The world is on edge right now, but business owners need to continue telling their brand’s story on social media.
Your audience is listening, and you have to keep its members interested or they’ll look for new stories.
So how does a brand navigate a supercharged storm of emotion and avoid negative reactions?
Right now, it’s very tough to know how emotional, angry, stressed people will react, but your business can take some steps to avoid problems.
Here are eight social media tips for business owners in times of turmoil.
8 Social Media Tips for Business Owners
1. Take an Extra Minute to Remove Emotion
Fifty years ago, it was a lot harder to get a message out. It took more time to communicate, and a lot of angry, reactive words were left unpublished because people had time to reconsider the wisdom of lashing out.
Not so these days.
Social media is instant. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn—you have the ability to positively affect, or enrage, thousands of people in seconds.
In chaotic times, swift responses are often needed, and sometimes it pays to be the first to speak. But it’s usually wise to step back for a moment before hitting “post.” Remove emotion and reconsider what you’re about to say.
If your calm, detached mind says, “This is what I must do,” then publish. But if it says, “You seem really angry and might regret this in 10 minutes,” reconsider.
Once a tweet is out in the world, you can’t control what happens, so it’s best to think twice before publishing.
2. Research, Don’t React
Time is sometimes short, but it’s always worth doing a little research to see how others are handling a situation.
This isn’t to say you should copy others or just go with the flow. People are hypersensitive to inauthenticity on social media, and you need to act according to your own moral compass.
But it’s always worth seeing how creative, socially conscious, well-established brands communicate with their audiences on critical issues. It’s also worth taking the temperature of the public to see how people react to social media posts. That way you can plan your own strategy.
For example, during the immediate response to the murder of George Floyd, some companies issued powerful, on-brand statements that were well received. Others who had good intentions received criticism for posting messages that looked self-promotional or used the wrong language or hashtags. And others stayed silent—with some receiving criticism for doing so.
When considering a response, scroll through your feed to see what’s being well received and what’s being attacked. Never go against your values or what’s right. But do some research so you’re informed and know how to clearly convey your message to an emotional audience.
3. Get a Second Opinion
Not sure what to say?
Ask the most reasonable people you know to review your post. If they wince, you might want to reconsider.
Editing by committee seldom works, so asking your entire staff “what should we say?” is not a good idea. But the well-considered, objective opinions of intelligent, sensitive, detached, educated people can help you figure out how to navigate a challenging situation.
4. When in Doubt, Keep It Short
The more complex the issue, the harder it is to post about it on social media.
When people are angry or afraid, they’ll seize upon anything a lash out. So stay in your lane and post only about things you are sure of. Don’t guess on Facebook and Twitter.
There is a time and place for a 1,000-word short essay, but if you’re feeling uncertain about the finer points of an issue, keep it short.
For example, what if there’s a local labor dispute and you have striking workers and administrative personnel in your audience? Unless you’re an expert, you’ll likely struggle if you get into the details. And you might offend both sides at once.
In that situation, it might be best just to say something simple that doesn’t provoke anyone: “We know it’s a tough time for everyone. We’re committed to providing all our members with the best hour of the day.”
Read: “How to Win Enemies and Influence No One in Social Media”
5. Consider Your Audience
Social media crusaders exist. They go out of their way to target brands and attack them.
For example, a nutrition business once posted a picture of a woman being active outside in a winter coat. A random person from another country seized upon the fur trim around the coat’s hood and started making political statements about animal cruelty. This is “trolling.” The person had no interest in the account or its content and was only there to raise a single unrelated issue.
Some people will attack you no matter what you post. That’s annoying but less concerning than upsetting existing clients or members of your target audience.
When you post, think of your client avatars. How will your perfect clients react to your post? You can dodge, deal with or ignore rocks thrown by trolls who will find a new target soon, but enraged ideal clients might sink your business.
6. Pass on Politics Unless You Want to Speak—or Have To
Unless you want to limit your market, it’s best not to make your business a political platform.
Michael Jordan famously said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” The line was discussed in the documentary “The Last Dance,” and Jordan said it was spoken in jest. He wanted to be a basketball player, not an activist.
But that doesn’t change the principle: Making your brand political will limit your audience. Think of divisive, emotionally charged issues such as abortion and gun control. It’s very difficult to navigate these issues without offending one side or the other. So it’s often wise to avoid making political statements.
That said, in the current climate consumers often demand that brands speak out, and those that remain silent can be painted as “accepting an unacceptable status quo”—even when they don’t. You don’t have to speak up if you don’t want to, but be sure to research how silence is perceived. Sometimes even “apolitical brands” must take a stand.
And if you do want to speak out, that’s fine, too. Just know that doing so has consequences. In some cases, you might want to create a niche audience and be “the clear choice of everyone who believes X but not Y.” But in other cases, you might want to sell widgets to members of Group X and Group Y.
7. Know When to Stay Silent
Sometimes it’s wise to just stop posting on social media.
For example, when everyone is posting about a certain important issue, your business can look tone-deaf or insensitive by taking to Facebook to talk about socks at 50 percent off.
When major issues charge up the public, it’s worth re-evaluating your publishing schedule and making smart adjustments.
No one wants to be seen as fiddling while Rome burns.
Read: “How to Avoid Sounding Tone-Deaf During the COVID-19 Shutdown”
8. Stay on Brand
Branding is a continuous process. It never ends.
If you believe that and constantly keep your messaging on brand—on and off social media—you’ll be in better shape during challenging times.
Brands that show consistency are usually supported by strong mission and value statements (Two-Brain Business helps owners create them). These guiding goals influence output, establish credibility and can be used for support when storms appear.
For example, think about a brand that was founded on being welcoming to all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. Or consider a brand that was founded on taking an unapologetic stance on a certain issue—like the environment. How about a third brand that is 100 percent dedicated to health and never speaks about anything else?
Each would have “bedrock” from which to operate in a chaotic situation.
The best brands know exactly what they stand for and how they communicate, and when events spiral out of control, they can rely on decisions made long ago in times of calm.
Read: “Vision and Values—Aligning the V’s”
Social Media for Business Owners: Care, Consistency and Consideration
As stressful times continue, follow the advice above when plotting a course.
You can’t control the storm on social media, but you can plan ahead to avoid getting blown into the rocks.