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April 1, 2020

Building a Powerful Social Media Community in a Crisis


By Hannah Stonehouse Hudson

Intelligent social media use by businesses should be viewed as a strategic marketing long game, no matter what is going on in the outside world and especially in time of crisis. The algorithms reward those who understand that, and the communities created in a response to a crisis exist for years after, with those community members becoming extremely loyal buyers, brand fans and online brand advocates.

The people and businesses most successful on social media in a crisis create communities of positivity, social interaction and strategic change, and they do that by avoiding grandstanding, negativity and mindless complaining. Rather than become distracted by arguments online about things and events they have no control over, successful brands create momentum behind a movement and become forces of pivotal change. Such movements can be something as small as getting fellow community members to support an individual going through a hard time by sending them good wishes via comments on a post or as large as creating a petition to spur government action.

How does a brand build a social media community in a crisis without appearing tone deaf or as if they are taking advantage of a situation? By being of service to the online community. This is true in normal times as well, but in a crisis situation, the importance of being of service to both real and virtual communities is at least tenfold. You gain loyal followers who want to buy from you in the future and the algorithm sees that your page is interactive, so it keeps showing your content to more and more people.

Be a Crisis Resource

First of all, be a resource. When people are stressed, they are looking for individuals who are there to assist them mentally, physically and fiscally. Online, the members of your community could be looking for great mindless content to help them mentally cope—a funny meme or joke to help break up the constant headlines of doom and gloom—or they could be looking for tangible content that helps them get through the crisis. For instance, before and after an extreme weather event, you could post that your store has a solid supply of batteries, handwarmers, flashlights, anything that would be needed in such an emergency. Posting phone numbers and websites of emergency service providers in your area—hospitals, ambulance services, electric and gas companies, tree removal services, local and state law enforcement contacts, etc.—would be another thing people would appreciate. The more helpful the content, the more people share and the more people who will see your content.

Bad Actors Need Not Apply

Online users are suspicious of business and individuals who appear to be taking advantage of a crisis to make money. The more selfless you are in terms of sharing your knowledge, the more willing people will be to engage with your message.

Take, for instance, your supply of flashlights and batteries and a hurricane that makes landfall. Saying you have a good supply but that you’re limiting purchases to two flashlights and needed batteries for each customer so that your entire community can have access (i.e., preventing hoarding), would be smart. Telling everyone you have a good supply but doubling the prices would not be—and don’t think for a minute that people will forget that you participated in price-gouging or allowed one or two customers to clean out your entire supply of something many people need. Long after an emergency or crisis has passed, your bad actions during that crisis will live on.

The Two-Way Joint Venture

Another strategy is to be proactive about joint ventures—who can you help reach more people and who can help you do the same? Other peoples’ audiences can create movement online during both normal and crisis situations, but in a crisis situation, when you seek out another vendor to collaborate in serving your communities at large, you help them, they help you, and you both help both audiences. Such partnering could involve joint product ventures, joint free resources, even joint interviews, anything that helps both audiences get the information and resources they need.

Let’s say you have a great selection of flashlights, but there’s a Batteries-R-Us across town that had really cornered that market, so it’s never been worth it for you to keep an inventory of AAs and D-cells on hand. In the face of that hurricane, though, partnering with Batteries-R-Us makes perfect sense. Joint coupons, joint advertising, a joint weekend sale and, of course, lots of cross-promotion of this partnership through the social media channels of both businesses—not only will you have proven yourself in such a partnership to be a valuable business to your community, reaching out to them in their time of need, you will see customers who might never otherwise have entered your store because they aren’t “gun people.” At the same time, your social media reach also grows exponentially because not only are you adding both business audiences together, but because the algorithm recognizes that your audiences align in interests.

In none of this am I saying you should be an ambulance chaser. These are not ways or strategies to take advantage of a crisis. The crisis is going to exist whether you want it to or not. You have the choice to positively impact your clients and community by providing information and services they need or you can add to the collective noise by feeding into rumor and useless products.

Choose wisely. Creating content that serves your audience is important in any situation, but it is essential in an emergency or crisis. Don’t feed fears. Help ease them and you will be rewarded greatly, both now and in the future.

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Protecting Your Firearm Business and the Public During a Crisis