Emergency Messaging about hurricanes requires more than great forecasting! It takes a good plan!

Emergency Messaging Basics and Strategies for the Vacation Rental Industry

We have had our share of hurricanes and weather-related emergencies this year! As it is difficult to plan for specific events such as storms, floods and hurricanes, a standing communications an Emergency Messaging Plan to manage information flow during and after a major event can both mitigate the impact of the disruption and improve the speed with which the business recovers.  Creating such a plan before another business disruption occurs or the next big storm arrives removes doubt and confusion about who should be communicating with the outside world.  This decreases the chances that incorrect information gets into public view.

The following outline provides a basic set of considerations for you to craft your own emergency messaging strategy.  If you need help, just contact us!

Pre-Planning the Communication Strategy

Creating the communication and outreach strategies requires careful forethought into who are the important audiences that need to be reached, and what are the best platforms on which to rely. Typically, the important audiences are:

  • Guests
  • Owners
  • Company Staff
  • Local Authorities
  • Media

Once the important audiences are identified, is equally important to create a strategy to reach them, including a back-up strategy should local access to social platforms and the website be disrupted. Focusing on managing two platforms in a crisis-situation can keep the information flow manageable.

The most common platforms for providing customers with information during an emergency or disruption are:

  • Website
  • Facebook

Arranging for Back-Up

Electric power and access to the internet are required to manage these platforms.  Should either of these be in danger of becoming unavailable, a back-up communications source or plan needs to be implemented.  Usually, a source outside of the geographic area – your marketing or PR firm or an individual with full access to the website, Facebook account, email and other social platforms – can post messages, distribute information, modify web page content to keep your readers informed.

What to Say or Share

Keeping readers informed though, requires accurate information. Unfortunately, during times of disruption, getting good information is not easy or may not even be possible to gather. For these instances, it is best to keep the messaging simple and let readers know that you are working to provide them with accurate information.  It is also important to set an expectation of when the next status update will be posted. This keeps your audience honestly informed that you don’t have anything new to tell them and let them know when to expect an update.

Damage isn't something you want to communicate as part of your emergency messaging strategy. There will be time enough during recovery to inform your readers.A good rule of thumb is that you don’t want to share images of damage or stories of difficulty. A simple “we are fine” message – provided that is something you know, works well. Your audience is concerned about people and their welfare, so avoid raising further questions when you post!

Be Careful What You Share

If no one has access to the area and your properties, be careful what you share. Don’t put your properties at risk by alerting the public the area is vacant. Consider what you want to tell the public, your guests and owners. Send relevant information to each group via email lists for owners and upcoming guests.

Other Social Platforms

As time is available, using other social platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter to refer readers to the website or Facebook for information is useful.  Again, be careful about what images are used. Photographs of damage can cause concerns during the recovery phase. How do you get around this?  Many organizations simply post their logos along with their communications on Instagram and Twitter to keep the messaging as positive as possible while still being honest.

Messaging for Your Customer Base

Customers are naturally very interested in what is going on. They want information about the area, the staff and others with whom they’ve developed relationships. Concern for safety is always primary. Statements that the staff is well and all accounted for are useful, provided this information is available.

Always avoid speculation. There will be plenty of time during the recovery to update your audiences about properties, facilities, beaches, and other attractions.

As many organizations now pre-schedule social posts, remember to discontinue the regular posting schedule!  During the fog of an emergency it is easy to forget that you pre-set Facebook posts on Sprout Social, Hootsuite or other scheduling services.

Emergency Messaging to Other Audiences

Although your customers are interested in what is going on, other audiences will be tuning into your communications as well. Local authorities generally monitor information flowing from people and businesses in the impacted area. This helps in the allocation of finite resources and allows them to focus on the most critical concerns.

Company staff and especially property owners are keenly interested in the event as well. Media sources also look for information flowing on social channels to inform their stories. This is an important reminder that every bit of information you release is subject to very wide distribution!

Recovery Messaging

When the event finally ends and danger passes, more information becomes available. Sharing this information should be done carefully, though, as showing damage can make the recovery more challenging. This point in the process allows you to re-engage your social audiences with news of the recovery, interesting stories and ongoing status reports.

Some of the successful recovery messaging we’ve seen involves creating messages around themes like:

  • We are Back in Business
  • All is Well
  • Thank You
  • Support the Recovery
  • Fund Raising
  • Pet Rescue
  • Local (Beach) Conditions
  • Upcoming Events

The “Back in Business” theme suggests that there is a date by which operations will be fully restored or that operations are in fact fully restored. The “All is Well” and “Thank You” themes typically share messages about how the staff and local population is responding and recovering.

We have seen several successful messaging strategies surrounding charitable efforts asking readers to support the recovery. These include general fund-raising requests from reputable, local institutions that you recommend. Pet rescue operations typically interest readers as well. In the end, recovery messaging seeks to rebuild the ongoing social engagement that was in place prior to the disruption.

Email Outreach

Not frequently considered part of an emergency messaging strategy, email is very useful for reaching specific audiences and can be very useful during the recovery phase.  Information of interest to property owners may be distributed only to this group. Customers that have scheduled upcoming vacations may also be contacted with policy and reservation information.  Having your email list segmented into specific audiences allows you to quickly distribute information important to them!

Creating Your Own Plan

Each organization is different. Each set of customers, property owners and staff has their own set of interests. Knowing each of these needs and developing a plan to reach these audiences with information that will be of interest during a business disruption can be unique to each organization. Creating an emergency messaging management plan prior to one of these unfortunate events occurring can keep audiences informed as well as enable a more rapid and organized recovery

Need help utilizing or growing your social channels?  Contact Blizzard Internet Marketing today and let us answer your questions.