September is National Preparedness Month, so there’s really no better time to develop a plan for how your business will handle a disaster in your community. At the top of your plan, just after employee and customer health and safety, should be a list of essential post-disaster digital tasks.
Why do businesses need to worry about disaster preparedness?
Every successful small business digital strategy is about building community. As an essential member of your local community, your business should be automatically invested in and supportive of other local businesses and your customer base.
In the United States, there were 94 major disasters in 2020, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The chances that a disaster will affect your local community may not be substantial, but that’s not the point of a digital preparedness plan.
When it comes to your company’s reputation, what’s important is not the odds of a disaster happening: it’s the stakes.
Social media has become an essential disaster communication channel
Texas A&M University conducted a survey after a 2019 Deer Park chemical fire that required a massive local evacuation effort. Researchers concluded that, despite all the sirens and push notifications used by first responders, 45 percent of local residents learned about the emergency from social media posts.
Social behaviors have changed in the age of digital interaction.
Why does small business digital preparedness matter?
Your gym is running a Facebook ad campaign promoting swim lessons. A tropical storm comes through your community, unleashing devastating floods.
Your swim lesson ads keep running as more than 24 percent of your target audience turns to social media for rescue and relief information.
Can you see the potential problem?
If your business isn’t prepared to respond appropriately on all digital channels when disaster strikes, it’s time. Create a plan of action to protect your brand and contribute positively to your community in a time of need.
Here’s how you can get started.
Step 1: Pause ad campaigns and scheduled social posts.
When your local community is dealing with loss of life, safety, and property, they’re turning to social media for potentially life-saving information. Ads for your business popping up in their news feeds could be seen as tone-deaf and selfish.
While you’re at it, make sure you stop the distribution of any newsletters or email automations going out to anyone in the affected area.
Step 2: Share a status update.
In the case of a natural disaster, people want to know what areas are seeing the greatest impact. If your business is without electricity but all employees are safe, create a post along the lines of a “marked safe” Facebook post.
Add value to your post or tweet with an update from the local utility company about estimated restoration of electrical service, if you have that information. Share to Google My Business and post a version of the update on your website homepage.
Stay positive, but sensitive to what people are experiencing.
Step 3: Address business continuity.
Update hours of operation on all social channels, Google My Business, and your website to reflect any impact from the disaster. Create a post to let customers know that you’re assessing damage and will keep them updated about when your business will reopen.
Step 4: Join the helpers.
If you’re able to provide a cell phone charging station, hot meals, or showers for the community, post about it everywhere. People who need help often don’t know where to look.
Share local relief resources as you hear about them, and make sure you post with a comment about your community coming together. Share or retweet posts from organizations you trust – even your competitors.
Being a helper means using your social media presence to share helpful information with your neighbors. Remember to add, “please share,” to your posts.
Step 5: Stay online and be a resource.
Keep posting and sharing community helping resources around the clock. Enlist a social media crisis management team that is activated when you first hear about an emergency.
Post regular updates: power outages and expected restoration times, community resources, business operations, staff check-ins, or photos of local damage and hazards are all helpful after a storm or fire.
Be the eyes and ears of your community. They’ll appreciate the updates. Make engagement and quick responses to comments your team’s top priority.
Step 6: Tell your story.
Once the initial disaster response is over and your community moves toward recovery, keep the updates coming. Remember to stay personal and positive. Show support for your neighbors and your team, and offer community-building comments and stories that highlight resiliency.
Help people feel like part of something special during recovery efforts. Then, go out and help them rebuild.
Step 7: Keep updating all channels.
As you reopen or offer limited hours, keep updating all social profiles, GMB, and your website to provide customers with the latest hours and news. Limit these posts to once every few days, and keep the messaging community-focused.
Stay away from salesy posts or over “we’re so great” messaging. You’re not trying to be in the spotlight; you’re performing a community service right now (and building credibility as a valuable local resource).
Step 8: Forge partnerships in your community. Tweet about it!
Every large-scale disaster will require the help of organizations like the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other disaster response teams. These organizations always need help. Learn how you can support these groups and, in turn, become a community helper.
Here’s an example we love:
One local pet shop is making a difference for displaced animals in the wake of California wildfires. Humboldt Pet Supply in Arcata, California, is raising money for the Trinity County Animal Shelter, which has been taking in pets after recent California wildfires. The small company is donating $5 from each pet bathing service they sell for one week in October to support the animal shelter.
Here’s the Instagram post Humboldt created to share and promote their company’s disaster relief efforts.
Step 9: Don’t stop now! It’s time to build back up to regular marketing.
Many of your posts as recovery efforts continue should be focused on sharing local resources with your followers. BUT, there will come a time when more and more of the posts you see are positive and reflect a shift back to some semblance of normalcy. When will that happen?
It depends. It happens when your community is ready, and not a minute before. A good rule of thumb is to not be the first business on your block to resume business promotions. Watch those first posts, gauge response, and move to the next step when those interactions are positive.
Step 10: Restart ads and scheduled posts when life returns to normal. Then, keep helping.
Your post-disaster ads and posts may still look different for a while. That’s not something we can address here. What we can tell you is that disaster relief efforts don’t end quickly, and your business can continue to give back and promote that spirit of giving.
The Restoration Team in Houston, Texas, started working to rebuild and restore the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Since then, the team has also responded to additional natural disaster response needs after Winter Storm Uri left many Houston-area residents in need of extensive home repairs. The organization works with local corporations and small businesses, hosting and promoting corporate workdays for employees.
The Restoration Team’s Harvey relief efforts continue to this day.
Find local organizations in need of workers, and go out and get hands-on to rebuild. Post feel-good photos of your staff serving others. That’s what The Restoration Team shared in this Instagram post featuring a McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., corporate workday for hurricane relief.
Start Planning Now
If your community isn’t currently suffering after a disaster, you have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Implement a disaster preparedness plan that best serves your employees and local neighbors.
The great thing is, if you do that, you’ll also be implementing a digital strategy that builds engagement and followers. Your customers – current and future – will remember that your business was helpful, positive, and hopeful.
Let that be your goal as you start planning.
Learn more about how MarketVault can help you save time and effort as you prepare for great business marketing and communications for any event.