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The Social Response to Hurricane Sandy by Brands

[Photo credit: Getty Images]

Nearly everyone had something to say about Hurricane Sandy this week on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. and especially, Instagram. People posted photos on Facebook displaying pans of gooey mac and cheese and stockpiles of PBR, and memes circulated about that squirrel from SpongeBob Squarepants.

But how did brands use social networks to respond – if at all?

Many brands did nothing over the weekend. Some brands used Twitter and Facebook Status Updates to wish people well and acknowledge the situation. And then, there was a clothing company’s distasteful promotion to shop instead of being “bored.” While the sentiment was probably sincere, the execution was objectionable. In fact, by the time this was posted, most East Coasters had already lost power. It made the brand look out of touch and insensitive.

Clearly, the wrong way to participate in the conversation around a crisis is to try to sell something. In order for a brand to stay culturally relevant, it is important to participate in events; but the right way is to show empathy and put the sales goals on the shelf. Out of the ordinary events, like natural disasters, provide an opportunity to make an emotional connection with your fans and followers.

Some brands, like Captain Morgan, were able to quickly create unique branded content pieces, rather than just copy.

 

Though Facebook made the Timeline switch months ago, few brands are taking advantage of the strong visual storytelling opportunity it provides. Content creation helps consumers to connect with the brand that stands out in the normal newsfeed. This becomes important even when considering the cover photo of the page. Insurance companies, for example, may be using status updates to provide information, but brands have not removed their promotional cover photos that have nothing to do with their services or the storm.

Brands that were directly related to Sandy all used social media differently. Home Depot and Lowes were silent during the preparation period, when they could have used social to help people prepare. However, in the aftermath, both have stepped forward with huge voluntary and financial assistance.

Another brand directly affected was American Express. They strategically used social media to communicate their customer service efforts to help those in need. They reacted to the disruptions in the service they provide, as well as the disruption in their customers’ lives with great empathy and timely response, both online and offline. Representatives from the brand called customers on the East Coast to let them know that Amex was there to help with booking emergency travel and lodging. Customers used Twitter to thank the brand and declare their loyalty.

 

In the case of a natural disaster or other unexpected events, brands can use social media to show relevance and empathy in a timely manner. Brands should put the normal conversation calendar on hold, and consider how best to relay information and avoid looking exploitative or advancing their own cause. Finally, for brands with a personal connection to a natural disaster, like a financial institution or insurance company, social channels provide a unique real-time method of managing expectations and delivering response.

We realize that what brands do and say can rarely provide solace for those trying to put their lives back together after Hurricane Sandy. We sincerely hope that everyone affected by Hurricane Sandy finds comfort soon.