Last week when two terrorists attacked and killed 14 people and wounded scores of others in San Bernadino, the story took control of all major media. Cable news networks went live non-stop. Regular programming on the major networks was preempted by “Special Reports.” The Internet lit up with information, news, speculation, commentary and even efforts by people directly affected to connect with family and friends.
Through it all, the world continued to turn, companies continued to operate, and communications programs continued to churn out content. Much of this was automated. Thanks to a range of technological platforms, we can create and schedule content to post on Web sites and social media platforms well in advance.
We can go into meetings, sit in on conference calls, or hop on jets without knowing what’s happening in the real world, at least for an hour or two, and rest assured that our communications programs will roll on. Yet all too often, we have seen how the world can change in far less than that hour we may have been out of pocket.
With this in mind, we should know by now there is a need to have in place some protocols when big changes happen that are beyond our control. I’m talking about those times when some man-made or even natural disaster takes over the news cycle. These are events that in an instant can change the entire landscape for communication. And it’s for these moments we need to be prepared to adjust.
Here are five things to do when tragedy takes over the news cycle:
- Check your social media program – Be prepared to freeze your social media posts. You may need to put a stop on all of your scheduled social media posts and rethink any that you may have been prepared to send manually. Take into consideration the larger events in the news, and determine whether this is a good time to post. Even if it does make sense to continue posting as normal, make sure that whatever you do post does not send a message of tone-deafness or insensitivity. On the flip side, be very careful if you wish to comment on events making news. The most well-meaning expressions of empathy can backfire if not handled the right way.
- Are you participating in any live events? If you are already participating in a live event that’s taking place when something serious happens in another part of the world and takes over the public consciousness, be prepared to readjust your tone. If you’re giving a speech or hosting a conference at that time, you may need to provide an announcement to those in attendance of what may be happening. In cases where significant loss of life has occurred, be prepared to incorporate a moment of silence into your program. Those are just two actions that may be appropriate to consider. The unique circumstances of each situation will likely govern an appropriate response.
- You may need to stop the presses. If you have a press release in the cue, there is a very good chance it will get lost in the newsroom chaos of the day. Reconsider the timing of your news release, and perhaps reschedule it for another time.
- Respect your workplace community. When major events happen outside the workplace, that’s often when we are reminded that a workplace is a community and sometimes it needs to come together so that people can provide reassurance to each other and cope. This can be a very constructive and necessary process for group dynamics. To try to ignore what’s happening outside your walls and follow a “get back to work” mentality, could miss a real opportunity to connect with your people at a substantive level.
- Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to help. If the tragedy is a natural disaster and there is a chance there will be a need for volunteers, or for food or blood drives, be prepared to do what makes the most sense. Of course, it’s never a good idea to try to start implementing these activities while events are unfolding and people have not yet had a chance to grasp the gravity of the event. But be prepared to respond shortly after, when the need for help in the recovery efforts intensifies. This, too, helps foster a sense of community in your own organization.
Regardless of your organization and where it is located, with the omnipresence of smart phones, computers and live access to breaking news just about everywhere, we have never been closer to tragedy wherever it happens. Once we understand this, we may be more prepared to respond in the most appropriate way for each situation.