In a crisis, business owners and executive teams often struggle with figuring out how to continue showing up online authentically in a way that doesn’t put their reputations at risk. It can be difficult to know what to say and what to change about your message when using social media for crisis communications.

And, if you haven’t been using social media, it might be tempting to start using it during challenging times if you’re struggling to reach your customer in traditional ways. It might even be a necessity if you have important information to share. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to reach your audience, make meaningful connections, and promote your business without putting off your prospects.

Using Social Media for Crisis Communications: What To Do

Most social media damage happens when brands come off as out-of-touch, fake, dishonest about, or ignoring the reality of the situation. Your focus should be creating honest, realistic, and supportive messaging that shows you care and are here to help. 

Here are some tips for using social media for crisis communications:

Put a hold on scheduled social media posts

You’ll want to make sure to remove and replace any scheduled content that is no longer appropriate or relevant. For COVID-19 as an example, my clients have had to pause content that focuses on large gatherings and traveling. Take the opportunity to reframe your tone to one that is more grounded, empathetic, and honest, especially if your brand voice tends to be more snarky or humorous.

Segment your audiences and target your messaging 

Segment your audience and do your research to understand which platforms your ideal customer is likely using and set up profiles there. Further segment customers with ad targeting and email campaigns to offer messages each will likely want to hear from you during a crisis. For example, depending on the crisis and your target market, some members of your community may be interested to know about your brand values and involvement in social organizations or how you’re helping in a crisis. Customers with open orders will need to know about delays and shortages. By targeting your message on the right platform to the right customer, you’ll make a more meaningful and memorable connection with your audience.

Adjust your expectations 

During a crisis, social media should be used first and foremost as a communications tool. It might not earn you the same engagement, sales, and results it usually would – in fact, you may need to invest more in campaigns and your social media to get the same results. But by staying active, you’ll reassure customers and prospects that you are still around and open for business.

Focus on supporting customers

Double down on supporting your customers during difficult times. Make an effort to be sensitive, flexible, and emphasize that you’re there to support them. This support won’t always be related to your products or services – the priority is to show that you’re a helpful and reliable presence during uncertain times. Check out these examples to see how some major brands have adapted their messaging to a crisis.

Make a plan to use social media for crisis communications

Crises will happen from time to time, and unfortunately, you may be involved in one – so it’s always good to be prepared with a plan. If you don’t have this in place, now is a good time to design a framework and basic strategy for communicating during times of crisis. Things you’ll want to have in your plan include a chain of command – who will develop and share your holding messaging (a brief public statement acknowledging the issue)? Who will act as your company’s spokesperson? Develop a media kit, internal procedures, clear staff roles and responsibilities, and a crisis communications statement template now. 

Using Social Media During a Crisis: What Not To Do

During a crisis, we tend to be reactive or we might panic. Sure, we’re only human – but it’s important to not reflect uncertainty in your communications. Here are my tips for what not to do when using social media for crisis communications:

Don’t politicize your presence

We all have opinions on how our politicians should handle a crisis – but it’s better to keep them to yourself to avoid alienating parts of your audience. Focus on facts and what you’re doing to help. In some cases, your brand may decide to make a statement about its values in relation to a particular case or cause (and political affiliations may become obvious in doing so). But generally speaking, most businesses should avoid political statements unless they are well researched and planned, and the brand is prepared to suffer fall out. Focus on being solutions-oriented and keeping a positive (and realistic) outlook.

Don’t be desperate

In a time of crisis, we’re all looking for steady and reliable energy. If your message comes off as desperate, spammy, or pressuring your audience based on their fear or worry, you might lose them at best or get called out for being opportunistic at worst (and rightfully so…). Focus on your customer more than you focus on yourself, and provide solutions and position yourself as a helpful resource.

Don’t lose focus

It’s better to keep a narrow focus on your customer and current events than getting off track. For example, link to credible and relevant resources instead of trying to develop your own messages related to current events. Then, focus on your customer’s needs, what’s changed for her, and how you’re helping. Other types of lighthearted or unrelated content may need to be paused to avoid looking frivolous or vapid.

Don’t rush

When a crisis is evolving, things can change quickly. Take a pause and reflect on your response – is it emotional? Defensive? Blaming? Does it set the tone you want it to? Is it error-free? Make key team-members aware of the messages being published so that your communications are clear, coherent, and non-conflicting, and have a second set of eyes on everything. Be prepared to stand behind your statements, even if you make a misstep.

Handling a crisis with grace is all about adjusting your expectations, being ready to listen and help, and doing your best to continue serving your customers. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated. 

Make sure your message is honest, helpful, and solution-oriented. Customers will show loyalty and remember how you treated them for a long time to come. 

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