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Coronavirus crisis: How to move your business online

Kinga Edwards
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Kinga Edwards
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During tough times of crisis, many industries struggle not only with making profits but also with communication. Sectors like hospitality, travel, airlines or any brick-and-mortar enterprises need to face changes to their business and strategy. Small companies also need to make ends meet during such turbulent times. 

For many, the only easily actionable and applicable tactics are to move their business online when offline channels are temporarily disabled.

Isn’t this easier said than done, though? Especially for those who until now have mostly relied on offline? How to move an offline business online?

Why should you move your business online?

1. Everyone will be online sooner or later

This time of recession and “offline quarantine” can help you sparkle on social media with suitable communication. Even if you have moved away from your everyday business a little bit now, you shouldn’t just disappear off the radar. 

2. Stay in touch with your customers

Being out of business offline does not mean that you can take a break from social media. Quite the contrary: your clients may demand action on your side and to be in touch with you. If you don’t give them such an opportunity to contact you online, they may forget about you when the dust settles down. 

3. Get ahead of your competitors

Many businesses are online but do not invest enough in paid advertising or regular posting. Move business to online so that you can better your competitors and easily bounce back when the situation returns to normal.

How to move your business online?

Moving to 100% online can be difficult for many businesses, and some hasty actions may bring zero results. Crafting an advanced strategy is time-consuming and there’s no time to do that now.

There are a few tactics that you can apply right now to heal business wounds like a plaster would, at least for a while.

Below, you will find some steps taken by the most sensitive industries. Big fish and small companies alike, that are not giving up social media communication during these challenging times.

How to move restaurants online?

A blessing in disguise? Some restaurants already operated online to some extent: they managed social media, automated some delivery processes, or received orders and bookings through the web. In light of the coronavirus crisis, though, the restaurant sector needs to make some adjustments. In many countries, restaurants are closed for a couple of weeks, and the only way to run a business is to offer delivery or take-away.

Not every restaurant is deciding to move business online, or has the capabilities to do so. But if you are in such a situation, don’t forget to communicate it on social media.

Taco Bell (below) offers $1 Grande Burritos with every delivery via Grubhub, one of the biggest food ordering and delivery marketplaces in the US. The same step has been taken by KFC and many other brands.

No Grubhub? No problem. Look for some local counterparts or offer delivery yourself. 

It is understandable that you may be disappointed and counting the days until it’s over. You’re not the only one. Your customers would love to keep visiting your premises and they will surely come back once you proclaim it open again. For now, communicate with them and offer access to your services if you still can.

You can also help out those who require it most: people in need whose lives have also been disrupted. You can join the fight for a good cause. Show your brand as a helpful one (so that people will remember you afterwards). Maybe you’re oversupplied and this way you can get rid of the surplus of goods without wasting them.


How to move bars online? 

Bars constitute another group of businesses that are being economically affected.  In many countries, they have simply had to close for the time being. Bearing in mind that they may miss great commercial opportunities like St Patrick’s Day, we are talking about losses in the millions (of whichever currency). What’s more, they often can’t make the most of some possibilities that restaurants have – they can’t (usually) deliver alcohol or serve it as take-away, due to many legal restrictions. If they want to move their business online, they need to be smart about it.

Speaking of Paddy’s Day, there is one brand that “feels different” this year. By taking it online, they encourage their audience to stay at home and “march” with them when it’s all gone and done. Responsibility at its finest.

Some bars try to play it with a sense of humour by publishing meme-like creatives, of course without (purposely) offending anyone in relation to the coronavirus crisis. Posting this kind of content (apart from informative posts about the situation) allows them to stay connected with their followers via online channels.


Speaking of bars, it’s worth mentioning distilleries too. They are also affected by the outbreak, but instead of staying away from social media they have decided to step up and help. Some distilleries in the UK and the US are making hand sanitizer and giving it out for free or at cost price. Of course, it’s hard to recognize this as direct promotion, but rather offering a helping hand. However, these brands also get media coverage that definitely won’t hurt after coronavirus becomes a thing of the past.


How to move travel online?

Travel is an industry that is currently hurting the most. Airlines are suspending flights, travel agencies are cancelling trips and people are resigning from any holidays. Brands need to face cancellation costs, more intensive customer service e.g. via call center software and never-ending requests. But they still need to be there for their clients and potential future customers. How to move business online in this situation?

Keep calm and adjust your communication.

For most people, visiting Estonia is not a priority right now. Estonian tourist board profile on Twitter encourages them to do so…in the future. They are doing their job whilst behaving responsibly given the current situation.

Hotels need to deal with many cancellations too, yet most are not complaining about it on their social media profiles or going dark. Instead, they are trying to engage their clients, inform them about their rights, be at their disposal and even contribute to helping.

It is crucial to be on social media for customer support as well. Twitter or Facebook are often one of the first sources clients are using to seek help, so teams responsible for communication need to get prepared for mixed reactions. 

Premier Inn put their communication aside and prepared a short summary of what has changed in their T&Cs, so that their clients can be well informed. 

By being proactive, informative and helpful on social media, Premier Inn is making a good impression on any would-be clients who are aware that the situation has got out of hand, outside of the hotel’s control. What matters now, though, is how a particular company deals with a challenging situation.

By staying active online and getting involved with the situation, hotels are showing a human face and proving that they are still at their clients’ disposal in these difficult times.

There are many hotels that, despite all of the possible options, have decided to just release a statement and then disappear, leaving their clients disappointed and uninformed. Needless to say that most of them are not likely to ever step into that hotel again.

Travel agencies are also facing hard times, but they have generally been online for a while anyway. They need to customize their communication now though, by resigning from offering deals and discounts or proposing various destinations to visit.

And they are all singing to a similar tune. 

TUI flooded their social media channels with travel advice related to the coronavirus crisis.  They have proven that constantly updating customers on the latest changes is not a choice but a must.


Expedia is surely dealing with many cancellations. While they are taking some actions in the background, they do not want to overshadow their social media communication with only negative messages. They have been forced to take their business from offline to online even more, whilst remaining calm with comforting quotes and subtle communication. What’s the key thing to learn here? Don’t overreact and don’t panic, at least not on social media.


While you surely can’t move the travel industry completely online, you can maintain your presence on social media. It’s not the best time to promote your offers or to encourage people to buy from you either. But it is a good time to show people that you care about them and their travels while putting health over wealth. It is a good time to build your brand up as a trustworthy and helpful, but also engaging one.

How to move a museum online?

Running an art gallery, exhibition centre or museum is not an easy task. It is even more difficult when almost out of nowhere, you need to move the business online. How to do this, when nearly all of your assets are undigitized?

Virtual museum trips and walkthroughs are now the way to go for many museums all over the world. People can “visit” them without moving from their couch. This keeps them occupied but can also lead to an interest in seeing everything with their own eyes once the pandemic is over.


Shedd Aquarium went one step further still: they let their penguins take a walk through their premises whilst it’s closed for visitors. You can watch these sublime animal dates live on Twitter. As you can see below, they have already generated a lot of engagement.

So, if anyone says that you cannot move business online, show them this excellent example from a very offline business: an aquarium.

FMCGs – from brick and mortar stores to e-shops

People had to change the frequency of shopping for fast-moving consumer goods to once a week, and the time spent in grocery stores is limited.

There is a chance for FMCG brands to increase their profit margins by creating their own value chain and not be dependent only on resellers.

Several FMCG brands created e-shops which gave them more control over the value chain, increased their profit margins but most importantly they are able to run conversion ads on Facebook or Instagram. People now spend more time on social media than ever before. With a great targeting and messaging the ad is able to trigger the desire for your product. But also, with great ads and nice user experience in the e-shop, you have a chance to help kill their boredom.

To give you an example: Emco, a Czech brand producing muesli, oatmeals, cereal bars, biscuits, etc. developed their own e-shop. So especially now, during the coronavirus crisis, people can easily order their favourite products without having to wait for a free slot for Tesco delivery.

Source: emco.cz

How about brick-and-mortar shops, for whom the online world is a brand new one? Well, any new adjustments might be difficult for them, no doubt about it. Due to many regulations, many owners have had to shut up shop and almost close the whole business.

And here comes the choice: you can give up and swallow it, or you can roll up your sleeves and try to move your business online.

PTS Mania in South Korea is one of the best examples of how to cope with the current crisis. Gangwon Province in South Korea is famous for producing potatoes, but the farmers now have nowhere to sell their crops due to the coronavirus outbreak. 

So, the Provincial Office started a social campaign advertising the sale of potatoes online. In just 30 seconds, more than 8000 boxes were sold.


Florists have also had to lock up their small shops due to the outbreak. Of course, it takes a huge toll on them, but they take the situation seriously and need to follow legal requirements. Some of them decided to offer free flower deliveries and promote this on social media. By doing so they can almost run business as usual, letting old clients know how to get their favourite flowers and reaching new customers too.

Lululemon offers athletic apparel for yoga, running and working out. To keep spirits high during these tough times of social distancing, they decided to introduce a special series of workouts that are broadcast on social media to follow at home.

Taxi services – delivering groceries

Taxi services also belong to businesses that saw a dramatic drop in customers recently. In countries where taxi drivers were given a stop from the government to help minimize the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, taxi apps switched from the transportation of persons to delivering groceries.

In Ireland, a taxi app Lynk is going to cooperate with supermarkets and shops offering online ordering of goods. The taxi drivers will then collect the delivery and bring it to the customer’s door. No personal contact needed. While keeping their business afloat, they are also going to help the overwhelmed delivery services.


More examples? 

The event industry has also been hit hard by coronavirus. Many conferences are being cancelled or postponed, whilst concerts and festivals are simply not taking place. Although event organizers are often well prepared for holding events online (via webinars or online summits), this is a brand new situation for many musicians, bands and artists.

The latter group are having their tours rescheduled or called off completely. Some of the musicians are trying to do something different for themselves and their fans, though, instead of sitting on their hands.

Fedez, who is locked in Milan, decided to host a small gig for his local community through…his window, with a little help from some speakers. The numbers speak for themselves: almost 3 million views and plenty of public appraisal for such a small event.


Key takeaways

Both small businesses and big brands are and will be feeling the intense effects of the coronavirus crisis. Going online during this tough period may sound like a bumpy ride, but ultimately it’s an inevitable step that can help your brand survive difficult times now and in the future. Brands are becoming increasingly aware that the online world is the main channel and method for running their business, nowadays. And it will remain so, for at least the foreseeable future, 

While streaming services, games, and e-commerce are doing well from global lockdowns, not every industry is so lucky. Those suffering most can minimize the risk or impact on their business with smart social media communication, though. And customers should come roaring back when people begin to re-enter public spaces. 

We have created a short checklist for those who want to move your business online, but don’t know where to start.

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