Facebook on phone and computer screen
From providing factual updates to using the platform for the good of the public, there several ways to properly and efficiently use your business's Facebook page during a crisis. — Getty Images

Social media is a great way to speak to your customers directly when crisis hits. Your owned media — platforms and pages where you control the messaging – gives your business an opportunity to connect with customers, support each other, and provide relevant updates as the situation evolves.

Facebook is unique in its ability to foster community, but experts warn that the commenting capability can create trouble if not managed properly. Here’s what to know about using Facebook to communicate during a crisis.

[Read more: How to Stay Connected to Your Customers During the Coronavirus Outbreak]

First steps to Facebook posting in a crisis

Tim O’Brien, founder and crisis PR consultant at O’Brien Communications, says it’s important to control the conversation on your Facebook page from the very first sign of crisis.

“People tend to go to Facebook for information and community. Your posts are just as important as the comments below it. And while other social platforms include comments, Facebook tends to be the more dominant platform where comments in a thread give a post its leverage. As more people comment, you see a heightened sense of community,” O’Brien told CO—.

That community is valuable, but be aware that without proactive management from your team, the community can quickly turn against you. A recent study by Global Web Index found that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, just 37% of consumers worldwide thought that brands should continue advertising as usual. You must pause your posting schedule, address your community directly and use your Facebook page to communicate clearly with your response to the crisis.

“Revisit scheduled posts, err on the side of caution, don’t make it about you,” said O’Brien. “During a crisis, it’s never about you. It’s always about those who are impacted by the crisis. Be sensitive to that throughout.”

[Read more: 15 Examples of How Companies Are Communicating with Customers About Coronavirus]

Provide factual updates

Sharon Lee Thony, digital marketing consultant, told CO— that customers will visit your Facebook page in search of current operations-related updates. “They'll want to know if your hours of operation have changed, if your products or services are different due to the crisis, or sometimes, simply, how your employees are doing,” she said.

That’s not to say you should turn your Facebook page into a general news site. “Resisting the spread of misinformation on social media has been a vital issue for platforms, government, and brands these past few years. But in a crisis, bad information doesn’t merely damage reputations, it can be outright dangerous,” wrote the experts at Hootsuite.

Stick to posting updates specific to your business: what you’re doing to manage the crisis, how you’re changing your operations and ways your customers can support your team and the larger community.

Want to learn more about how to re-connect with customers post-pandemic? Watch this episode of our CO— Blueprint series on re-engaging with your customers.

During a crisis, it’s never about you. It’s always about those who are impacted by the crisis.

Tim O’Brien, founder, O’Brien Communications

Coronavirus Guide for Small Businesses

CO— is working to bring you the best resources and information to help you navigate this challenging time. Read on for our complete coronavirus coverage.

Share posting guidelines

“Since Facebook activity will happen with or without your organization’s involvement, you have to know that if handled properly, this can create a positive sense of community. If handled improperly by the moderators, it can devolve into bickering and worse,” said O’Brien.

Create a set of rules for your team and for your followers outlining what content will and will not be tolerated. If you plan on reserving the right to remove certain types of content, be clear in your posting guidelines what that means. Make sure the rules are posted publicly so there’s no confusion over why a comment or post was removed. Your social media team must follow the same rules to which you ask your followers to adhere.

Use your community for the public good

The community that exists on your Facebook page can be hugely beneficial in a crisis. Show your compassion and think about ways you can leverage your Facebook fans to support the broader community. If appropriate, consider tapping followers on your Facebook page to:

  • Organize resources for those in need, such as canned foods or cleaning supplies.
  • Share the names of organizations you’re working with to give back, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Promote a GoFundMe or Kickstarter for a local charity or for employees who need extra help.
  • Share (vetted) resources that others can take advantage of, such as food delivery options or a running list of businesses that are still open.

In a crisis, people like to feel like they’re being useful. Your business can become a resource for those in need by mobilizing your Facebook page to do something good for the community.

Don’t neglect customer service

At the end of the day, you’re still running a business and you need a way to address customers’ concerns. “Many businesses are using Facebook's chat function to provide customer service in real time,” says Thony. She suggests that small business owners enable an auto-response tool on Facebook Messenger to quickly answer customers’ frequently asked questions. Check out this guide from Facebook to learn more about how to set up an autoresponder in Facebook Messenger.

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