GUEST POST from Danielle Bowers

We’re standing on the edge of a new frontier with social media.  Every step we take, every advance is new ground and we’re all learning as we go.  That said, we also have to figure out how to handle tragic events as they unfold.

By now we’ve seen it happen on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and other social media outlets.  Everyone is going about their days posting pictures of cats, silly memes, ecards, and businesses are promoting their services/wares.  There will be a few posts and like a stream turning into a river that bleeds into the ocean, the platforms are flooded with the news that a major tragedy is unfolding somewhere.  On social media, it doesn’t matter where you live or where you’re from, everyone emphasizes with the victims and mourns with the surviving families.

If you use social media as a business tool for marking yourself or a product, this is a time to go into action.  Posting cheerful content announcing that you’re marking your homemade bright yellow flip flops down by 50% while everyone else is posting candles and prayers for the fallen has become the social media equivalent to wearing white after labor day.  You don’t want to do it.

Here is a guideline for handling your business social media accounts during a tragedy:

1. Delete scheduled tweets/posts for the next 24 hours at least.  People will be focused on the tragedy unfolding and seeing your business plugging along as usual with the same old posts makes you seem callus and uncaring.

2. Don’t use the tragedy to promote yourself.  Yes, some people do this to farm for new followers.  A simple post/tweet stating, “The Yellow Flip Flop Company is thinking of/praying for the people of (tragedy location)”.  You acknowledge the tragedy and show your viewers you are in tune with current affairs.

3. If you have to promote, don’t use the disaster hash tag in your posts.  I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ve seen it happen often enough to make it number three on this list.

4.  Selectively post.  I’m not saying don’t post anything, but there are ways to keep your social media presence going quietly.  Linking disaster relief fundraisers, starting your own fundraiser, announcing that a certain percentage of sales will be donated to a disaster relief fundraiser are tasteful.  Sharing which news sites are reliably posting correct information and what posts have been deemed untrue can help.

If this wouldn’t work for you or your business, a media blackout the first day or two may be a good idea.

5. Gauge your audience.  You can tell watching your feeds when your audience is over the worst of the shock and things are slowly getting back to social media normal.  A few cat posts or jokes will show up.  The tragedy won’t be the number one trending topic.  Watch your followers and start posting again, slowly at first, then work your way up to  normal schedule and tone over a couple days.

These are guidelines, not rules or laws.  How you handle your social media during a tragedy is up to you, but be aware that people are watching.

What are some of the guidelines you use for Social Media Management during crisis situations, or is this something you’ve thought about?