How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications and Emergency Management
On a regular day, connecting with your audience on social media requires tact, care, and forethought. In the epicentre of a major crisis, the pressure skyrockets. What should your brand say when the facts and the future are uncertain? And how should you say it when new developments are coming in by the hour, or minute?
Social media crisis communication for brands comes down to one reassuringly simple question: how can you help?
In this post we’re taking a look at social media best practices during a real-world crisis or emergency. That is, strategy and tactics for “challenging times”—earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, massacres, pandemics, economic collapse.
(Please note that if you’re looking for information better suited to a social media PR crisis, our guide is over here.)
More than ever, real-world catastrophes play out on social media in real time. As social media professionals, our job is to help our audiences and communities come through hardship together.
So, here’s our guide to social media crisis communication.
The role of social media in crisis communications
In a crisis, social media’s role is much larger and more complex than simply checking Facebook’s Crisis Response tool. 55% of Americans get their news from social media. Meanwhile, first-person accounts and opinions from regular people break news, shape narratives, and influence opinion (as well as potentially affecting the news journalists even choose to report).
For teams working at the center of a crisis (say, government social media teams or health care professionals) social platforms are one of the top ways to get authoritative information to the population, fast.
And for those of us operating farther from the crisis, social media is how people connect and make sense of tragedy. Brands can’t ignore these conversations, but participation must be approached with care.
So, when the world’s in a tailspin, what role does social media play in a crisis communications plan?
- Rapid, direct communication of updates to your audience;
- Support for people who need help or information;
- Social listening to learn more broadly about what’s happening in the world and your industry, as well as what people need from your brand.
In short, social media isn’t just where you say you’re helping, but it’s also where you find out how you can help, and, in many cases, roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Whatever crisis we face—as both professionals and regular people—we all hope that after it passes, we’ll come out changed for the better. On social media, that means strengthening trust and connections with our audience for the long term.
What does that look like? Here are our tips.
10 tips for communicating on social media during a crisis or emergency
- Review—and possibly pause—your upcoming social calendar
- Have a social media policy in place
- Know who’s on your “tiger” team
- Make sure employees are aware of your organization’s position
- Communicate with honesty, openness, and compassion
- Cite only credible sources
- Use social media listening and monitoring to stay informed
- Avoid “trend-jacking” or activities that appear profit-driven
- Leave room for questions
- Don’t disappear
1. Review—and possibly pause—your upcoming social calendar
Context shifts rapidly in a crisis, and brands (especially ones who already worry about brand safety) are right to wonder if, for instance, “finger-lickin good” is an appropriate thing to be saying in the middle of a pandemic. At best, you might seem tone-deaf, at worst, inappropriate messaging could endanger lives.
If you’re using a social media scheduler, you’ll want to unschedule upcoming posts. Have faith that all the hard work that went into your perfect National Donut Day post isn’t wasted, it’s just postponed.
For example, the usually mouthy Pop-Tarts Twitter account (along with many of our favourite snarky foods) went silent for 10 days as the COVID-19 pandemic started its spread across North America. When they did reappear, they had a message that was still on-brand, but also humane and reassuring.Source: @poptartsus
2. Have a social media policy in place
We can’t predict crises, but we can be prepared for them. Especially for bigger teams, your organization’s official social media policy is your best asset in responding as rapidly and effectively as possible. A good policy will provide a solid, but flexible, response process, as well as compile all the crucial internal information you need to move forward.
It’s also a helpful document to have in the case that some of your team members are affected by the crisis and compelled to share duties with non-team members.
Make sure your social media policy includes the following:
- An up-to-date emergency contact list: not just your social media team, but legal advisors and executive decision-makers, too.
- Guidance on accessing social account credentials (i.e., where that information is, and how to go about getting it, if need be.)
- Guidelines for identifying the scope of the crisis (i.e., is it global or local, does it affect your operations, does it affect your customers, and to what extent?).
- An internal communication plan for employees (see #4).
- An approval process for your response strategy.
3. Know who’s on your “tiger” team
What’s a tiger team? A pack of ferocious specialists that assemble to work on a specific problem or goal. In this case, in the middle of an emergency or crisis, your existing social team might reconfigure, or call in additional firepower to handle the increased pressure.
Identify the people who are best suited for these roles, and delineate their responsibilities so that everyone can own their mission, and act. Tasks to assign include:
- Posting updates
- Answering questions and handling customer support
- Monitoring the wider conversation, and flagging important developments
- Fact-checking information, and/or correcting rumours
It’s also helpful to have people clearly responsible for:
- Strategizing for the medium-term (not just day-to-day)
- Coordinating/communicating with other teams, external stakeholders, and/or the rest of the organization
4. Make sure employees are aware of your organization’s position
Communications begin at home, and however your organization moves forward, you’re going to need your employees informed and on board.
For instance, if you’re announcing relief efforts, donations, or other moves for the greater good, then proud employees can help spread the word through an employee advocacy program. This is also a good time to remind them of your organization’s social media guidelines for employees (including any crisis-specific amendments).
On the other hand, if your brand is in a tense position because of the crisis (layoffs, backlash, etc.), or emotions are running high, be prepared for employees to turn to social to express themselves.
Why isn’t @Uber or @lyft doing more for drivers? #uberdriver #Lyft #lyftdriver Rides have gone down by 80% and we are taking all the risk of catching the virus by transforming passengers to their locations. They should double the rates especially now
— ???????? ChewForTulsi/Yang ???????? (@ChewFor) March 23, 2020
Sometimes it’s impossible to get everyone pulling towards the same goal. In this case, social listening (see #7) can help you understand your employees’ concerns better. As well, your brand’s reaction in this scenario might be informed by your organization’s social media policy for employees.
Which leads us to our next point.
5. Communicate with honesty, openness, and compassion
This one is self-explanatory.
One of our favorite examples comes from Chiquita. This team obviously took the time to pause, re-orient and put in the work to fully integrate the #StayHome message into their social media plan during the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic.Source: @Chiquita
On the other side of the coin, the International Olympic Committee reposted a generic encouragement to self-isolate, even as they were under fire for resisting pressure to cancel the summer games in Tokyo. Naturally, people noticed the hypocrisy and left many negative comments on the post (which has since been deleted, but still exists as a retweet by @shibsibs).
View this post on Instagram
Too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously enough. It’s a problem. The cycle of transmission needs to be broken – the numbers are going to keep going up in part due to testing, but also because the virus continues to spread. We aren’t doing enough of what is necessary to mitigate the effects of this situation. We’re all affected. We’re all at risk. Everyone can take actions (such as social distancing) to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Protecting human life should come above all else. We’re all very connected and dependent on each other in this global situation. The sooner we stop the spread of this virus, the sooner we can begin to recover. How I behave affects your health. How you behave affects my health. Let’s all work together to keep each other safe. – An excerpt from @alexshibutani’s Twitter thread.
A post shared by Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani (@shibsibs) on Mar 20, 2020 at 10:43am PDT
The post was deleted by the time the IOC actually cancelled the games. (This left the team behind the account free to double down on their pandemic strategy of reposting videos of elite international athletes training in their homes with weird accessories, which was much more appreciated by their followers.)
Going further back, to the 2018 YouTube shooting, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey found the right balance between human emotion and professional, social accountability in his response.Source: @jack
At the end of the day, honesty, compassion and humanity will win out. The brands who build trust during hard times are the ones who are transparent about the issues they’re struggling with—or responsible for.
6. Cite only credible sources
Resisting the spread of misinformation on social media has been a vital issue for platforms, government, and brands these past few years. But in a crisis, bad information doesn’t merely damage reputations, it can be outright dangerous.
While social platforms themselves may implement broader protective policies during a crisis, it’s absolutely necessary to have a fact-checking protocol in place before you share specious claims with your audience.Source: The New York Times, fake news that UNICEF does not endorse
And if, in the heat of the moment, you erroneously share misinformation, own the mistake right away. Most likely your audience will tell you.Source: Spin Energie
7. Use social media monitoring and listening to stay informed
Your social media team may well have been the first people in your organization to hear about the crisis, whether local or global. It’s just the nature of the job.
And if your social listening strategy is optimized, your team can continue to monitor audience sentiment around your brand, as well as track what’s happening with your competitors and industry at large. How are other, similar organizations responding to the emergency? And how are their customers responding to their response?
Do you need to craft content around your relief efforts, or new operational policies? Does your customer service team need to ramp up fast?
These are just a few of the questions social listening can help answer. It’s a direct line to what your audience needs from you, so tap in.
8. Avoid “trend-jacking” or activities that appear profit-driven
Don’t attempt to “spin” a crisis.
Yes, it can be a tough line to pin down. Even legitimate moves towards altruism, if they seem showy or calculated, will leave a bad taste in the collective mouth, and damage your relationship with your customers.
For instance, when Blackbird—a boutique perfume and incense company that is typically mysterious, hip and edgy in their communications—hinted that they’d be selling not only fancy hand sanitizer, but face masks, they received such an immediate, outraged response that they had to post a clarification half an hour later attempting to explain their good intentions. (They weren’t going to sell the masks, but donate them to hospitals all along.)
The lesson? Coy teaser strategies don’t work in an emergency situation. Communicate clearly and directly so that you don’t end up muddying the waters.
Meanwhile, this PR firm’s post reads as a strange and unappreciated brag regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
And of course, let’s not forget that back during the California wildfires in 2018, a shocking number of Instagram influencers were suffering from terrible thirst.
View this post on Instagram
Malibu Shoot Malibu is one of my favorite places to visit in California and it’s tragic to see the destruction of the fires. Praying ???????? Photog: @jsnowphoto #malibu #malibubeach #malibushoot #tbt #photoshoot #shoot #beautyshoot #locationshoot #model #lamodel #dallasmodel #miamimodel #nymodel #internationalmodel #swimsuitmodel #bikinimodel #beachbody #beachshoot #prayforcalifornia #malibucalifornia #tbt❤️
A post shared by Joanna Escobedo (@ladamajoanna) on Nov 15, 2018 at 3:27pm PST
In conclusion: avoid damaging your brand’s reputation on social media in tough times by doing what’s right and doing it humbly.
(And keeping your shirt on. Unless you’re Chet Hanks(?))
9. Leave room for questions
People will have questions. Be clear on the best way for them to reach you. Even if you’re not faced with a deluge of panicked customer service inquiries, take the time to engage with your audience, answer their questions, and provide reassurance.
For instance, Clorox’s coronavirus customer response team was on the ball during the coronavirus pandemic, dispensing clear, accurate answers where they could.Source: Clorox
Meanwhile, Ticketmaster’s customer service strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic—best described as “talk to the hand”—left outraged customers to grouse among themselves about the lack of refunds for cancelled events.Source: @ticketmaster
For their part, pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart was accused of raising prices on toilet paper and hand sanitizer around the first wave of COVID-19 panic shopping. The brand’s customer service team addressed the concerns directly, while an official response was formulated.
Hi Helder, Could you please send us a DM with the UPC/Barcode number of the toilet paper? We will look into this for you!
— Shoppers Drug Mart (@ShopprsDrugMart) March 12, 2020
10. Don’t disappear
Yes, we started this list by saying a pause may be necessary while you strategize, but—and this goes triple if your brand is close to the crisis—radio silence is not a long-term strategy.
While PopTarts knew their input wasn’t necessary during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the same strategy from an airline company would be unthinkable.
And yet it happens: during the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in 2010, BP learned the hard way that an inadequate social strategy opens up gaps for someone else (or everyone else) to tell your story for you.
Since BP caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, this example is both a PR crisis and a real-world disaster. But the company’s lack of preparedness for online communication left the door open for a satirical Twitter account mocking their efforts that attracted 175,000 followers. (BP’s official account had 15,000, at the time).Source: TechCrunch
In hard times, we all need to take responsibility for what we can. Brands included.
Social media crisis communications examples
And now, to inspire you, we’ve collected some of our favorite examples of how brands have dealt with crisis and emergencies on social media.
This infographic encouraging app users to think strategically about the super-emotional topic of money during a shocking downturn is A++. Not only does it fulfill a genuine informational need, it shows a lot of empathy for what people are feeling and thinking.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Wealthsimple (@wealthsimple) on Mar 24, 2020 at 10:58am PDT
Free offerings from online companies skyrocketed in the self-isolation “housebound economy.” What we like here is how this meditation app took the opportunity to get even closer to its audience: going from prerecorded audio to daily livestreaming.
And yes, it’s also a stealth conversion tool. But only because the offerings are truly valuable.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by Ten Percent Happier (@tenpercenthappier) on Mar 13, 2020 at 4:58pm PDT
Bell Jar Botanicals
Admitting that you need help is hard. This post was an honest way to let loyal customers of a vulnerable small business know how they could help.
View this post on Instagram
We knew it was coming but still … ???? Like all other non-essential businesses in QC, #BJBFlowerShop will be closed through April 13th; our suppliers will close too, deliveries must then cease as well. Thank you for all your support this past (like weirdest ever, EVER) week! If you’d like to purchase a “to be redeemed later” bouquet, please select December 31st 2020 as your intended delivery date @ www.belljarbotanicals.com – we’d appreciate the gesture✨. Stay safe, stay healthy, #STAYHOME ????????✌???? #supportlocal #shoplocal
A post shared by BELL JAR BOTANICALS (@belljarbotanicals) on Mar 24, 2020 at 7:29am PDT
David Suzuki Foundation
This is a stellar example of a brand providing support and value to its audience when they need it most. A week of digital forest bathing for people stuck indoors? Yes, please.
View this post on Instagram
Social distancing: tree edition. Some species of trees avoid touching each other in a phenomenon called crown shyness. ???? If you missed our last few posts – it's Day 4 of our online forest bathing. Research has shown that looking at images of lush nature can alleviate stress. So, deep breath in and check out this unique forest. ???? ????: Dag Peak
A post shared by David Suzuki Foundation (@davidsuzukifdn) on Mar 19, 2020 at 8:05am PDT
Osmosis is an online health professional education company that leveraged its in-house content resources to help lead the informational charge on COVID-19. Their multi-pronged content strategy is truly inspiring: helping medical schools transition to distance learning; helping people stuck at home stay healthy; and providing all sorts of shareable educational content that could genuinely help lessen the load on the medical system.
While hospitals, universities, and public health organizations may not have the resources to commit to a full-scale social effort like this, the good news is that it’s right there for re-posting.
View this post on Instagram
Today on the Osmosis Blog, learn how you can support healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19, whether you're a medical/health student, a health professional, or someone who just wants to help. Find out how via the link in our bio. . Pledge to help #RaiseTheLine, #FlattenTheCurve, and slow the spread of COVID-19. You'll receive 3 weeks of Osmosis Prime access. . #osmosis #medicine #healthcare #health #covid19 #RaiseTheLine #FlattenTheCurve
A post shared by Osmosis (@osmosismed) on Mar 24, 2020 at 7:00pm PDT
This condom company elected to shamelessly advertise through a pandemic. They even came up with their own branded hashtag. But you know what? It’s a condom company, it pretty much has to be shameless. So it works.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by SKYN (@skyn) on Mar 21, 2020 at 10:00am PDT
New York Police Department
From their position on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, this team has demonstrated calm and measured hope on social media, doing what they can to alleviate confusion and disorder.
Providing information to help the population stay safe, as well as informing them what the reality looks like out there, is exactly the kind of service people need from their police departments in times like these.
As part of our response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the NYPD is continuing citywide patrols to monitor locations and educate members of the public on safe social distancing. Officers continue to visit restaurants, bars, supermarkets, salons and public spaces…
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) March 25, 2020
View this post on Instagram
It seems like only yesterday a million + people were gathered here, in the Big Apple, to ring in the New Year. As people from near and far came together then – we can now work together (from 6 feet apart, of course!) to #flattenthecurve by practicing social distancing.
A post shared by NYPD (@nypd) on Mar 25, 2020 at 8:54am PDT
Here’s an example of a brand demonstrating some radical transparency. And also showing its audience that it will do the right thing even when no one expects it of them.
Their CEO explains: “We’re selling A LOT of coconut water right now. Sales are spiking. But it’s hard to be profiting off a global pandemic.”
We’re donating our pandemic profits. We’re asking others to do the same.
What do you say @Netflix @bounty @charmin @oatly @KINDSnacks @hint @DrinkHealthAde @GTsKombucha @LIFEAIDBevCo @dasaniwater @Aquafina @smartwater @FIJIWater @NestleWatersNA @essentiawater @evianwater pic.twitter.com/iD9NwsFMgz
— Vita Coco (@VitaCoco) March 20, 2020
World Health Organization
WHO, unsurprisingly, has been super active through COVID-19: livetweeting expert panels, reposting reliable (or even entertaining) content, and generally being both authoritative and consistent.
What’s more surprising is that their social team, unlike almost everyone else in late March 2020, wasn’t exclusively dealing in pandemic content. They also continued their work on tuberculosis, the Health For All film festival, and other topics. This kind of moderation makes sense for health and government organizations whose day-to-day involves life and death.
View this post on Instagram
A post shared by World Health Organization (@who) on Mar 14, 2020 at 8:07am PDT
All of these examples, though from vastly different industries, communicate with their social media audiences tactfully and efficiently during a crisis. Remember, the most important question to ask yourself is still: how can you help?
Schedule messages, connect with your audience, and respond quickly to any emergency situation on social media using Hootsuite. Post to and monitor multiple social networks from one dashboard. Try it free today.
The post How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications and Emergency Management appeared first on Hootsuite Social Media Management.
- 60% of the time… (1)
- A/B Testing (2)
- Ad placements (3)
- adops (4)
- adops vs sales (5)
- AdParlor 101 (18)
- adx (1)
- algorithm (1)
- Analysis (8)
- Apple (1)
- Audience (1)
- Augmented Reality (1)
- authenticity (1)
- Automation (1)
- best practices (2)
- brand voice (1)
- Build a Blog Community (12)
- Case Study (3)
- celebrate women (1)
- certification (1)
- Collections (1)
- Community (1)
- Conference News (1)
- conferences (1)
- content (1)
- content curation (1)
- content marketing (1)
- contests (1)
- Conversion Lift Test (1)
- Conversion testing (1)
- cost control (2)
- Creative (6)
- crisis (1)
- Curation (1)
- Custom Audience Targeting (4)
- Digital Marketing (4)
- DPA (1)
- Dynamic Ad Creative (1)
- dynamic product ads (1)
- eCommerce (1)
- Ecosystem (1)
- email marketing (1)
- employee advocacy program (1)
- employee advocates (1)
- engineers (1)
- event marketing (1)
- event marketing strategy (1)
- F8 (2)
- Facebook (49)
- Facebook Ad Split Testing (1)
- facebook ads (17)
- Facebook Ads How To (1)
- Facebook Advertising (28)
- Facebook Audience Network (1)
- Facebook Creative Platform Partners (1)
- facebook marketing (1)
- Facebook Marketing Partners (2)
- Facebook Optimizations (1)
- Facebook Posts (1)
- facebook stories (1)
- Facebook Updates (2)
- Facebook Video Ads (1)
- Facebook Watch (1)
- fbf (11)
- first impression takeover (5)
- fito (5)
- Fluent (1)
- Get Started With Wix Blog (1)
- Google (8)
- Google Ad Products (5)
- Google Analytics (1)
- Guest Post (1)
- Guides (18)
- Halloween (1)
- Holiday Season Advertising (7)
- Holiday Shopping Season (4)
- Holiday Video Ads (1)
- holidays (4)
- Hootsuite How-To (5)
- Hootsuite Life (1)
- how to (3)
- How to get Instagram followers (1)
- How to get more Instagram followers (1)
- i don't understand a single thing he is or has been saying (1)
- if you need any proof that we're all just making it up (2)
- Incrementality (1)
- Infographic (1)
- Instagram (25)
- Instagram Ads (11)
- Instagram advertising (7)
- Instagram best practices (1)
- Instagram followers (1)
- Instagram Stories (1)
- Instagram tips (1)
- Instagram Video Ads (2)
- invite (1)
- Landing Page (1)
- link shorteners (1)
- LinkedIn (13)
- LinkedIn Ads (2)
- LinkedIn Advertising (2)
- LinkedIn Stats (1)
- LinkedIn Targeting (5)
- Linkedin Usage (1)
- List (1)
- listening (2)
- Lists (3)
- Livestreaming (1)
- look no further than the new yorker store (2)
- lunch (1)
- Mac (1)
- macOS (1)
- Marketing to Millennials (2)
- mental health (1)
- Mobile App Marketing (1)
- Monetizing Pinterest (2)
- Monetizing Social Media (2)
- Monthly Updates (3)
- Mothers Day (1)
- movies for social media managers (1)
- new releases (11)
- News (10)
- News & Events (22)
- no one knows what they're doing (2)
- OnlineShopping (1)
- or ari paparo (1)
- owly shortener (1)
- People-Based Marketing (3)
- performance marketing (2)
- Pinterest (23)
- Pinterest Ads (11)
- Pinterest Advertising (8)
- Pinterest how to (1)
- Pinterest Tag helper (5)
- Pinterest Targeting (6)
- Platform Updates (8)
- Press Release (2)
- product catalog (1)
- Productivity (17)
- Programmatic (1)
- quick work (1)
- Reddit (1)
- Reporting (1)
- Resources (80)
- ROI (1)
- rules (1)
- Seamless shopping (1)
- share of voice (1)
- Shoppable ads (4)
- Skills (43)
- SnapChat (18)
- SnapChat Ads (8)
- SnapChat Advertising (5)
- Social (325)
- social ads (1)
- Social Advertising (3)
- social customer service (1)
- Social Fresh Tips (1)
- Social Media (5)
- social media audit (1)
- social media audit template (1)
- social media automation (1)
- social media content calendar (1)
- social media for events (1)
- social media management (2)
- Social Media Marketing (26)
- social media monitoring (1)
- Social Media News (4)
- social media statistics (1)
- social media tracking in google analytics (1)
- social media tutorial (2)
- Social Toolkit Podcast (1)
- Social Video (5)
- stories (1)
- Strategy (272)
- terms (1)
- Testing (2)
- there are times ive found myself talking to ari and even though none of the words he is using are new to me (1)
- they've done studies (1)
- this is also true of anytime i have to talk to developers (1)
- tiktok (3)
- tools (1)
- Topics & Trends (1)
- Trend (9)
- Twitter (14)
- Twitter Ads (5)
- Twitter Advertising (4)
- Uncategorised (6)
- Uncategorized (13)
- url shortener (1)
- url shorteners (1)
- vendor (2)
- video (10)
- Video Ads (6)
- Video Advertising (8)
- we're all just throwing mountains of shit at the wall and hoping the parts that stick don't smell too bad (2)
- where you can buy a baby onesie of a dog asking god for his testicles on it (2)
- yes i understand VAST and VPAID (1)
- yes that's the extent of the things i understand (1)
- YouTube (11)
- YouTube Ads (4)
- YouTube Advertising (9)
- YouTube Video Advertising (5)