4 Tips for Managing Your Brand’s Social Media During Times of Tragedy

When Sandy Hook happened on December 14th, 2012, I’d only been at my job as a marketing assistant for about a month. With full control of the company’s social media, I was suddenly confronted with the first real challenge of the job: how to manage a brand during a public tragedy.

While I went home that day happy with how I had risen to the challenge and handled things, I remember thinking it’d probably be a long time before I had to deal with anything like that again.

Boy was I wrong.

And while I’m not going to dive into the politics of it all, after helming the social media of different brands during numerous shootings, acts of terror, and natural disasters over the last six years, I’ve learned a few things about how to plan for and manage your brand’s response to tragedy:

1) Have a Plan

As I mentioned above, when Sandy Hook happened, I’d barely gotten comfortable at my job, let alone thought to pre-plan my brand crisis response. Having to do all that on the fly showed me the importance of thinking things through BEFORE it happens.

There are a number of ways your brand can respond to a tragedy and how your brand responds says as much about the person running your tragedy response as it does the brand itself.

Some brands like to immediately spring into action and leverage their following to contribute and support in whatever way they can. Other brands prefer to go dark and quietly sit things out until they feel confident they can make the right, meaningful contribution. There are pros and cons to both strategies.

The more active approach carries with it the potential to spread wrong information or to potentially cast the brand in a bad light since you’re immediately acting and may not have all the facts. However, if you do it right, you can really make a difference for people and (not that this should be your goal) create a more positive public view of your brand through your contribution.

The more passive approach can sometimes feel like an abdication of social responsibility. It also carries the potential for your brand to be seen as being “late” to respond. But you are also much less likely to give people bad information and unlikely to move public perception of your brand into more negative territory.

You should also make decisions about when something is considered “big enough” that it gets a mention. I’d be lying if I said my approach hadn’t changed drastically over the years. It used to be that everything got a mention. Today, if I took a time out for every single tragedy that happened, we’d never get anything done. Again, not wanting to dive into the politics of it or the media’s role in this, just being honest about the reality of managing a brand today.

And whatever you choose to do, make a decision and plan it out with the other people on your team so they know what your tragedy response strategy is going to be.

2) Know Your Tools and Systems Inside and Out

I can’t stress how important this is. If you use any sort of scheduling or automated tools, you need to know them inside and out both on the desktop and on mobile. And you also need to make sure the people on your team are confident enough in their own skills to do the same. Tragedies can happen anytime - on the weekend, in the middle of the night, while you’re meeting a client, in an area with little service, or while you’re on vacation.

You need to be able to immediately stop and/or reschedule all pre-planned messages from anywhere at any time. There’s a couple reasons for this:

One, continuing to post can make your brand come across as insensitive or out-of-touch with the situation.

Two, people increasingly get their information from social media. Don’t clog their feed with things that don’t matter.

Three, failing to stop your pre-programmed posts could lead your brand to make some horrible faux pas that could bring you the very worst kind of publicity. We’ve all seen brands get absolutely dragged on Twitter or Facebook for these types of mistakes. Don’t be next.

3) Be Prepared to Be Flexible

You can spend the time creating your tragedy response plan, but know that when the day rolls around that you need to enact it, you may find that the plan you came up with feels all wrong. This is especially true if the tragedy is personal in nature or if your brand by virtue of what you do is actively involved in the unfolding situation.

I’ve been talking thus far about tragedy response in a very detached manner: how you respond when there’s an issue, but it doesn’t personally affect you or anyone on your team. When the tragedy happens, if there is a personal component, you may feel compelled to scrap your plan and go with what feels right.

That’s okay. More than okay.

I just urge you to make sure you’ve given yourself the time to process your feelings first before posting anything up on social media. Speaking out of anger or grief can sometimes lead us to post things we regret.

And don’t think you get a pass if you’re just posting to a “private” personal profile versus your brand’s public page. You should know by now that nothing that gets put out on the internet is ever really private.

4) Remain Accessible

However you ultimately decide to respond to a tragedy, make sure you or someone on your team is available to monitor your brand’s social media. If you are trying to use your platform to help or contribute, people are going to ask questions and they’re going to want new information from you. Make sure you can be there for them.

If you do client service work that places you in charge of someone else’s brand, your clients will also want to know how you plan to respond to the tragedy and may want to make changes to your plan of attack. Make sure you’re available to answer any questions.

I realize this isn’t the most cheery topic to be posting about during the holidays, but after the recent shooting at Thousand Oaks and the two devastating wildfires that ripped through California, I’ve realized that there’s never going to be a perfect time to talk about this. And the most important thing is that you’re prepared so your brand can respond quickly and appropriately. I hope my four tips have helped and that while you’re in the midst of doing your 2019 business planning, you’ll also put together a tragedy response plan for your brand.