relying on multiple devices
  2. Increased reliance on Google search
  3. People are using online tools to create and develop virtual relationships
  4. Routines are adjusting to reflect being at home
  5. People are increasingly practicing self-care

Let’s dig into what these trends really mean and reflect:

Multiple Devices

With the huge jump in people working from home or spending extra time relaxing inside, Google has seen a similar increase in the amount of content consumption. Specifically, the company says staying home has led to at least a 60% increase in the amount of digital content watched in the US.

This means many consumers are relying on one device to indulge in their favorite content online while using another device to browse products, look up information, and connect with friends. 

Increased Reliance On Google

The search engine has seen a massive increase in searches for critical information and a wave of content designed to inform the public about safety, updated business practices, and other essential needs.

For example, Google has seen that online search interest for terms like “online grocery shopping” and “grocery delivery” grew 23% year over year in the US. 

Online medical needs have also skyrocketed, with online search interest in telemedicine climbing by 150% week-over-week. 

Building Virtual Relationships

Businesses may be opening, but many are still practicing social distancing which keeps them away from friends and family. In lieu of being able to spend time with loved ones, people are finding new ways to build relationships online:

As of April, Google Meet has hosted at least 3 billion minutes of video meetings, with nearly 3 million new users joining every day. 

Online search shows increased interest in digital recreations of normal social events, such as a rise in search interest for “virtual happy hour” or “with me” content which shows people doing ordinary tasks like cleaning, studying, or cooking. 

Changing Routines

As social distancing and quarantine continues for many, online search interest has shown that many are adapting their typical routines to be internet-first.

For example, search interest for “stationary bicycles” and “dumbbell set” has continued to rise while many try to stay healthy from home. 

Google also reports that search interest for “telecommuting” in the US has continued to grow since it reached an all-time high on Google and YouTube in March.

Practicing Self-Care

To help cope with the mental and physical toll of the COVID-19 epidemic, many are turning to online search to assist in practicing self-care from home. 

Some examples of this from Google’s report include:

  • Views of mediation-related videos are 51% higher in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • Searches for “bored” spiked significantly and have remained heightened since March. 
  • Searches for at-home activities such as “games,” “puzzles,” and “coloring books” have remained increased since March. 

Read the Full Report

The full report includes additional data as well as recommendations for responding to these changes to online search over the past few months. You can read the entire 39-page document here (PDF).

Google has released a detailed document they are calling the COVID-19 Marketing Playbook to help you create a strategy for marketing your brand during and after the ongoing pandemic. 

The recommendations included are based on Google’s own observations of how businesses are responding to the quickly changing situation and the company’s internal data.

The Three Stages of COVID-19 Marketing

According to Google’s guide, there are three stages of marketing as the situation has unfolded:

  1. Respond
  2. Rebuild
  3. Recover/Re-frame

Here is what each of those stages mean and how you can do to help your business during each step:

Respond

What’s Happening?

Businesses are responding and adapting to fast-changing consumer behavior and fluctuations in demand.

What Can You Do?

Solve what matters today to get your business ready to rebuild.

Rebuild

What’s Happening?

Businesses are planning for the recovery and rebuilding their marketing fundamentals, with deeper insights, tools, and measurement.

What Can You Do?

Prepare to capture dynamic demand and position yourself well for the recovery.

Recover/Reframe

What’s Happening?

Businesses are reframing their business models and digital marketing practices to restart or maintain growth.

What Can You Do?

Implement marketing learnings from the crisis into your long term business strategy to drive sustained growth.

The Three Stages of COVID-19 Marketing Strategy

Similarly, Google says there are three steps to marketing your business during the pandemic:

  1. Use consumer insights to drive your approach
  2. Assess the impact on your business
  3. Take action now

How COVID-19 Has Affected Search

Google has identified three specific ways the ongoing COVID-19 situation has affected search patterns so far:

Shock

Sudden change in behavior, unlikely to be sustained

Example: Quick rise and fall in school-related searches as shelter-in-place orders were implemented.

Step-change

Sudden change in behavior that may sustain

Example: Quick increases in exercise-related searches have stabilized at heightened levels during this time.

Speed up

An acceleration of existing behavior that may sustain

Example: Google has seen an acceleration in the growth rate of delivery-related searches that appear to be maintaining for now.

How Google Has Responded To COVID-19

To illustrate how to put these concepts into practice, Google points to its own response to the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights five principles to ensure your strategy remains effective and relevant:

  • Context – Related to localization
  • Constantly Reassess – Being flexible and responding to changing trends
  • Creative Considerations – Evaluate if artwork, tone, words, and other create aspects are appropriate
  • Changing priorities to navigate uncertainty – Being helpful in a way that fits the current reality
  • Contribution at every opportunity – Identifying ways your brand can help that are specific to the pandemic

 

Download Google’s COVID-19 Marketing Strategy Playbook here (PDF) or read the full announcement about the playbook here.

Over the past two weeks, several of the largest online ad platforms have taken swift steps to address problems with advertisers attempting to profit by stoking fears during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube have all responded in unique ways to stop the flow of misinformation, prevent profiteering, and provide new resources to protect public health.

Google Ads Blocks Advertisers Capitalizing on Crisis

This week, Google Ads updated its Inappropriate Content policy to specifically disallow content which:

“…potentially capitalizes on or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, conflict, death, public health emergency, or other tragic event.”

The new regulation specifically cites price gouging, selling essential supplies that are in high demand but scarcely available, or ads that use sensitive keywords to manipulate their click-through rate.

For more details about which strategies to avoid and what keywords to be careful about using during this time, check out the full help page Google Ads has created for advertisers.

Google and Bing Block COVID-related Ads

Initially, Google had introduced a policy which entirely disallowed advertising products or services related to coronavirus across the entire platform. However, recent reports suggest they have internally revised this policy to make an exception for trusted organizations like hospitals, medical providers, or other major organizations attempting to provide reliable information to the public.

The search engine is also blocking the sale of face masks on its ad platform, following similar policies from Facebook.

Bing has taken similar steps by blocking all ads related to COVID-19, except those coming from trusted sources.

As a Microsoft spokesperson explained:

“Microsoft Advertising has taken precautionary measures to block ads for delivery related directly to COVID-19 under the Microsoft Advertising Sensitive advertising policy. This precaution also applies to some COVID-19 related medical supplies. We will only allow Public Service Announcements from trusted sources, such as official Govt. agencies, to promote COVID-19 content.”

Facebook and Instagram Block COVID-19 Ads, Create New Resources

Since March, both Facebook Ads and Instagram have been blocking the sale of face masks on their platforms. The policy has since been expanded to include hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing for children.

At the same time, Facebook has created several new resources for both businesses and the general public, many of which can be found in the new “Marketing for Uncertain Times” deck which contains industry playbooks and general advice for staying informed.

Twitter Gives Advertisers Leeway

After originally banning any and all ads which mentioned “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”, Twitter has revised its ad policies to allow some advertisers to mention the virus.

As the company explains:

“In response to the shifting advertising landscape, and in order to support helpful causes during this time, we’re now allowing managed clients and partners to advertise content containing implicit or explicit reference to COVID-19 in certain use cases, with restrictions.”

The specific cases Twitter will be allowing are:

  • Adjustments to business practices and/or models in response to COVID-19
  • Support for customers and employees related to COVID-19

Despite this, Twitter says it will continue to block ads which include:

  • Distasteful references to the virus
  • Content that may be sensational or likely to incite a panic
  • Inflated prices or products related to the virus
  • Ads for face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, supposed vaccines, or treatments.

TikTok and Pinterest Partner With WHO and Red Cross

TikTok and Pinterest have taken similar steps as others by blocking ads which “reference coronavirus, including when promoting products or services, to create a sense of fear, or to cause widespread offense”, as a TikTok spokesperson said.

In addition, these platforms have also been working with major health organizations around the globe to help spread relevant information and prevent misinformation.

Pinterest has been redirecting any searches on the platform to official content provided by the WHO to prevent the chance of delivering custom results which could be difficult to monitor for disinformation.

TikTok has taken similar steps by donating in-feed ad space to notable organizations including the WHO and Red Cross to ensure users have access to helpful information.

YouTube Blocks COVID-19 Ads Except From Trusted Sources

YouTube’s ad policies have largely been in-step with Google’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, the platform would not allow any form of monetization on content relating to the coronavirus, citing “sensitive topic guidelines.”

Since then, the company has taken some steps to loosen that policy by allowing news organizations and reputable creators to produce videos about the issue in a sustainable way.

In a letter to the community, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained:

“In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify and a range of news partners. We’re preparing our policies and enforcement processes to expand monetization to more creators and news organizations in the coming weeks.”

Despite this allowance, the company stresses it will continue to remove content that violates its policies or spreads misinformation.

Google has introduced a new way to quickly and easily show that your business is temporarily closed in accordance to Oklahoma’s “Safer at Home” order and other states’ shelter in place laws during the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.

This comes at a critical time as people are turning to Google’s local listings to see what essential businesses are still operating around them and what revised hours they may be operating. For example, although grocery stores are remaining open, many are changing their hours to allow time to restock and let employees rest.

Meanwhile, countless others have been forced to close up shop for at least two weeks for the sake of public safety. Google is the first stop many are turning to in order to see what type of changes your company has had to make.

How To Temporarily Close Your Business On Google

To help, Google has shared easy-to-follow instructions explaining how to “mark a business temporarily closed.”

The first step is to sign in to your Google My Business account and select the “Info” section in the menu on the left.

From there, you will find a section marked “Close this business on Google.”

Within this section, you will be presented with three options – to mark you listing as temporarily closed, permanently closed, or entirely remove your listing.

Why It Is Important To Update Your Listing

With so much confusion and uncertainty, people are relying on the internet for up-to-date information more than ever. This is especially true for Google’s local listings.

However, the surge in GMB updates has overwhelmed Google’s reduced staff to the point that many areas of local listings are being suspended – such as reviews and Q&A’s. Closing your listing temporarily is currently the easiest way to let people know that although you have had to close for the time being, you will be back in action soon.

In light of a limited workforce and the unique needs of people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Google says it will be temporarily removing some features from Google My Business to better prioritize important updates for the time being.

“During the unprecedented COVID-19 situation, we are taking steps to protect the health of our team members and reduce the need for people to come into our offices. As a result, there may be some temporary limitations and delays in support as we prioritize critical services.”

For the foreseeable future, these Google My Business features may be limited or removed.

Reviews and Q&A

Perhaps the most noticeable change for businesses and customers alike is that GMB will no longer be publishing new reviews, review replies, or new Q&A responses until further notice. However, existing reviews and Q&A’s will remain visible on your listing.

Although the company hasn’t clarified, most take this to mean that any reviews, replies, or questions submitted during this period will be held until Google has the resources and available workforce to properly review these updates.

New Listings or Verification

Google My Business has instructed its team to prioritize critical health-related businesses when reviewing new listings, claims, and verification for GMB listings.

This means that while new listings for non-health-related businesses will still be processed, they may be delayed in favor of more critical updates or listings.

Business Listing Updates

Similarly, Google will be prioritizing healthcare-related listings when reviewing edits to existing business listings.

This includes edits relating to:

  • Changes to open and closed states
  • Special hours
  • Temporary closures
  • Business descriptions
  • Business attributes

GMB says it is working to keep customers updated about all business changes during this time, though it must focus on those to health-related businesses.

Google Posts

Although Google has not made any official comments about Google Post functionality during the coronavirus epidemic, many have noticed extreme delays when publishing new Posts. This may lead to issues with updating customers about new hours, product shipments, or new services like delivery or curbside service. Instead, Google appears to be allowing businesses to temporarily add these details to their business name.

As Joy Hawkins explained in a recent Local Search Forum post, “Google said that they are fine with restaurants adding ‘Delivery Available’ or ‘Takeout Available’ to their business names during these crazy times.”

As businesses and organizations across the country are racing to respond to the spread of COVID-19, Facebook is attempting to support small businesses which have been closed or are enduring hardships during this time.

Along with creating a dedicated hub for businesses affected by the epidemic, the company announced it would also be launching a $100 million grant program for small businesses.

Dedicated Small Business COVID-19 Hub

To help small businesses endure the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, Facebook has launched a dedicated hub with immediate actions you can take, a brief guide of quick actions to bolster your business, and a full 30-page business resilience toolkit.

For those who aren’t used to taking full advantage of Facebook’s virtual tools and connection abilities, the company is directing business owners to free courses designed to introduce you to virtual events, live streaming, and selling your products on the platform.

While brick-and-mortar stores may be shuttered or running reduced hours, Facebook says it recommends leveraging the available digital channels to maintain your business.

Small Business Grant Program

In addition to digital resources, Facebook is putting forward $100 million to help 30,000 eligible small businesses in more than 30 countries.

The program is still in the early stages and details are limited, but Facebook has provided a few bits of information about how the program will help companies:

  • Keeping the business’s workforce going strong
  • Assistance with rent costs
  • Connecting businesses with more customers
  • Covering operational costs

Applications are not open yet, but will be available in the coming weeks. To be notified when applications become available, you can sign up here.

Google is asking businesses to update and revise their Google My Business listings if their operations have been affected by the spread of COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus.

The company released a new help document listing ways companies can use GMB to update customers, including sharing updated business hours, ensuring phone numbers are accurate, and even using business descriptions or Google Posts to provide more detailed information.

To raise awareness of the recommendations, Google has placed a prominent alert at the top of all Google My Business-related support pages which reads: “If your business is affected by COVID-19, update your profile to provide the most accurate info. Learn more.

What To Do

If your business has been affected by COVID-19, Google recommends using your GMB listing to update customers by doing the following:

  • Change your business hours: If your business hours have changed, update the times when you’ll be open or closed. The hours will show when the customer visits your Business Profile, and they’ll know exactly when to visit.
  • Update your business description: Explain whether or not your business operations are affected by COVID-19. You can share information about any extra precautions the business is taking, if you’re providing any extra services to the community, or whether you’re experiencing delays.
  • Create a post: Share more detailed and timely updates about what’s going on with your business through Posts. For example, add information about what products and services you have available, and link to other resources. You can continue to use Posts to directly communicate with your customers on a regular basis as your business changes.
  • Update your phone number: Make sure your phone number is correct so that customers can reach you.

Keep Your Customers In-The-Know

Updating your Google My Business listing should always be a first step when making changes to your business, whether that means changing your business hours, moving locations, or just launching a new promotion. This is especially true during issues of public concern, like the ongoing coronavirus spread, when even regular customers may be checking your listing for the latest information.

Mask icon courtesy of Freepik