6 Social Media Tips for Communicating During a Crisis

Picture of Aliza ShermanAliza Sherman is a web pioneer, author, and international speaker. Sherman is the author of 8 books about the Internet including The Everything Blogging Book, Streetwise Ecommerce, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crowdsourcing and Social Media Engagement for Dummies.

6 Social Media Tips for Communicating During a Crisis

Is your company prepared for communicating during a crisis? Whether there’s been a massive accident, natural disaster, or a virus outbreak, what happens in the world around you or in your community or neighborhood will inevitably impact your business. Because any high-stakes situation tends to be fluid, the way you communicate, market and sell needs to be flexible and responsive to the current communications climate.

Here are 6 things to keep in mind when using social media to connect with your customers, prospects and the general public at large, during an external crisis.

1. Monitor Closely

You may already be monitoring social media conversations to identify marketing opportunities. In a time of crisis, however, monitoring takes on a more critical role. Knowing what the media and public are saying about the crisis situation can help guide the tone of your posts.

2. Do Your Homework on What’s Trending

While an effective way to enter conversations in social media is to watch the trending topics and craft relevant messages using popular trending hashtags, during a crisis, use restraint. Click on trending hashtags and read the related posts to better understand the sentiment. Only contribute to trending conversations if you have something of value to say. In short, don’t post on a trending topic unless you have something relevant to contribute.

3. Repost with Extra Care

Retweeting and reposting someone else’s content is a common practice in social media marketing, however, even if you are following trusted sources, take the extra time to vet what you’re sharing. During a crisis, some may be posting and sharing scams and misinformation. You do not want your company linked to false information. Check it, review it, and verify it before you repost it.

4. Look for Opportunities to Be of Service

Some of the most welcomed – and reposted – content in social networks during a crisis are helpful tips or links to resources. If you have the time, ability and expertise to curate resources, share what you compile with others.

In times of crisis, people feel helpless, but if you provide solid information that empowers people or gets them access to the resources they need, others will share your posts to spread the word. In the same way you need to be careful not to share someone else’s content that could be inaccurate, be careful that what you put out there is based on verifiable facts and points to trusted sources.

5. Don’t Commit a Social Media #Fail

Search social media for the hashtag #Fail and you’ll get a lesson on what not to do when communicating in social networks. A major social media marketing failure during a major incident is to gratuitously market your products or services to try to take advantage of the surge of attention as people seek credible and current information as a crisis situation unfolds. Another #fail is to try to inject humor into messaging at a critical time. Unless you’re a comedian – and even comedians sometimes get the timing wrong – don’t make light of a difficult situation or a tragedy. In times of crisis, humor and entertainment may need to take a back seat to a more somber voice and less frivolous messages. Even if your brand personality is playful, there is a time and a place for light heartedness, and often when there is a tragedy or challenging situation, people are looking more for solace or assistance than a laugh

6. Know When to Pause

If you schedule some of your social media posts, double check the messaging and sentiment and put them on pause or delete them entirely if they are inappropriate for a particular moment. Sending out tone deaf messaging can result in a public backlash. Sometimes, silencing your social media posts as you gather your thoughts and provide people time to process what is happening is a better strategy than flooding social media feeds with irrelevant content.

There is no single right way to handle social media marketing during a crisis, but the best way to proceed is to be aware, thoughtful, and use good judgment. During challenging times, sometimes less is more.