Tips from a Social Media Manager: What Nonprofits Should Not do During a Crisis

Marketing and Social Media

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2020 has not been the best year—especially if you’re a social media manager. It seems like the world goes from one crisis to the next, and each is just as grave as the last. So, whether you’re a social media manager for a large nonprofit or a development officer at a small nonprofit, odds are you’ve been a part of “what do we say?” conversations over the last couple of months. Seeing how other nonprofits and companies respond to the events of 2020 has been a massive lesson in crisis communication. We’ve condensed this lesson to the most noteworthy examples of what not to do so you can ensure your team is headed in the right direction (and hopefully save some of these pointers for a rainy day not in 2020).

1. Don’t get defensive or engage in public debate

As a nonprofit your mission most likely revolves around effecting positive change within your community. Whether you’re rescuing puppies, offering free medical services, or packaging meals for veterans, your mission is focused on doing good. Being right and doing good are two different things. The public communication your organization makes should always remain true to your mission and honor the good work you do. Engaging in public debate as your organization can quickly lead to a downward spiral in which angry voices prevail and the public perception of your nonprofit suffers.

Before responding to public comments or tweets, ask yourself:

Does my response reflect the heart of my nonprofit’s mission and the good we do?

If the answer is “no,” don’t hit send. Pause, take some deep breaths, walk away from your keyboard, and contemplate a different response.

If someone is publicly calling out your organization and is angry, it’s important that you do address the person’s concern. Always take the high road (it truly is the path of least resistance!) and thank the person for bringing their concern to your attention. We recommend the Hug Your Haters rule of two:

“The Hug Your Haters response rule of two is to respond only twice, publicly. Give the agitator two responses, but no more. This demonstrates to anyone watching that you attempted to engage in a productive, constructive way, but also knew when to walk away. Move conversations that are likely to be resolved to an offline channel (direct message, email, phone) after the second response.”

2. Always consider potential backlash before hitting “post”

This might be stressful for you and members of your organization, but believe me, editing your content before it’s sent or goes live is a lot less stressful than managing multiple angry commenters. To avoid posting something that will result in backlash, it pays to consider the worst-case scenario. Keep up with current events and make sure there isn’t anything insensitive or potentially offensive in your planned content. If there’s a chance that something you post might be found offensive, it’s better to edit your wording or avoid making the post.

To help you identify potential backlash, have someone on your team proof your content before it goes live. A second set of eyes is great for catching grammar errors and can be invaluable for providing a second opinion on what might spark backlash.

Everyone has a unique upbringing and set of life experiences—the more experiences you can gather into your content editing process, the more comfort you can take in your content being inclusive and safe from backlash.

3. Don’t delete comments

If you do face backlash on a post, don’t delete the user’s comments unless they violate your organization’s social media policy. Julia Campbell offers great advice on how to create a social media policy if you don’t have one. Basically, if the comment doesn’t contain explicit content (language or images), don’t delete it. One of the biggest perks of social media is the open, two-way communication it offers your organization. Once you begin deleting unpleasant comments, you begin to restrict the biggest perk social media gives organizations—open and personal communication with the public.

Deleting negative comments can result in even more negative comments if your followers are aware that their comments are being deleted. You’re basically fanning the fire. When people feel ignored or like their concerns aren’t being taken seriously, they’re likely to get angrier. Deleting an unpleasant comment produces the same effect. By hiding someone’s concern (as angry or disrespectful as it may be), your nonprofit doesn’t show a true effort to address the angry user’s concerns.


Nonprofit and corporate communications have been impacted by varying crises during 2020. Communication teams across the world have found themselves needing to publicly address issues of diversity, safety, office closures, and more. Addressing these issues is difficult, but by knowing how to effectively communicate with your supporters—and knowing what not to do—the process can be easier.

For more communication insight check out our blog, How to Communicate with Supporters During COVID-19: Nonprofit and Brand Examples or Social Media Horror Stories.

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