Social Media During a Crisis: 5 Tips

By Debra Eckerling 

Natural and unnatural disasters have become a little too common in this day and age. Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings, and the tornadoes in Oklahoma are only a few of the most recent crises.  The good news: social media is a powerful tool people can use to check the status of events as they happen and reconnect with loved ones after a crisis. The bad news: social media not only informs, but occasionally clutters during a crisis.

While there are no hard and fast guidelines for social media posting during a crisis, here are some things to consider. Keep in mind this article is geared towards businesses, bloggers, and professionals, not news organizations in the thick of events.

1. Have a plan. A strategy is especially important for those who consider them resources during a crisis.

“Develop a protocol internally,” suggests Stephanie Shkolnik, Director of Social Media at Digitaria. “Create a simple system to identify what types of scenarios are applicable to your brand and what requires issuing a statement versus respectfully going dark. These qualifiers should be defined based on your business and/or brand’s location and if you have employees and/or customers in the area impacted.”

2. Remove pre-scheduled posts. Plus, if you are running a contest or time-sensitive promotion, extend the deadline if at all possible.

“When a major story breaks, the first thing any social media strategist should do is pause any scheduled content out of respect,” says Social Media Strategist Leslie Richin. “We all know it looks bad and insensitive when brands continue to post happy-centric content during a national crisis/disaster. It is also in extremely poor taste to try to tie in your brand in any way, even if you mean well – you’ll only end up offending people.”

3. Location matters. That also needs to be taken into consideration as you decide what and when to post.

“If you were a business located near the crisis or in the area of the natural disaster, you should provide information that would help the public, reporters, or first responders,” suggests Caitlin Rick, Lead Community Manager, Snap Agency. “If your business is collecting supplies for victims such as the Oklahoma tornadoes, it is okay to post information about collection sites. … use your brand’s power to help the victims.”

4. Don’t go dark, just “dim the lights.” Make sure your message is appropriate and heartfelt. And take note of when other, larger brands resume posting before you jump back into your regular schedule.

“Being based out of Boston, we’ve known crisis all too well recently,” says Gregory Ciotti, Marketing Director of Help Scout. “Our stance on reacting as a business in the area is to keep things honest, respectful, and genuine. We sent out our condolences via social networks like Twitter (from both the company account and personal accounts), and we were fairly silent the rest of the day. While you shouldn’t let tragedy stop you from living your life (the point of terrorism is to disrupt), there is a line to be drawn, and ‘tweeting’ about tech and entrepreneurship during those times didn’t feel quite right.”

5. Don’t promote or sell. This is not an opportunity to profit off of tragedy.

“Social media happens in real time and it’s important for businesses (and everyone really) to be mindful when a crisis occurs,” adds Mike Wolfe, President, WAM Enterprises LLC. “It’s not a time to share your blog posts or your 10% off coupon. It’s a time to show your “human” side. If you can contribute in a positive or helpful way (maybe use Twitter or Facebook to help inform people), do so. If not, it’s ok to be quiet so your fans and followers can find the information that’s most important.”

Image by chrisdorney.