A devastating tragedy can happen without warning, and have a powerful local, national or even global impact. Your community may feel shock, fear and distress amplified by the 24 hour-news cycle.
In the immediate aftermath of a tragic event, such as a terrorist act, mass shooting or natural disaster, the best course of action to take is to halt all social media and promotional activity. Posting “business as usual” status updates can put you at risk of seeming unaware and insensitive and – at worst – inept, tasteless and callous, particularly given the scale and enormity of the situation.
However, it can sometimes be tricky to determine the magnitude of an event and whether it warrants ceasing your social media and promotional activities altogether or for how long, as well as when it’s considered appropriate to resume those activities again – and how.
When is it warranted to cease activity?
The following questions will help you assess if ceasing all promotional and marketing activities are the right course of action following a tragedy.
- Is it an evolving story or is it “over” by the time most people realize it happened?
- Are the 24-hour TV news channels breaking for commercials?
- Have conventional broadcast channels suspended regular programming and switched to news coverage?
- Are children involved?
- Did it happen in your area or is there a local connection?
- Is it related to your client industry? Look at your social feeds – are more than half the posts about the situation?
Top tips for handling these events
- Plan proactively in advance – Ensure you have a plan in place for both your own consulting business as well as your clients’ organizations. With regards to your clients, make sure everyone is on the same page regarding how to handle an external crisis or tragedy, where automated messages and scheduled social media posts should be suspended. Determine whether it is important to be covering any of the breaking news related to the tragedy (if it relates to your client’s organization). Finally, decide whether you will be posting messages expressing concern, condolence and sympathy or if it is more appropriate to remain silent.
- Monitor regularly and consistently – Have in place mechanisms for monitoring news at the local, national and international level. Follow news outlets on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, set Google Alerts and use tools such as TweetDeck, Mention, Keyhole or Twazzup for tracking and monitoring major breaking news.
- Notify immediately – When a situation occurs, inform your clients as soon as possible, especially if the emergency is directly related to their particular sector or industry. And reiterate what is outlined in the plan for handling such situations.
- Suspend all posts and promotional activity – If you pre-schedule your social media posts, you can turn off your automated tweets, status updates and scheduled posts through such scheduling platforms and management systems as Buffer, Hootsuite, Sprout Social and CoSchedule. You should also halt any email marketing and distribution of promotional material, including e-newsletters, as a precaution. (Some quick tips from Buffer for pausing scheduled posts can be viewed here.) Continue to wait and monitor the situation as it unfolds to determine how long your activities should be embargoed.
- Proceed with caution and reserve – Keep aware of what’s going on and resume regular activities cautiously. It is advisable to approach this carefully and with restraint rather than to take the chance of making a misstep. Be sensitive to timeliness – is it the right time to being posting again? You will also want to carefully consider the first types of posts you do following the event.
- Demonstrate sensitivity, compassion and helpfulness – It is of utmost importance to always demonstrate decorum, discretion and tact. Refrain from making any commentary on the situation that offers an opinion or view. Instead, show sensitivity, compassion and concern for those adversely affected.
Social media is such a ubiquitous part of our professional and personal lives that we can sometimes forget that it is there and ongoing, especially if we’ve pre-scheduled our posts in advance. However, as PR consultants, it’s our job to keep abreast of the news and current events so that we can always be at the ready to respond appropriately, on behalf of our clients and for our own businesses.
If you have any additional tips or insights for handling these types of situations, please feel free to share those with us in the comments section below.
Image Credits: “Businesswoman Asking to Stop” image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
Really great article! I’m a student currently studying PR at a university, and I have some interest in crisis communications. This article provided really helpful insight on what it might actually be like to manage a tragedy. I especially appreciate how showing sensitivity is included, since I value that to be a strong connector between organizations and publics.