World Events, Social Media & Corporate Messaging: A Three Step Guide
When conducting media training, we guide executives through communication and self-regulation exercises to know what to say and when to stop talking. These same principles apply to corporate communications and social media in times of global crisis. The pressure to comment or post on big new stories, take a stance on an issue, or insert your company into the conversation can be compelling. Before you post, however, you must make sure you have something real and appropriate to say.
As the war between Israel and Hamas dominates headlines, organizations are feeling the pressure to speak out. This is not the only time – even this year – that current events have seemed to demand that companies make a statement. Internal team members may be asking what your company is going to say, or board members might be demanding communication go out. How do you balance your corporate voice with the gravity of world events? It’s an extremely difficult decision, and companies often struggle to find the right words.
As communications practitioners, this has been a common discussion for the Caster Crew. We’ve pulled together three steps to help guide your communication strategy and keep you from making some faux pas that could make your brand look foolish, disingenuous, or completely out of touch.
Step One: Read the Room.
Paying attention to your employees and customers is always important, but during a crisis, it is critical. As you consider whether to issue a response, weigh how events are impacting your customers, partners, and team members. Here are some questions to ask your leadership teams as you consider a post or statement:
Who might be hurt by our silence?
Who might be hurt by our statement?
What does our statement contribute?
Do we know what we’re talking about (e.g., are all the things we’re addressing well-established facts)?
If we choose not to make a statement, do we need to do anything else to demonstrate respect for the moment?
Talk these questions over with your teams and your PR teams to help determine the best way to navigate.
You should also take a moment to analyze your current communication schedule through this lens: Maybe it’s not the best time to run a big product sale or post silly photos from the company Halloween party.
Step Two: Analyze Your Authenticity.
Posting for the sake of posting is never a great strategy – but it can be alluring if you see statements from competitors and peers about a recent news story. First, take a pause. The most effective way for brands to communicate is with authenticity.
For example, consider how companies commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As PR Daily outlined:
“Some organizations have profound connections to 9/11. Financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald had its offices in the North Tower and lost the majority of its New York workforce, some 658 souls. The company now spends the day making major donations to disaster relief charities. American Airlines and United Airlines both saw their planes turned into bombs, leaving their employees and customers dead. In 2021, United Airlines unveiled a memorial garden for their crew who were killed.
These are solemn and appropriate responses from companies that can never fully escape the shadow of 9/11.”
If your company is connected to a particular event or news cycle on a deep level, you likely should address it – but your communications strategy around the event should be well-vetted and considered, never just a quick knee-jerk reaction.
Another way to authentically connect the dots is to reflect on your company’s values. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla shared a statement on the Israel-Gaza War on LinkedIn with this approach:
“I’m heartbroken to hear the terrible news of war in Israel and grief-stricken by the loss of life, the threat to safety, and the fear and uncertainty that has invaded our shared community.
At Pfizer, we are committed to protecting and saving lives, and dedicated to the health and well-being of people around the world. Actions that are geared towards inflicting bloodshed, harm and death are antithetical to our work and to our values.
My heart goes out to our Pfizer colleagues in Israel. “
Honest self-reflection is essential: Not every event has an authentic connection to your company. If you are having doubts about what your corporate voice can bring to the conversation, pause. Walking back a statement is infinitely harder than taking the time to get it right the first time.
Step 3: Establish a Policy
When devastating things happen, it’s normal to want to speak out. When issued from a company, platform, however, a tone-deaf or insensitive statement can have far-reaching consequences. Companies and institutions have struggled profoundly with how to address the Israel-Hamas War, hurting their stakeholders and themselves with their words and their silence alike. In the age of the social media, a controversial stance has a long half-life, and audiences have the power to hold organizations accountable.
In times of crisis, it’s extremely beneficial to have a clear policy on whether your company addresses world events and why. For example, Williams College President Maud Mandel has publicly announced that she will no longer make any statements on any domestic or international matters.
“I have become convinced that such comments do more harm than good,” she said. “They support some members of our community in particular moments while intentionally or unintentionally leaving out others. They give some issues great visibility while leaving others unseen.”
Mandel has established her policy moving forward, which provides clarity. Policies can evolve with your company, but starting with a baseline for how your company approaches big news events will serve as a compass to guide your teams to true North.
The hard truth is, there will always be a global crisis. If you have questions about setting a policy, media training your executives, or speaking with authenticity, get in touch.