Managing Social Media Through Crisis: A Content Analysis of Instagram Posts Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Heather Kennedy
Nataliya Bredikhina
Grace Athanas-Linden
Thilo Kunkel
and Daniel C. Funk

Examining shifts in sport organizations’ social media content from before to during the pandemic-induced stoppage of play provides insight into digital branding during crises. Drawing on consumer-based brand equity and the context, content, and process framework, we examined adjustments made to brand image portrayal on Instagram and corresponding consumer engagement during the lockdown for two sport organizations at different seasonality stages. Results highlight how the National Basketball Association (NBA), facing the loss of their core product, utilized a need-based adjustment, while the National Football League (NFL) exhibited an opportunity-based adjustment. Analyses of consumer responses gauged the effectiveness of these two approaches, finding that the NFL was able to increase engagement, while the NBA suffered from declining engagement. Further investigation found that the NBA is still plagued by declined engagement since the pandemic, underscoring the importance of appropriate and effective digital branding during a crisis. While helping to fill the dearth of knowledge on how sport organizations operate under conditions outside of normalcy, this research improves our understanding of how social media content is managed during a crisis.