Social Media Marketing With Your Customers During A Natural Disaster

Communicating with your customers who may be experiencing a disaster is a delicate balance between understanding that some customers will be seriously affected by the disaster, and many others will not. How do you balance it out? What kinds of messages should you use?

During Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, two clients, a retail e-commerce business with customers across the globe (including in Texas and Florida) and an association hosting their annual conference in Miami, FL just under two weeks after Hurricane Irma’s projected landfall, both experienced disasters and had unique social media situations. The fires in California posed yet another challenge for our e-commerce clients.

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When your customers are in the path of disaster:

First: pause all scheduled posts. Letting scheduled posts go out without review could be a PR nightmare. Not all of your customers will experience the disaster but you should review and edit your messages carefully to ensure you’re being sensitive to those who are in harm’s way.

Decide ahead of time if you want to support them with products or services if they should need them. In the case of our retail client, many of their customers will lose what they purchased
from us due to flood, fire or windstorm damage, so we will offer
them either free product as they replace products in their recovery phase.

Communicate your heartfelt wishes that they stay safe and that you are thinking about them.

When you’re not sure you’re hosting your event due to a disaster:

Communicate your heartfelt wishes that everyone stay safe ahead of the storm/disaster. Keep your attendees up to date with conditions once you know them, including hotel, transportation and road closures that may affect their travel. Understand that they’re tuned into the news and the things they see may prompt them to ask about cancellations. Reassure them (if your event is still scheduled) about what they can expect.

Post following the disaster to check in with customers.

If you can cross reference your member list with your order list, you can tag them in Facebook groups to ask about their status. Remember, their lives will never be the same. They probably won’t care (initially) about much beyond food, shelter and survival, but eventually thoughts will turn to replacing their lives. Your products may be a part of that.

  1. Post messages of support.
  2. If applicable, find a charity in the area and donate a percentage of profits from a special sale so all of your customers can help those that are in the affected area. This is ideal for e-commerce businesses that have a wide customer base.
  1. Hold a fundraiser where your event is being held and help those in the local community with recovery or relief efforts if you are able. Understand that helping at an event is probably less helpful than just donating cash.

Major disasters force changes in social strategy and messaging, but they can be good opportunities to connect with customers on a personal level. And at the end of the day, that’s just what marketing is really all about: people connecting with others over a commercial transaction. It’s like shop keeping in the days of old: you knew your customers and helped out when they needed it. Today’s marketing is more personal thanks to social media, and we have the chance to reach everyone in our audience on a one-to-one level. Careful social messaging during a disaster is essential.