When the world’s attention becomes suddenly and uniformly captured by current events, it can be challenging to know what to do with your brand’s marketing efforts. Should you pause or pivot activity? Prioritize some channels over others? Do all campaigns need to stop? Should you comment on the crisis at hand?

Social media can be both a valuable listening tool to help brands know how to proceed and a critical mouthpiece to connect with your audience, signal support, offer help or promise to change.

Here are four tips that can help guide your social decisions during a crisis.

1. Be Authentic

Authenticity is key to any successful social media strategy, but it’s even more important for any posts made during a crisis. To be authentic, you must have a deep understanding of:

  • how your brand or organization is viewed around the issue. Social listening and sentiment analysis (capabilities found in most advanced social media management platforms) can be useful tools to help gain a clear and current understanding of your brand’s perception.
  • where your stakeholders stand. Stakeholders may not support the stance you want to take, but this is an opportunity for your company to be confident in its position and prepared for any stakeholder fallout that may result.  
  • how to follow through and follow up on whatever promises you make.
  • creating statements that aren’t in contradiction with past values or actions.

*Important to Note: If you do make promises during a crisis, such as for your workers’ safety, disaster relief funds, creating more diversity among your staff or pledging to support an issue or cause, you must also be authentic in following through on those promises. Don’t pay lip service to a current event. Do keep your followers informed about how you’re following through on what you’ve committed to.

2. Listen

It’s important to respond quickly in a time of crisis, but your first action should always be to listen. Get the facts and have a clear understanding of what’s going on before formulating a response and how or if to continue your marketing efforts. You cannot create one cookie cutter crisis response plan. Every event is different.

For example, COVID-19 dominated the world’s attention (and, in many ways, it still is), but it wasn’t inappropriate to try to cut through the noise with marketing efforts. In fact, with businesses shutting down, it was more important than ever to connect with your audience, bolster consumer loyalty and preserve profit opportunities.

In contrast, crises like terrorist attacks, devastating natural disasters or mass civil unrest and protesting are NOT the right time to try to plug your latest white paper.

If and when you do decide to post, you must be prepared for the ways your message might spin out of control. Listen and monitor social channels closely and have strict response and escalation procedures in place so your community managers know how to engage when responses do come in.

*The Bottom Line: Pay attention. Having something to say and something your audience wants to hear are very different things. Listening closely can help you determine the difference.

3. Know When to Walk Away

When a crisis occurs, it’s vital to have a kill switch in place and clear roles assigned to each channel to suspend organic and paid activity and stop scheduled posts, as needed (ideally, these processes are in place before a crisis occurs!). Consider everything – that social channel you barely use, pre-scheduled posts, and your automated and drip email campaigns. You don’t want a cheery campaign post announcing a summer promotion slipping out when the community is in crisis.

Also be prepared to accept that sometimes there isn’t a place for you in the conversation. It’s ok to pause all social activity or to only make one statement about your stance and then go silent until it’s appropriate for you to re-enter and engage. Appropriate brand awareness, social listening and ongoing monitoring will help your team know when to stop and when to resume again.

When activity does resume, be prepared to walk away from current or near-future campaigns that don’t align with the post-crisis reality. Losing the time and money invested in those efforts is preferable to being, at best, tone deaf or, at worst, offensive.

4. Measure

Lastly, expect skewed performance. Your engagement rates will drop. There are more important things people are trying to pay attention to, so set those expectations with your team.

Monitoring posts closely can help ensure you’re still achieving an acceptable ROI. For one Linhart PR nutrition and wellness client, ad performance has been unpredictable. In some instances, cost per conversions have skyrocketed as our ads fought for relevancy and audience attention. Close monitoring and response preserved ROI and protected budgets.

Measuring results can help inform your messages, posting cadence and budget as you resume promotions. Social can also act as a great barometer for when it may be appropriate to resume other marketing activities since it’s instantaneously responsive.

Crafting the right social response in times of crisis is complex. It’s important to work with community managers who thoroughly understand their audiences and a digital expert who can deftly navigate the various social platforms. If you need help crafting your social media strategy and response, contact our team at info@linhartpr.com.

This post was written for the Linhart PR blog by Linhart PR digital expert, Kathleen Deal.