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Communicating In A Crisis

An undeniable consequence of the rise of social media coinciding with a period of global political upheaval is that each new day presents countless opportunities for our leaders to embarrass themselves online.

The most recent example of a day with more opportunities than most was June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion that had been upheld for decades. The online reactions were swift — and, predictably, some were more well-received than others.

In a since-deleted tweet, Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) offered this on the afternoon of June 24, hours after the Supreme Court decision:

The tweet was immediately and widely panned. “We on our own [for real for real]” tweeted one concerned citizen in response.

Based on the reactions to Rep. Levin’s tweet, it would be easy to assume that his yoga moment was the only statement he made on June 24. But before #AsanasWithAndy was published that afternoon, Rep. Levin tweeted several times about the Supreme Court decision, with messaging that would probably have been much more encouraging to his audience — if only they had seen it.

Before it was deleted, #AsanasWithAndy had been retweeted or quote tweeted over 800 times — a level of engagement significantly higher than normal for this account. It’s unlikely that most of the people who saw the yoga tweet knew that Rep. Levin had already made several statements about abortion rights, or that #AsanasWithAndy was something that the congressman had just started doing about a week prior, as a way to commit to health and engage with people online.

Knowing this, the June 24 #AsanasWithAndy tweet makes a lot more sense. It’s a little bit easier to understand why a congressman with modest-to-average Twitter engagement would opt to continue his newly-launched yoga series, even in the wake of what Rep. Levin himself called “a total and blatant violation of human rights” that “further delegitimizes the highest court in the land.”

Hopefully, #AsanasWithAndy will resume without further controversy. In the meantime, it’s worth pointing out a few ways the whole debacle could have been avoided. Here are some key tips for communicating in a crisis:

Stop business as usual.

A global pandemic. A violent failed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Major events that disrupt daily life — literally and immediately or in people’s hearts and minds — require disruption of daily content. If anyone on the team has said, “Do you think we should hold off on posting ___?” you probably should. Or you should at least discuss it. More than likely, whatever you planned to launch can wait, and the negative consequences of delay will be far less harmful than going viral for the wrong reasons.

Know your role.

No one would look to Planned Parenthood for the definitive statement on climate activism, just like no one would look to the Sunrise Movement for the one and only message on reproductive rights. However, we’re all part of the same broader movement to build a more just, equitable, and liveable world. Make sure your messaging aligns with that of leaders in the space — and don’t be afraid to defer to them. Many Democratic campaigns caught heat for trying to fundraise off the heels of the Supreme Court ruling. Had those campaigns instead lifted up abortion funds (alongside details on how they plan to use their power to fight for reproductive justice) they may have avoided drawing the ire of their base — and raised money in the process.

An email from Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona asked supporters to donate directly to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Morgan Abraham, running for Arizona State Senate, did not include any donation asks, just a header that links to his campaign page.

Embrace authenticity and don’t delay for the sakE OF Perfection.

Oftentimes, organizations are so caught up trying to communicate perfectly that they miss opportunities to connect with people in an authentic way. There’s no harm in a statement that communicates, “We are shocked and horrified by the news. We’re still figuring out how to best respond. Here’s what we know and believe for sure.” Even if a full commitment or statement will require more time, don’t keep your audience waiting too long before letting them know you are there. Stay silent too long and your audience may start to come up with ideas about why they haven’t heard from you that are way worse than a yet-to-be-approved Google Doc.

Further reading:

If you’re ready to grow your audience, raise more money, increase engagement, and run a digital program that meets the moment, we can help. Set up a free strategy call with our team to get started.


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