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How to manage social media during a time of community crisis

Katie Patterson is founder and CEO of Happy Medium

The recent events facing the Des Moines and Urbandale Police Departments have our entire community in mourning. We proudly stand in support alongside these valiant officers, keeping the families of the two fallen in our thoughts and prayers, and rally as a community toward a future where incidents like these are no longer a reality.

When a crisis faces a community, state, region, the country or the world, it’s important for social media managers to be ready for action. The everyday social media messaging can be interpreted as distasteful or insensitive by the mass public. Here’s some steps to consider:

  1. First and foremost, be in tune with what is happening in the news cycle.
    No one wants to be the last person to know, and you’d think with so much breaking news being initially cited across social media platforms, the social media community would be the first informed. But this is not always the case. It’s important for those in this industry to be in touch with what’s happening in their community especially in order to be timely and effective.

  2. When crisis hits, get out of the way.
    This is a sensitive time. If you use any scheduling tools to set up posts throughout the week, check here first. Make sure you delay those to a time when normal conversations are back in play across your various platforms. Most users are looking to Facebook or Twitter for news on what is happening, and they don’t want to see a post on a sales promotion as part of that search. It can be immediately off-putting and damaging to a brand’s reputation.

  3. Express your condolences.
    There is definitely an opportunity to stand beside those impacted from an incident to show support. These messages should be brief but thoughtful. This can be a great demonstration of joining together as a community, while also providing an unwritten explanation as to why your accounts may be quiet for a while.

  4. Be careful with trending hashtags.
    It can be an initial great thought to monitor hashtags that are trending and want to act accordingly for your brand to generate traction. However, make sure you know what the hashtags stand for. Look through timelines to see how users are putting them into content. As an example, in 2014, #WhyIStayed was trending and the DiGiorno Pizza team wanted to get in on the action and tweeted, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” Looking into this hashtag even quickly would have shown that this was a discussion about domestic abuse with those impacted telling their own stories, and the brand faced major backlash as a result.

  5. Don’t use a promotion strictly as a sales tactic.
    Like many of us as individuals, companies can often wonder, “What can I do?” The desire to help is a natural reaction. Be careful with this, though. If you offer a promotion, go all in. You don’t have to donate 100 percent of proceeds from your entire business, but positioning a benefit as a way to attract general traffic can be a turnoff to the general public. A good rule of thumb is to donate 100 percent of sales from one particular item in the honor of those impacted.

Social media teams have to be ready to act at a moment’s notice, and times of crisis can be tricky to navigate. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and examine how you would feel in this moment and use your best judgment for strategy moving forward.


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