It was Saturday morning, the day after we learned that senior living communities across the country were being asked to close their doors to nonessential visitors. Phones at the 26 communities we manage were ringing nonstop. Residents were fearful. Families were frustrated. And employees were doing their best to hold things together.

Our organization always has believed that the most important thing we can do as a senior living provider is to keep those we serve informed. And if transparency builds trust, even when you don’t know what to say, then showing up and being present is a start.

So, at 8:21 a.m., with no makeup on and still in pajamas, I recorded messages to post on social media. My first message was to thank employees and ask families to limit their calls during certain hours to allow staff members to provide care during our busiest times. The post received more than 4,000 views.

As members of our organization committed to using social media to provide daily information, comments poured in. They weren’t always pleasant, and the questions weren’t always easy to answer, but we were given insight and opportunity to speak to the concerns of residents and families.

It’s a valuable lesson when embracing the sometimes-precarious world of social media: Don’t be afraid of negative interactions; expect them. Not everyone is going to be happy with what you do, but I think doing nothing is worse.

Our commitment to communication began to evolve into a way to create connection. We taught residents to use Zoom so they could see their families. We also used the platform to host a variety of virtual events: exercise, cooking and art classes; sing-alongs and choir practice; trivia and book events. On Thanksgiving, residents were able to share holiday moments virtually with members of the Arrow team. Forty-nine social media moments later, Arrow’s community of residents, families and staff members had connected, engaged and, hopefully, not felt so alone.

This didn’t happen from quarterly strategic marketing planning. We saw a need and used a unique resource to address it. By doing so, we saw our outreach and engagement organically grow.

As residents became more comfortable with the technology, they began hosting their own events and participating in content creation. We began a #CountingDownTheDays campaign, videos highlighting residents’ lives during COVID-19 as they waited to be reunited with family members. During the month of December, we celebrated #31DaysofHolidayCheer. The residents recorded an epic Christmas music video (please see below). If nothing else, we kept ourselves busy creating moments of joy.

This level of engagement and interaction cannot be left to a marketing department alone. I learned that it also has to mean something to occupants of the C-suite, who can champion and encourage and expand engagement efforts to all areas of the company.

Did we spend the past 11 months using social media perfectly? No, I’m sure we didn’t. But we focused on creating something real, not manufactured. And realness comes from making and taking time and finding a little fun along the way.

Amanda Tweten is chief operating officer at Arrow Senior Living. See additional information below.