Is There A Right Way To Respond On Social Media After A Hurricane?


As social marketers, we’re accustomed to creating content that is the product of our environment.

Generally this is an easy task to maintain, responding to sublte pop culture fads or the general ebb and flow of the human condition, but what happens when a natural crisis affects millions of people across the country at the same time?

This week Hurricane Sandy (now Super Storm Sandy) has ripped through the United States from Florida to New York and now even moving westward. With a number of brand gaffes already being reported, the question on the mind of marketers today is: “There’s still an entire world to address isn’t there? Should the social world stop? Is there a good way to tweet or post?”

A crisis creates risk for a brand. Even if they decide not to adjust normal messaging, using the crisis for relevance creates even more risk.

“Brands should be cautious, every bit authentic and shouldn’t be too cavalier in the way they market their product or service during a crisis,” said Kyle Harty, Digital Content Coordinator for the City of Philadelphia.With crises come vulnerabilities and sensitivities-all of which should be respected.”

So with that being said, let’s debate how brands addressed this type of natural disasters this week with Sandy. Below we have pulled some of the best and worst examples of brands coming together.

The Good

1.’s CEO Jason Goldberg updated his blog with a comprehensive status report of Fab, from employees to warehouse, and finally the customers.

2. Kiehl’s

Kiehl’s (based in NYC) is a good example of a brand who sent out an image to their followers to rally support and show compassion without any promotion.

3. American Express

Amex sent out emails to all card members within reasonable distance of areas affected by storms letting them know anything they needed they could help with in case of emergency travel or accommodation plans.

4. Chevrolet

Chevrolet donated 50 Silverados and Express vans to rescue crews in need during Sandy search and recovery operations.

5. Citi

Citi’s corporate HQ is located in NYC, and as an increased commitment to relief efforts, have committed $1Million to the Red Cross relief efforts. Instead of linking to their own site, they encouraged others to join them and donate themselves to the Red Cross.

6. Belvedere Vodka

Belvedere kept it to a simple photo message.


The Bad

1. Gap

Gap checked in on Foursquare to Frankenstorm Apocalypse. Putting aside the plug, there are some places brands shouldn’t check-in on.

2. Men’s Health

No excuses for working out even during a hurricane? How much NikeFuel is burned evacuating the Lower East Side?

3. Starr Restaurants

Starr Restaurants caught quite the heat from fans for bringing in employees to work at their restaurants despite the harsh conditions in Philly. While the company responded here, the damage is already done.

4. American Apparel


Opportunity aside, this email not only calls out the storm, but states affected. The internet has been ablaze with backlash against American Apparel for sending this email during the height of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in NYC.

5. Singer22

Singer22 really just needs to rethink their copywriting with the line “Every cloud has a silver lining.”


How should brands respond?

I asked a couple industry experts, including our own CEO, what they would recommend for brands looking to respond after a crisis.

“You have to put yourself in the shoes of the people affected.” suggests Courtney Livingston, Account Lead at Room 214. “Ask yourself, ‘If my home had just been lost or I wasn’t sure how I was going to get from place to place for a week, would this message be helpful or seem like it was mocking my current situation?'”

“I think the best message during a crisis is that of selfless support, ie no link to buy something. But if I need a hotel, and someone is helping me get one, that is useful. Social networks are not necessarily the best place for that, email might be better where you can target those affected better. For most brands, general statements of support around a crisis are pretty strong, especially if your in that region or connected to those affected in an obvious way.” Jason Keath, CEO Social Fresh. 

How have you or brands you know been communicating this situation throughout their social channels?

What do you think about the good and bad examples we’ve listed above? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, we encourage a robust discussion.


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