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

by Nick Cicero on Nov 01, 2012
See top industry experts speak at Social Fresh 2017 in Orlando, Dec 8-9:
Microsoft, MGM Resorts, Purdue University, Charity Water, A&E Network, Pfizer, Fidelity Investments, Georgetown University, Cisco, Wounded Warrior Project, GE Digital, and more.
>> Reserve your seat today

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.

Post Author

Nick Cicero is the Editor at Social Fresh and a Digital Marketing Consultant. Formerly of Expion and Livefyre, Nick has experience building social campaigns for Sony PlayStation, Winn-Dixie, Eminem, Teen Vogue and more. He’s a fan of playing...

  • I think it is sad to see marketers use a tragic event like Sandy for profit reasons. On the other hand, reaching out by volunteering resources as a charitable donation to help victims of damaging events can certainly be done tastefully and truly helpful to those in need.

  • Great post- thanks, Nick!

  • Agree!

  • I tweeted when I read my Oct. 30 email from @LillyPulitzer that said, While your stuck inside weathering the storm, escape to Palm Beach & shop our latest collection. Lilly Pulitzer had a cold and callus public relations approach, using Sandy as a guise to free shipping. Their customer base is aimed at teens, who were out of school, and college kids. Clearly Lilly the brand made it clear they were about making money from Sandy. I now will no longer support or buy from this long time loved brand.

  • Great post, Nick. I wonder if crisis communications should be in place for situations other than direct company issues. Maybe we should start following crisis communication standards for any type of ‘crisis’ we want to comment on as a brand, no matter if it’s directly related to the brand itself.
    For example, starting Sunday we sent out well-wishes and thoughts to those in the path of Sandy & those affected, but after the hurricane hit we knew a lot of our clients would be in-need. Like our crisis communications plan, one person was not responsible for making this communication decision, we discussed as a group to determine how we could let our clients know we’re here for them & can build complimentary lists, distribution or other services if they have a professional need they are not able to fulfill following the hurricane.
    It was this group that made all the difference. The first message had to be revised because it sounded self-serving, and that was not the intention. Because we had a larger group approving, I think it leaves less room for error. The writer often knows what they’re trying to convey and may have a hard time seeing that their message could offend, since they know their goal was to help.
    Thank you for compiling the collection above; it’s a good reminder of the power of words and shows that branding & converting doesn’t have to be the No. 1 goal, especially in a crisis.
    PS. How are you doing? Hope you and yours are OK and your community/state can rebuild quickly.

  • Wow, thanks Barbara…not a smart move at all.

  • Great post, Nick. Excellent research.

  • I think it is a little sad that these companies cannot just send out a message stating their concerns for those affected by the storm. When people’s lives are at stake, it is not exactly the best time to try and advertise your product. I would much rather buy from a company I saw doing something to help the victims of hurricane Sandy rather than making a statement only to get their name and product out there