When I started this, my intention was to focus on how companies manage disaster relief efforts both internally and externally, particularly with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

As I began to reach out to contacts I knew who were impacted, the tragic Las Vegas shooting happened and then the Northern California fires struck, all affecting hundreds of thousands of people and organizations.

While Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a core component of a solid marketing strategy, sharing your organization’s efforts around a disaster plays by a different set of rules. It’s a highly sensitive situation where marketers concerned about brand reputation tread lightly.

In a quest to better understand how recruitment agencies in affected areas managed their disaster relief support efforts, I interviewed three company leaders. A common thread emerged and it’s this:

Have a specific purpose — and stay authentic to your brand.  

Strong internal communications during California wildfires

Bill Peppler is the Managing Partner at Kavaliro, a technology recruitment firm headquartered in Orlando, Florida, with a half dozen offices throughout the U.S. Kavaliro offices were affected by the 2016 violent riots in Charlotte, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, and most recently, the Northern California wildfires.

Here’s what Bill said about all of that:

The silver lining from being affected by so many tragedies is that Kavaliro has built a strong communication system among internal staff, contractors and clients. Community is a company pillar and our primary focus during disastrous times.”

Kavaliro’s efforts started with a simple social media post that read, “Kavaliro’s hearts go out to California. We will do our best to help our California community during this time.” Ongoing efforts, however, were far from simple.

Kavaliro immediately accounted for all internal team members, contractors and clients affected by the fires, opening their Northern California office to those whose sites were shut down to ensure mission-critical work could continue in a safe environment. They remained in constant communication with their internal community and worked with their clients to provide additional resources such as making sure contractors received their weekly paycheck, even if they were unable to work.

Kavaliro felt the stories from their relief efforts were too personal to share on social media, keeping their focus on getting employees, contractors and clients get back on their feet. As a result, Kavaliro strengthened their brand by reinforcing one of their core values: building community.

Harnessing social media for valuable hurricane relief efforts

Colleen Whiteside is a Senior Partner and Marketing Director at Orion Talent, a full-service recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) organization that specializes in military hiring and skilled talent acquisition. Headquartered in Cary, North Carolina, Orion Talent has offices around the country including Houston, where Colleen resides.

When Hurricane Harvey hit, flooding thousands of homes in her town, there was an immediate and overwhelming need for many basic essentials.

A local mom created a Facebook group specifically for donating items to those in need. From that group, Colleen created an Amazon Wish List, and shared this with the internal Orion Talent community as well as on Orion Talent’s Facebook page. As items were donated, Colleen matched them to those with that specific need.

Colleen used Facebook to enable the Orion Talent community to provide hundreds of items to directly support flood victims. Although Colleen shared the wish list link on Orion Talent’s Facebook page to solicit donations, she chose not to share how their efforts positively impacted those affected by the hurricane on social media.

She said:

The story of personal loss experienced from Harvey was not Orion’s to tell. What we share on social media is driven by our goal in sharing, and intent behind it. Due to the personal and direct nature of the help we were providing, sharing on social media would’ve felt disingenuous — the opposite of what this initiative was all about for us.”

Orion Talent used social media to bridge their community to those affected by the hurricane and quietly make a loud impact.

Using social media to inspire others to get involved

Jordan McGuire is Vice President of Marketing at Medix, a leading provider of workforce solutions for clients and candidates across the Healthcare, Scientific and Information Technology industries. Headquartered in Chicago, Medix has 14 offices across the country including Houston.

In response to Hurricane Harvey, the Medix team set out to help Houstonians get back on their feet by organizing an emergency 12-hour fundraiser.

Medix opted to share its efforts on its website, social media channels as well as through emails and newsletters distributed to internal teammates across the country.

She said:

For us, sharing our experiences in Houston with our teammates, talent, clients, friends and families is not self-promotional. It’s a reflection of our core purpose as a company to positively impact lives. It’s less about sharing what “Medix is doing” and more about inspiring good stewardship in all companies and individuals, so that in periods of disaster or tragedy, we can rally together and feed off of positive energy to create true impact in our communities.”

By making their disaster relief efforts a collaborative process, Medix sought to reinforce its employee brand message.

4 ways to balance disaster relief efforts and brand strategy

While we can’t control natural disasters or when tragedy strikes, we can control how we manage our responses by formulating effective disaster relief response guidelines that protect our brands. Here are four (4) things you can do:

  1. Have a specific purpose for sharing information externally on social media. Whether it’s a call to action or a quest to inspire others, have a purpose behind sharing your relief efforts. This allows your organization to be a proponent of corporate social responsibility rather than appearing opportunistic. Medix’s purpose for sharing their relief efforts was to inspire both their internal employees and external community to actively work together to support victims.
  2. Extend your internal resources — Take inventory of every stakeholder including internal employees, contractors, clients and suppliers and see who has capacity and resources to help victims. Part of what made Kavaliro’s Northern California wildfires relief efforts so effective was their ability to extend resources to clients and contractors misplaced by the fires.
  3. Be authentic to your brand — When you get involved with disaster relief efforts, be authentic to your brand in how to share your efforts with internal and external communities. Orion Talent strengthened their brand identity by staying true to their corporate beliefs.
  4. Listen to how employees want to get involved — Whether you offer volunteer release time or help an employee start an internal relief initiative, ask your employees how they want to participate in relief efforts. For Orion Talent, Kavaliro and Medix, employees came together as a community to support a greater cause.

Here’s one more important thing to remember: Inappropriately sharing relief efforts can be a potential disaster. Do it with tact and empathy in a way that is authentic to your brand, and when you do, you strengthen the respect of both your internal AND external communities.

Leslie Vickrey

Leslie Vickrey is a marketing expert and business advisor who began her career with McDonald’s Corporation and Junior Achievement. However, after serving as head of marketing for Spherion’s technology division, Leslie quickly found her niche. Today, as CEO of ClearEdge Marketing, Leslie works closely with leaders in Talent Management and technology to drive business results with strategic marketing programs. Leslie’s passion for creating meaningful connections extends beyond ClearEdge. In 2013, Leslie Co-Founded ARA, a group dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing women in tech. She’s also on the Board of Directors for i.c.stars and Chicago Innovation; was recognized by The Blue Sky Vault, Blue Network, featuring 100 of Chicago’s most compelling innovators and entrepreneurs; is part of UIC Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame; and was named one of the 2016 Enterprising Women of the Year. Follow Leslie on Twitter and LinkedIn to discuss all things Marketing, HR and leadership.