Managing social media in a crisis
There is no question that 2020 has been a year we won’t soon forget. And if you are tasked with managing social media in a crisis, or multiple crises as we are seeing this year, it is hard to figure out the best way to push out your information. You don’t want your organization to appear tone-deaf, exploitative or polarizing, but you still need to communicate regularly with your audiences to stay connected.
Whether it’s a global pandemic, a tragic event that affects a community, or a natural disaster, there will be a time when every company must run their social media during a crisis. It’s not easy, but there are some best practices you can follow when managing your social media in times of uncertainty.
1. Take a minute to breathe. Your company comprises groups of people that are communicating to a variety of audiences that may be experiencing grief, anxiety and loss. When tragedy strikes, assess the mood of your coworkers, gather information and process the events. Your job as a social media manager is not to relay information as quickly as possible. Leave that for the journalists. Your job is to represent your organization in the most genuine way possible. By briefly stepping back and assessing your environment, you will avoid a panicked post that may be inaccurate or seem exploitative.
2. Pause all your scheduled posts. It is likely that you created and scheduled a post before the crisis that seemed light and funny but now would appear insensitive and tone-deaf. Hit pause on all scheduled posts and ads while you figure out how they will work in your plan.
3. Formulate a plan. Use your coworkers' feedback and knowledge of your clients to put together a plan of action. Are you going to post educational articles with facts and tips or sympathetic graphics? Gather opinions from people within your organization about what they would expect to see from your social pages and go from there. Review your plan with your company’s leadership before implementing.
4. Think about your audience. What do your followers need most right now and is there a way that you can help provide it? There is a fine line between trying to help and trying to capitalize on a situation. Giving your audience resources and information on ways you can help them looks different than trying to sell them your services. Your reputation may not recover if your community feels that you were trying to capitalize on a crisis.
5. Fact check. Then check again. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, information came out faster than we’ve ever seen before. This onslaught of news also brought countless opinion pieces and articles that spread misinformation. Check your sources and only post information that is credible, reliable and timely. Even if an infographic cites a website, doublecheck it to make sure the information is accurate and up to date. If you post something that is untrue, you risk losing trust that will take a long time to rebuild.
6. Avoid politics. Unless your organization deals directly with a certain political party, avoiding a political leaning is the best bet. In a true crisis, all sides are affected, and maintaining political neutrality is easily understood by audiences.
7. Understand that staying quiet is an option. If your organization is going to be just another voice in a crowded landscape of information, posting nothing may be the right thing to do. Don’t try to insert yourself into the conversation about a crisis that that doesn’t concern you or that you don’t have enough insight to comment on. Determine if you can provide value or offer a service to your followers. If the answer is no, briefly stepping away from social media may be the right answer. Take time to listen and learn. You will be better for it.
8. Avoid ads and fundraisers. Consumers are smart and can easily spot a company that is using a crisis for personal gain. Unless you are running a fundraiser where all proceeds will be donated to a particular cause, do not use a crisis as a way to advertise your goods or services.
9. Read the room. Your tone will change as a crisis develops. At the beginning of the pandemic, the tone was panicked, disbelieving and scared. As a new reality set in, people sought educational messaging and resources. Eventually, humorous or lighter messaging became appropriate. Use your social media accounts to listen to your followers to get a feel for the appropriate tone at any given time.
10. Be flexible. At some point, you will get back to business as usual, but be prepared to pivot if there are new developments in a crisis.
Social media is a valuable tool for your organization. Having a plan in place before a crisis or tragedy strikes will prevent your company from making panicked decisions, relaying inaccurate information and losing the public’s trust of your organization. If you understand how the situation is affecting your audience, empathize with how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. Provide value without capitalizing on it and you will build a trusting and lasting relationship with your followers.
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