The First Responder in Weather-Related Crisis Communications: Social Media
Last fall, hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria made names for themselves in the Caribbean and U.S. As hotels were unfortunately pummeled with Category 5 hurricanes, many people turned to social media for updates.
Followers and concerned parties want — and expect — timely updates. While challenges are unavoidable, a hotel’s ability (or lack thereof) to effectively communicate critical information can affect its brand reputation, guest relationships and long-term revenue.
After a weather-related crisis, the last thing you want to add is a communications disaster. Follow these tips for preparing a plan, preventing mishaps and effectively interacting with followers and guests.
Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
Social media managers serve as the liaison between the hotel and guests. In an era where people demand immediate news, preparing a communications strategy prior to the hurricane is essential.
A proactive approach will expedite the communication to guests and industry partners after the disaster. A list of next steps and sample messaging should be created based on various outcomes. While specifics clearly cannot be determined prior to the hurricane, the plan should still be reviewed with the general manager, lead reservationist and any decision makers. Then, after the storm’s passing, committing to decisions should be a top priority so the message can be quickly finalized and disseminated.
Don’t Let the Bots Take Control
Long before any weather-related incident has been detected, your hotel may have secured coverage with industry partners or news outlets. Many companies schedule their automated social media days and weeks in advance. Therefore, they may not realize their casual post featuring your hotel conflicts with a real-time weather crisis.
Inform staff and vendors that scheduled social media posts should be checked and placed on hold until after the resort conditions have been confirmed. If automated posts are published, this situation can quickly transform into a crisis of its own. Others are likely to comment on the insensitivity and poor timing, and your hotel could also receive some backlash.
Communicate with Compassion, Positivity and Effectiveness
POSTS BEFORE THE STORM: Inform followers that the hurricane is approaching and thank your followers for any well wishes you’ve received.
NEWS AFTER THE STORM: Share all relevant updates from your communications plan. Include a status on staff member’s safety, the hotel’s condition and any contingency plans. And, remain sensitive to any affected hotels or destinations.
ONGOING UPDATES: After there’s been time to thoroughly assess the situation and attend to operational needs, take a few pictures that can be shared online. If your hotel is still open, feature shots with guests to verify it is business as usual and everyone is still enjoying their experience. If there is minor damage, show the dedicated staff working hard to clean the resort. Or, as major repairs are underway and conditions improve, show pictures to demonstrate your progress.
Stay Connected 24/7
Before, during and after the hurricane, your Facebook inbox is likely to be flooded with messages. While some notes may not require an immediate response, or you may be waiting for the situation to be assessed, you can’t ignore the inbox.
If the hotel’s lines of communication are inaccessible, you’ll receive even more inquiries, including those from journalists. Actively monitor the messages, and respond as quickly as possible. If you don’t know the answer yet, it’s OK to be honest or to clarify you are off-property (for those with remote communications teams). Acknowledge the request, and follow up as soon as you can.
Let’s Get Real
Before you respond to private messages, see where else that individual interacted with the resort. Are they a past guest? Did they donate to your hotel’s fundraising campaign for relief efforts? If so, subtly mention it in your response.
Then, while the property and damage are assessed, patience will diminish quickly (especially for those with reservations). Pushing out your initial carefully-crafted message won’t be enough. Follow-up questions and requests are inevitable, and as a social media manager (who is likely off property), you may not be able to answer everything. Keep some of the small updates and less engaging photos in your back pocket. You may not have the exact info guests are requesting, but additional information will keep your followers (somewhat) satisfied.
The Bottom Line
Guests with upcoming stays want insight on how their experience will be affected, and social media is a valuable tool to complement efforts to contact guests personally by phone or email. If you cannot effectively provide this information, the relationship suffers. On the other hand, a strong and accommodating guest interaction can go a long way, as personal endorsements have a higher ROI.
Every interaction can affect your hotel’s reputation, guest relationships and revenue, so take preventative measures, form a plan, and provide meaningful updates. Hurricanes are unpredictable and devastating, but your social media interactions don’t have to be.