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How to keep relationships with customers after disasters

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Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a Santa Rosa-based marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read past columns at nbbj.news/digitalmarketing.

With the recent devastation of the Kincade Fire and the subsequent outpour of support within the affected communities, crises and how we can best deal with them is on the mind of many marketers & small businesses owners.

I have written about how to create a 5-step social media action plan for businesses during a crisis(northbaybusinessjournal.com/opinion/8825119-181/digital-marketing-social-media-crisis) such as ones that have suffered a loss of income from having to close due to power outages or evacuations (which are tragic enough).

But I want to go into more detail about how businesses should approach their digital marketing efforts if they have faced their worst nightmare and lost their tasting room, restaurant, home, etc., etc., etc. I talked with some marketers and PR experts who have recently felt that loss or worked with businesses who have.

While this is a story I would rather not have to tell, I feel it is an important one because the common denominator behind each person I talked to was the community that rallied behind them.

Create a Crisis Communication Plan

Now that we are going on three years of tragic fire seasons during the months of October and November, it is crucial for any Northern California business to plan ahead when it comes to dealing with a crisis. I talked to Holly Hanson of Holly Hansen Public Relations (hollyhansenpr.com) based in Santa Rosa. Her team works closely with hospitality, food, beverage, and lifestyle brands to create communication strategies.

She advises any business that wants to plan ahead, “Just as it is important to have a family emergency plan, it’s crucial to have an emergency plan for your business that incorporates communications. It’s difficult to think of the big picture in the heat of the moment or when you are upset.”

Meet with your team to brainstorm some possible worst-case scenarios and what information you would need to relay (and to whom, and how) if this happens in real life.

Write this down in a shareable document so multiple team members have access, just in case the main point of contact is unavailable.

Also, include contact information and a chain of command for who is in charge of what during a crisis. Make sure those people have the passwords to all social media channels and newsletters as well.

Sonoma County Tourism provides great tips on their website as well, including a downloadable crisis plan that any business can customize at sonomacounty.com/partners/post-fire-toolkit.

During a Crisis, Leverage the Real-Time Nature of Social Media

In my article, “The 5-step social media action plan for business during a crisis,” I wrote about making sure to provide information that your customers may want to know (i.e., if you are open, closed, safe, etc.), but Holly added, “As soon as you can, draft up two or three quick talking points, and make sure everyone in your organization has them. A good formula to have in mind is to express genuine concern, state the current situation, and conclude with your plans for moving forward.”

Also, “Keep in mind that your insurance company may see any social media or news coverage about your business, so don’t post or say anything that may make it difficult for you to make a claim later.”

If you have a business that is in the line of fire and you are not sure what is still standing, it is okay to say that you don’t have all the details. It is better to be honest with your community than to spread misinformation. Speak from the heart, and if you don’t know the full situation, say that you are still assessing.

Digital Marketing

Shana Bull is a Santa Rosa-based marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com.

Read past columns at nbbj.news/digitalmarketing.

Remind employees of the talking points and ensure that they fact-check anything they share or retweet on social media to guarantee it is accurate and confirmed by emergency personnel or officials.

If You Suffered a Loss, Communication Is Key

If you happen to lose your wine tasting room, production facility, restaurant, vineyard, or any other meaningful part of your business, please don’t feel like you have to share every detail with your community. Know that you will, however, get a surge of calls from journalists and social media comments from people asking what they can do to help—so staying on top of your communication is essential.

I talked to Katie Ambrosi, director of Marketing for Wilson Artisan Wineries (a luxury wine collective which owns Wilson Winery, Mazzocco Winery, deLorimier Winery, Soda Rock Winery, Matrix Winery, Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery, Pezzi King Vineyards, Mosaic Winery, St. Anne’s Crossing Winery, and Greenwood Ridge Vineyards), about what her team did when they found out that their historic Soda Rock Winery tasting room (sodarockwinery.com) had burned down during the Kincade Fire in Alexander Valley.

She said, “We are focused on letting people know that we are still open, and still have wine to sell — and that we appreciate all of their support.”

Her tip for any other business going through a crisis like they did: “Communicate!” Your customers and potential customers want to hear what is happening from the business. For Katie and her team, social media became the hub for that communication. “Instagram and Facebook were our top ways to connect with our customers. Our social network inboxes and comments were filled with messages of shared heartbreak, memories, and offers of help.”

They made it a priority to respond directly as much as possible. Katie shared that the loss of the tasting room was “a reminder of our connection to our community. They are more than wine buyers on the other end of a computer, they are people who laughed with us in our tasting room, who shared vows with their partner in our ballroom, who toasted their dream vacation with our wine in our courtyard—they are the most important part of our business.”

Life May Never Go Back to “Business As Usual,” But You Will Be Reminded of Why You Got into the Business You Are In…

Less than a week after the tasting room at Soda Rock burned down, after the evacuations were lifted in Healdsburg, and after the electricity turned back on, they opened up their barn for tastings. The response from the community goes to show the strength of connections and the resilience of Sonoma County. Katie and the Wilson Artisan Wineries team are excited to jump right in and provide the excellent hospitality and wine they are known for.

Wilson Artisan Wineries and many other businesses have been deeply affected by California fires over the past few years. They have turned tragedies into something more manageable—still tragedies, of course, but they have created opportunities for connection with supportive communities. Make sure that your business is prepared to do the same so that it can continue to thrive, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Shana Bull is a Santa Rosa-based marketing educator and digital storyteller, working with wine, food, hospitality businesses, teaching classes on marketing, and freelance writing. Reach her with your questions about digital marketing at shana@shanabull.com, @sharayray on Instagram or at shanabull.com. Read past columns at nbbj.news/digitalmarketing.

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