Social media is a fantastic resource to learn and share knowledge. We’ve blogged before that for plenty of businesses, social media is their most powerful customer engagement tool. But what happens when something unexpected happens?


In the wake of a major incident, such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster, it's all too easy to get it wrong and leave yourself open to criticism. You could seem crass if you carry on as normal, but equally posting something about the event can seem like the worst kind of opportunism.


The bottom line is, you need a plan so that, when something out of the ordinary comes up, you know how to react.


There are four golden rules:


1) If in doubt, do nowt

Silence is certainly golden. Even the most well-intending tweets can be misconstrued. If they go by unnoticed at the time, that doesn’t mean to say they are ignored – reposts or screenshots can give your words a life you can’t control. Words can be misinterpreted; silence can be defended. A break of a day or two is usually about right, after which social media returns to normal. Take your cue from the general feel of social media: it soon becomes clear when people are ready to move on.


2) I will not be silenced!

On the other hand, you might feel the need to renounce an injustice, or say something supportive. Before posting though, ask yourself if it is right for your business:

 - If you really feel the need to say something online, could you use your personal account instead?

 - If you feel it’s important to come from your business, could you write a blog post? The time it takes to compose could give you time to review your opinion and allow you some space to decide whether it’s still the right thing to post.


3) Does it affect your business immediately?

Are you or your customers affected by the event? Is there any insight you could give to educate? Is there any help you could offer? By initiating a considerate, authentic voice you could contribute without any adverse affects on your brand. However, if you want to post something sympathetic, expressing the shock and sadness that most people are feeling, you may still need to play it carefully.

In the wake of the Manchester Arena terror attack, other music venues around the UK and beyond posted messages of sympathy. They were relevant and struck the right tone because of their connection to the event. An unrelated organisation could post a similar message and get a different response, because it would risk looking like they were jumping on a fairly grim bandwagon, even if they had the best of intentions.


4) Be responsive, be responsible:

Do you have any posts lined up? Should these be reviewed, or stopped completely? Most social media managers who know their stuff use scheduled tweets to keep their accounts ticking over even when they're busy with other work. It's easy for these to be forgotten when a major event is unfolding – and before you know it, they've gone live with something that was fine yesterday, but suddenly seems hugely inappropriate. Worse, even if you take it down quickly, someone may have taken a screen grab which then gains a life of its own and does significant damage to your brand. Think quickly – stop all posts as soon as you can, and wait until things calm down before you resume normal business.


If the pitfalls and risks of social media management bring you out in a cold sweat, give us a call. We're happy to make sure your accounts always strike the right note.