5-step social media action plan for business during a crisis
Hey there! My name is Shana Bull (or @sharayray online), and I am a Sonoma County marketer specializing in the wine, food, beer, and hospitality industries. During the last 10 years, I have taught classes on social media marketing, consulted with local Wine Country businesses, created strategies for Fortune 100 brands, and have written about everything from marketing, to wine/food, to my experiences as a new mom.
I was asked to bring my knowledge of digital marketing as it pertains to the hospitality industry to the North Bay Business Journal. So, if you are a marketer or a business owner in the North Bay, let me know what social media questions you have and hopefully I can answer them in an upcoming column.
As we hit the one-year anniversary of the devastating wildfires of last October, I wanted to provide some tips for businesses to help them with their social media marketing during a crisis.
My fingers are crossed that we don't see anything as devastating to our area as the fires last year, but the reality is that disasters can occur at any moment and without warning. Dire as that thought is, it is better to have a social media crisis checklist prepared, detailing steps to take and who will be in charge of what, than to have crickets on your online channels, leaving customers to ask questions for which they never receive answers.
Here are some tips for businesses to remember. (Please note that these tips don't necessarily work for all disasters; use them as a guideline to help plan ahead.)
1. Leverage the real-time nature of social media
When the fires hit last year, the first thing many people did was grab their smartphones and open the Facebook app to see what was going on.
Social networks allow everyday people to share current events, often faster than media outlets can report the story. As soon as the Press Democrat did cover the story, for instance, they went live on Facebook to share in-the-moment coverage of the fires from locations like the Home Depot by Fountaingrove.
When sharing on social media or email, make sure to provide information that your customers may want to know about (i.e., if you are open, closed, safe, etc.). Moonlight Brewing Company, whose taproom and brewery is located on Coffey Lane, just south of Coffey Lane park, was fortunately spared by the fires. But for the first few days, they were unsure if the brewery would remain standing. They communicated with beer fans via Instagram, Facebook, and their employee profile pages to let people know all of the details.
2. Get personal
When disaster strikes, it happens to real people. It's okay to get personal and share your experience.
Paradise Ridge Winery shared photos of the wreckage from their Santa Rosa Winery at 7 a.m. on Oct. 9th, 2017. They continued to keep everyone updated through Facebook, and even though their main facility burned down, they shared stories about the family and employees as they dealt with the destruction, because even though the wine was damaged in the fire, the people are what made others connect with the brand.
3. Engage with people when they ask questions online
Appoint a social media person to be online simply to answer questions – if possible, of course. In the event of a crisis, your customers will have a lot of questions and you want to make sure to answer most of them.
If you find that you are being repetitive with your responses, create a template on a Word doc with the answers to FAQs. If you have a blog on your website, use it to answer all of the questions you have received.
Don't get overwhelmed by spending all day on social media – just take 15 minutes every few hours to answer questions.
Redwood Credit Union's marketing team had experience with wildfires from the Lake County fires a year earlier than the Wine Country fires, so they already had a game plan in place. They provided details for how to donate to their North Bay Fire Relief Fund and answered as many questions as they could about where the funds were going and where to donate.
4. Be transparent and provide value when sharing
If your business wants to provide relief for those who need it, share details about what you can provide along with contact information.
Tru Health Integrative Medicine on Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa was just one of many local businesses that provided help for firefighters during the fires. They offered six months of free office visits to anyone directly involved in fighting the fall 2017 Sonoma County fires to help them recover from smoke inhalation and stress. They also used their website to blog about relevant information, like how to detox after a wildfire (and they, of course, shared it on Facebook and their email newsletter, too).
5. Keep it going
Just because a crisis “ends” doesn't mean that people stop wanting to hear from you. Sweet T Restaurant & Bar's original restaurant may have burned down in Santa Rosa, but they have chronicled their experience of building a new restaurant from scratch in Windsor. The behind-the-scenes experience gets the community excited for the grand opening (coming this fall).
Last year's fires changed the landscape of Sonoma County and how we do business. Social media became the hub for the community to come together in the spirit of supporting each other – and that includes local companies. We saw the power that social media has for sharing information, knowing if our loved ones and favorite businesses are safe, and providing support when it is needed most. Together, we can uphold the idea behind #SonomaCountyStrong, both online and offline.