As natural disasters have become more intense in the 21st century, many special event professionals will at some point in their career deal with a large-scale emergency beyond their control. Everything from hurricanes ripping up the U.S. Eastern Seaboard to drought and wildfires in the West to terrorist incidents in both major and small cities has wreaked havoc on local economies.
Special event pros find themselves not just in a public communications role, but also a recovery communications role. Here are three tips for going beyond the crisis communication plan and creating smart social media policies for communicating during a crisis.
1. Evaluate your feed.
The last thing you want to do is project tone-deaf messaging during an emergency, especially if you're in the habit of scheduling out posts well in advance.
Once you learn of an incident of local, regional or national importance, the first thing you want to do is gauge the severity of the incident. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the incident involve loss of life and/or property?
- Is the incident still developing or are key facts already known?
If you answer "yes" to the above questions, you should review your scheduled posts for the next three days and amend the content as needed. For example, during the Napa and Sonoma fires that ravaged wine country in California, any posts you might have about gorgeous wine country weddings should be halted while the situation evolves. If you are not directly affected by the event, you should still audit your posts for tone-deaf messaging like “love my job/life,” “such an amazing day” and similar sentiments
You’ll also want to ask whether or not:
- Your clients have a clear connection to the incident, location or people involved?
- The incident clearly affects a community we wish to support?
- There is significant coverage of the incident across traditional news networks nationally or internationally?
- Similar vendors and industry leaders are responding or going dark?
- Your own clients are responding in a personal capacity?
- Posting about the incident offers concrete aid to those affected?
If you answer "yes" to at least two of the above questions, you should halt all of your social media posts for a 24-hour period, then reevaluate based on new information coming in. If you answer yes to four or more of the above questions, you should halt all scheduled posts and formulate a response-based post.
2. Stay on brand with posts to your business pages.
When formulating a response for social media, consider staying on brand and serving others rather than simply being a digital looky-loo.
I often see vendors talking about how devastating a natural disaster is--without offering any additional information about how to help or how they are helping the affected communities or clients
Unless your specialty is planning events in emergencies and having the event come off flawlessly, you don't necessarily need to get on your business page or any other business social media channel or public channel and report the details of the emergency.
The trick is to think about your brand and your brand proposition and link it to your posts (yes, even during a crisis)
For example, if your brand is really into community and volunteering and you have a spirit of service, then if a natural disaster happens, it might be appropriate for you to get on social media and talk about how you and your team are aiding in relief efforts. If one of your specialties is managing events irrespective of natural disasters, show your behind-the-scenes process for taking care of your clients during an emergency and executing on a flawless event.
3. Don’t forget recovery efforts.
Finally, smart vendors and vendor communities adopt a recovery plan. There’s nothing worse than posting to your feed about a natural disaster or crisis that affects your community, only to drop the matter after the news cycle has ended.
If your community has been hit by a natural disaster such as the floods in Houston, hurricanes along the Eastern Seaboard or fires in the West, it can have long-term economic impacts.
The best thing you can do is continue to talk about recovery efforts and send an “open for business” message, both individually and as a vendor community. Speak openly about how beautiful the landscape still is after the disaster. Talk about how safe everything is.
Influencers can also aid in the recovery effort. Consider submitting new events to blogs and magazines and ask them to share the news that your community is still open for business. Work with local “micro-influencers” and vendor colleagues to come up with a plan and a commitment to talk consistently about that recovery for the next six months or year.
In a digital world where information travels fast and most people get their news online, social media is becoming an increasingly important means of communicating during a crisis. Yet, many crisis communication plans focus only on internal communications with staff and clients.
By going beyond the internal crisis communication plan and adopting smart social media policies, you can participate fully in these channels during a crisis in a way that’s thoughtful, on brand and sets you and your local economy up for recovery, rather than making an egregious gaffe or coming off as insensitive.
Christie Osborne is the owner of Mountainside Media, a company specializing in conversion optimization that helps wedding industry brands and businesses develop scalable marketing strategies that can beat the algorithms. Christie is an educator with recent speaking engagements at NACE Experience, WIPA and the ABC Conference.