3 Social Media Must-Do's During a Disaster

Social media has become a daily part of mainstream life, but never are these platforms more needed and valued than during times of world crisis. As this weekend's Paris attacks showed, social platforms are indispensable for connecting and communicating. That said, there are three important factors that must be top of mind when using social media during negative national or global news events:

  1. Use Social for What it Does Best: Listening and Connecting. As this article from Forbes succinctly reports, times of crisis can bring out the best and the worst of social media. Following a natural or man-made disaster on Twitter is absolutely the fastest way to learn what is happening and connect with organizations on the ground to help. At times like these, though, it can be best to switch into listen-only mode to avoid adding clutter to the already crowded Twitter-sphere. Because Twitter serves a critical function during a crisis, it can be best to take "chatter" to a different channel - perhaps Facebook or Snapchat - in order to leave the Twitter stream to those who need it most.Facebook swiftly activated its Safety Check tool in the wake of the Paris attacks, a useful tool previously used only after natural disasters to quickly check if any of one's family or friends had checked in to confirm safety. Another, flashier app allowed Facebook users to instantly change their profile images to reflect the red, white and blue of the French flag in solidarity - a display some users found too showy or insensitive in light of other bombings in Beirut which went nearly unnoticed by the world media.
  1. Immediately Suspend Branded and Sponsored Content. In times of grave national or international events, it can be tempting to post to social media to show solidarity, support or compassion. This may be fine for individuals (with the caveats shared above), but it is not recommended for brands. During times of crisis, unless the event directly and closely impacts your brand, it is best to suspend all branded and sponsored social activity.Think about it: you're on Twitter, desperately refreshing and seeking the latest news from the Paris attacks in order to confirm the whereabouts and safety of loved ones, but all you see at the top of your feed each time you refresh is a sponsored post from an unthinking, insensitive brand. Yes, the posts were likely scheduled long before the bombings - but that is no excuse. Anytime major tragedy strikes, Twitter and other social channels become a (sometimes literal) lifeline for those impacted. Do yourself and your brand a favor and remember to immediately suspend all sponsored and branded social content upon hearing negative news of this scope. There will be plenty of time to resume marketing after a suitable and respectful break.
  1. Don't Believe Everything You Read. Alas, when we need social channels to be filled with only accurate information, it is exactly the time when rumors are most likely to run rampant. Again, the Paris attacks are a dramatic example of why one should never believe everything we read on social channels. People are so anxious to find and share news during a crisis that too often misinformation can spread as rapidly as vital facts.If you decide not to remain silent on social during a crisis (see #1), retweet and share content only from reputable news sources. Even then, remember that the situation is unfolding live and major news outlets are still piecing the story together. Make sure to check your facts. This is a best practice that we'd do well to follow in times of peace as well as war.

As the corny but time-tested adage states, "We have two ears and one mouth - we should listen twice as much as talk." Never is this truer than on social media during an international crisis.

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