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How to Handle Social Media When the SHTF

how to handle social media during a disaster

One thing you may forget about when tragedy strikes is what is going on with your social media accounts. The Paris attacks got me to thinking about the best way to handle social media accounts during a disaster. First, here’s how I found out about the attacks and my process afterwards.

Saturday mornings are about the same as every other morning for me. I get up, usually at the insistence of my cats and dog, let the dog out, feed everybody, make a smoothie, and then settle down and open my computer.

The order of what I do varies, but this past Saturday I looked at email first. In one of those emails, I followed an interesting link that I found good enough to share. When I opened Buffer, there was a little strip across the top alerting users to events in Paris. It went on to offer a way to contact them if you needed to adjust your social media post schedule. Even though I would have been into Twitter about five minutes later, I appreciated that Buffer was proactive about giving users a heads up.

After quickly reading about what happened in Paris, I glanced over what I had scheduled for all of the accounts that I manage. The news was terrible enough. The last thing you want to do as a brand is to post something insensitive on social media.

After moving a few things around, I considered whether or not to post any condolences. In the end, I decided to post something to one account out of all of them. Sometimes, as a brand, it’s better just to give your social media accounts a breather and let people express their outrage and grief. Jumping in on the tragedy’s hashtags can look opportunistic.

How some big brands handled social in the wake of the Paris attacks

Just to see how the big brands managed it, I started looking at their Twitter.

First up, Taco Bell. Taco Bell’s last post was on November 12th. Since then they have only retweeted people. So it looks like they are staying out of it. Their taco engine promotion is still going strong, though. But that doesn’t manifest itself in their timeline, just @ mentions.

Next, let’s see what Red Bull is doing. Red Bull seems to have taken the business as usual approach.

H & M took a beat. They posted this and then took a two-day break.

And how about IBM? They posted this tweet that gives IBM employees (I think) a link for checking on people they know. I couldn’t access the link, so I just took a guess based on its URL.

The point here is that these brands all handled it differently and none of them seem to be “wrong.” You need to develop a plan that is right for your business and customers.

Tips on how to handle social media during a disaster

  1. First, don’t forget about marketing already in the works. Email, social media posts, direct mail, events – all of it. Review and revise, delay, or cancel where necessary.
  2. Use your best judgement. You know your customers. How affected are they by the tragedy? Does it hit close to home?
  3. What can you do? Does it make sense for you to collect canned goods, hold a fundraiser, make a donation, etc.?
  4. Know when to keep quiet. Sometimes the most appropriate thing for you to do is to keep quiet.

Sometimes the disaster can be in your back yard. Social media can be a vital resource for communicating with your customers, clients, and employees. You may even want to develop a social media plan for disasters and emergencies for your business.

What are your thoughts? Do you know how to handle social media during a disaster? Do you have a plan in place?

Laura Nunemaker

15+ years experience in email marketing, social media, and content development. Former retail bakery owner. Digital nomad. Loves cycling & scuba diving. Vegan. Cat magnet.