5-Step Plan for Managing Your Social Accounts During a Disaster (Plus Bonus Tip)

From earthquakes and hurricanes to domestic disturbance, no part of the country is immune to disaster, natural or otherwise. When trouble strikes, people turn to turn to social media for information and comfort. In fact, Facebook even rolled out a tool designed to help people check in with each other during a large-scale crisis.

It’s important for brands to create strategies for social engagement during disasters before they’re needed so you can put your best foot forward during times of heightened emotions and fear. Here’s a five-step plan to ensure your brand’s social media activity helps, not hinders people during a crisis.

Step One: Turn off all scheduled content queued up in your social media management platform. You’ll want to go through each post individually to make sure there’s nothing that seems callous or insensitive in light of breaking events.

Back in 2012, a national publication for gun enthusiasts ran a pre-scheduled tweet meant to be friendly and engaging. Asking followers, “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” was particularly ill-timed as it happened to coincide with breaking news of a mass shooting in Colorado.

Step Two: Think about keeping mum until the crisis is over. Depending on the nature and scale of the disaster, unnecessary posts may do nothing more than increase the signal to noise ration and frustrate people looking for answers and information.

During the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, many companies tweeted words of support using the #Paris hashtag. As a result, the hashtag stream was flooded with Tweets that brought no real value to the conversation. A better option is to change your social media avatars to the reflect your support or, write a message on your Facebook wall, or post a relevant image on Instagram.

Step Three: Don’t even think about using hashtags created for the disaster to promote your product or business.

Step Four: Be careful what you re-share on social media. When a hashtag emerged during the Paris attacks aimed at connecting Parisians at ground zero with area residents offering shelter, loads of well-intentioned people and brands retweeted the message. The problem? The hashtag stream got so bogged down with retweets from people in other countries, the people needing and offering help had difficulty finding each other.

Step Five: Figure out how and when to help. If your brand is in a position to offer immediate assistance to victims, social media is a great way to get the word out. If, on the other hand, you’re sending money to a national disaster relief agency or hosting a fundraiser at company headquarters, considering quietly writing a blog post or issuing a press release instead to curb the illusion you’re actions are designed to capitalize on the news of the day. There will be plenty of time to share your announcement more broadly once the crisis has passed.

Bonus Tip: If you’re in the path of an oncoming disaster like a hurricane or major snowstorm, outsource your social media to someone you can trust. You don’t want to struggle with Instagram or Facebook posts during a long-term power outage or in between snow-shoveling sessions.


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