Drawn from PSFK research, these emerging strategies allow businesses to sustain or even amplify engagement while providing important service to their communities

The rapid rise of COVID-19 has impacted economies, industries and lives on a global scale. As many businesses shutter physical operations and people are forced to stay at home, we're witnessing a wholesale shift to digital and individual. In parallel, we're seeing firsthand the limitations of supply chains, retail and other systems to respond to new needs as both companies and consumers prioritize essentials like food, health, comfort and safety.

In the midst of these challenges, opportunities to rethink processes and innovate solutions are taking shape. Traditional enterprises, upstart brands and individuals are shifting their production, jumping to virtual platforms and striking up unique collaborations to support the greater community's emerging needs while reinventing business.

Here, PSFK Research has rounded up five top ways we're seeing innovative brands and retailers activate and care for the community. From enabling virtual activities that fulfill both creators' need for work and consumers' desire for entertainment, to helping locals connect with each other over important resources, the following strategies allow businesses to offer their community meaningful support while encouraging consumer engagement and loyalty.

Hosting virtual get-togethers

From virtual bars to digital music festivals, brand activations across categories are helping preserve consumers’ favorite social activities and watering-hole moments, including low-key happy hours hosted over Facebook or Instagram live-streams, as well as weekly online shows to keep musicians performing. Others are inventing new opportunities, like fast-casual chain Chipotle inviting fans via Twitter to join Zoom hangout sessions and connect with celebrities like The Bachelor’s Colton Underwood.

Shifting creator community production

Makers are shifting their manufacturing focus onto items that support the community’s priority needs, calling on groups of creators to help mitigate shortages of face masks and other medical gear as well as leveraging tech like 3D-printing to speed up processes for equipment required by those working on the front lines. One creative community in particular supporting these needs is craft sales platform Etsy, which called upon its makers to use their skills in support of mask production, helping provide people the protection they need. 

Finding alt ways to mark important moments

Many younger consumers like Gen Zers are missing out on milestone moments like graduation, weddings or travels due to coronavirus restrictions. Smart brands are listening and helping recreate these important occasions online, working to at least recognize consumers’ needs and even offer alternative ways to celebrate. Teen Vogue is organizing a virtual prom for high schoolers missing various commencement rituals, holding the e-fête on May 16 over Zoom and featuring celebrity appearances alongside live music and other entertainment. Schools can register to attend or students can as individuals, and the publication is offering tips and prep across social media to psych up the community beforehand..

Creating new connections

Quarantine isn’t stopping people from meeting and creating bonds. From dating apps and professional networks to simple book clubs, innovative online portals and tools designed to foster meaningful connection and ease feelings of isolation are cropping up. Lunchclub is an AI-enabled platform that helps business professionals make connections personalized for their needs, learning about their goals and interests through a quick questionnaire, then scheduling them a video session with a curated match once weekly upon their consent.

Matching the haves with the have nots

As businesses close, shortages abound, and mobility restrictions remain, brands and community groups are taking matters into their own hands, helping identify resources where had in excess, and organizing means to transfer them where needed most. While some of this looks like old-school charity donations and volunteer programs, others are more inventive, like Facebook’s Community Help feature that connects locals to coordinate resources and tasks like grocery runs.

These are just five of the trends PSFK researchers have identified regarding ways businesses are supporting their communities large and small—and we are constantly monitoring the rapidly evolving times for their effects on consumers, culture and the wider industry. Stay tuned for more analysis of business innovation in response to COVID-19.

Lead image: illustration by Ouch.pics