This week the state has seen historic rainfall and flooding. In Columbia, SC we have seen 11 dam breaches and at least 15 deaths to date. With evacuations and devastation on the news 24/7, emotions are running high.
So, its no wonder we have seen some epic successes and failures in the ways businesses used their social media accounts and websites to communicate.
Among the Successes
Local news shows, radio stations and their employees
The persistence, dedication, and humanity of local on air personalities, as well as the staff supporting them, has been nothing short of miraculous. They battled through fatigue (working long hours of constantly evolving information), emotion (watching their own friends and family members lose everything while keeping it together for the viewers), and frustration (I can't count how many times I heard Dawndy Mercer Plank tell viewers to just stay off the roads, only to flash to a new picture of another car stuck in water.)
LESSON: Show up and do your best. Best is the enemy of better in these situations - people don't need polish as much as they need information. Drink lots of coffee and do the work until you can go home and take a nap.
Harvest Hope Food Bank (HarvestHope.org)
My new friends at Harvest Hope have done an admirable job keeping eager donors and volunteers informed about needs. But I was even more impressed when I found out that their marketing director started his new job Wednesday, and the state of emergency was declared on Thursday last week. Thoroughly impressive! I am watching for great things from Ash Little at Harvest Hope. In the meantime, continue to donate at HarvestHope.org.
LESSON: Bloom where you are planted. I doubt anyone could have predicted the situation Ash found himself in during his first days at his new job. No one would have blamed him for going home and saying 'hey, let's try again next week...' But he took put his big boy pants on and fielded interviews with local and national news, sought out opportunities to talk about how the community could get involved, and in general made a real difference.
Totino's Pizza and The Totino's Pizza Lady
When this video clip went viral it was her positive attitude, and love for her doggies and Totino's pizza that gave us all something to smile about.
Afterward, Totino's apparently made contact with the Red Cross to offer disaster recovery relief funds. Classy move, and the right way to handle the extra publicity.
LESSON: Make it about helping, not about your brand.
Among the Failures
Companies using paid content promotion inappropriately
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now allow advertisers to target ads based on user behavior, geography, and more. This also means ads to specific areas can be TURNED OFF during times like this. Unfortunately, a lot of national brands did not take the opportunity to stop serving ads to us. At times this led to wildly inappropriate content shown in our social feeds during a trying time.
And on the other side of that, some companies actually promoted ads to our area BECAUSE of the flood. There are probably ways this could be used appropriately. However, Duke Energy's paid promotion of this tweet asking people to follow them on Twitter in order to be kept up to date on "storm updates, breaking news, " ... AND ... "energy efficiency tips and more." rubbed me the wrong way. The whole "energy efficiency tips and more" piece gives a little clue that they are using the storm as a way to add to their Twitter followers. It just seemed inappropriate to me.
(Pet peeve alert!! Please, don't ever say 'and more' in your marketing. Ever. No really, ever. If there is 'more', please spell it out or leave it alone. 'And more' is a total waste of 8 characters, and it makes you look like you aren't sure what you offer.)
Al Roker's Smiling Selfie on Twitter
If you missed this here it is. Now on some level I get it - he covers a lot of weather and a lot of tragedies. I have a feeling he has become desensitized. But on the other hand - it's really inappropriate. I mean just look at it. THERE IS A CAR IN A RIVER BACK THERE! Damn.
There is a win here. The apology and retreat was handled beautifully. He said it was inappropriate, admitted he was wrong, and left town. He did NOT try to defend himself (which would have just inflamed the situation.) His apology was sincere and timely.
LESSON: When you screw up apologize, don't try to defend your position, and lay low until the tide goes out.
The Columbia Marriott v. Justin Britt
Then there's the Columbia Marriott's public feud with Justin Britt. Oh man.
So Justin Britt shows up at the Marriott in the middle of a mandatory evacuation with partner, kids, and pets in tow. And apparently, he was unceremoniously turned away because of the pets. It seems to me this would have all blown over with the storm except for 2 things:
1 - Justin Britt knows a lot of people, and
2 - the Marriott showed lack of professionalism and truly bad judgement in their public handling of the shit-storm that followed.
I am not going to detail it all out here (truthfully I don't know all of the details), but I have heard that the Marriott deleted posts, shut their social media accounts down, and yelled at the intern that was handling their social media. A Marriott supporter made a post on the Marriott's Facebook page that disclosed Mr. Britt and his family's address and disparaged the impact the flood had on them.
This story resonated with a lot of people. Those people made a lot of posts. So not all of the social media was under the control of the Marriott OR Mr. Britt. But since this is a post about business online content, let's talk about the business's handling of this situation.
LESSON: Train the person charged with posting your online content. Your online content (website, social, email) is the first thing many customers see. In many cases, it will make the first impression, and it will help people decide whether or not to do business with you. Are you really going to leave this up to an intern? Or an assistant? Or your cousins wife? Invest some money in a professional content manager, or get your content manager some training.
LESSON: Don't attempt to control social media by deleting or planting posts. A professional knows you can't control the conversation. You can only show up and be a part of it. Embrace that fact.
LESSON: Apologize (see the Al Roker section...) OK, so there is a whole debate over whether the Marriott did anything wrong in putting policy over people in this situation. Did the manager have the authority to override corporate policy? I don't know. But I know this - a lot of people felt strongly that the decision to turn this family away was wrong. When public sentiment turns against you, you need to look in the mirror. The people turning against you are the people that keep you in business. Who do you really work for? Apologize and get on with your life, already.
South Carolina can be really proud of our handling of the floods as a state. We came together, protected each other, and helped out wherever we could. There was no looting and very few reports of opportunistic crime. Our businesses donated time and money with abandon.
At the end of the day, the internet content mistakes that were made could have been avoided. Businesses, support your social and website content producers with training!
Leave your comments and additions here. And please share this article with others. Let's continue the discussion in order to learn and grow.
Kelly Coulter is a marketing consultant and coach with almost 20 years experience helping businesses win customers online.