How to Best Utilize Social Media During Disasters

December 21, 2017 | Featured Articles

Download PDF

As you probably already know, social media is a powerful tool for communicating and connecting with your patients and community. When a disastrous event occurs, people feel distressed and worried. Before, during and after a disaster, you will want to make sure you engage online — this is an opportunity to be a voice of support and guidance in your community.

Facebook’s “Safety Check” Feature

People turn to social media during a time of a disaster, crisis or a dangerous attack to check for news updates and the safety of their family and friends. They also use it to mark themselves safe so that their family and friends can have the peace of mind. As a physician or office manager, you may also want to utilize the “safety check” feature on Facebook. Doing this is very simple. Facebook will create a “safety check” page when it is notified of a disaster or a dangerous incident within your community and/or when a number of users create posts about it. You will receive a notification to either mark yourself as safe or request help. Facebook sends these notifications to users in the location of the incident but you must have your location listed on your profile to receive the “safety check” notification. When you click on it, you will be taken to the “safety check” page where you can mark yourself safe and have the option to post a message. A message expressing your hopes that families are safe, and how you can be reached is a fast and easy way to show support. It will then be posted automatically on your timeline and sent as a notification to the people on your “Friends” list.

Online Resources

For certain events such as hurricanes or tornadoes, you can prepare in advance. Websites such as offers updates on various types of emergencies including severe weather, earthquakes, fires, bioterrorism, explosions, floods and more. You can also sign up for free wireless emergency alerts that are sent to your phone. There are also tips for planning ahead and resources to share on social media, such as emergency plans for parents and children. Families will want information on what they can to do to protect their loved ones and themselves, and where they can go to for help. Sharing helpful resources from trusted sources is a great way to offer additional guidance. For example, pediatric practices can find many guides for specific types of disasters on Healthy Children, such as this article on getting your family prepared for a disaster, an earthquake disaster fact sheet, and a terrorism disaster fact sheet.

What and How to Communicate on Social Media During Disasters

At the time of a crisis, the first step to take is to postpone any scheduled posts that are not related to the disaster. Your posts during a disaster should be focused on your concern for the wellbeing of your patients and community. Relevant and appropriate posts include real-time updates about on what’s going on with your practice —if your office needs to be closed or has a power outage, it is important that patients know that your practice is unavailable. Take it a step further by mentioning alternative options such as local hospitals or clinics in the area. Be sure to post regular updates so your patients don’t have to search for this information.

If your office is open and functioning, let patients know what your hours are, and any changes or limitations as a result of the disaster. Your posts should include information about how to book appointments or get in touch with the practice (particularly if regular lines of communication are down). Reassure your patients that they can reach you through your social media or any other alternate means of communication you are using. 

If you are unsure of when your office will open again, encourage your followers to keep an eye on your page for announcements. Sharing these types of updates keeps your patients informed and can help cut down on high call volumes.

Consistent Communication is Key

Make sure that you’re consistently active on social media, checking for and responding to messages promptly during a disaster. If you use Twitter, you can search for keywords and hashtags associated with the event and participate in the online discussions. For both Facebook and Twitter, you can follow local and state emergency accounts for news and share these directly to your social pages. Be sure to only share information from trusted sources.

Helping Families Cope During and Following a Disaster

In addition to updates on practice hours and available services, this is also a good time to share helpful tips on what families can do to brave through the event and how parents can comfort their children. Whenever something tragic or a violent incident happens, many children feel traumatized, confused, scared, anxious and upset. They may have a difficult time understanding what’s going on and parents may be unsure on the best ways to help their kids cope and have a conversation with them about what happened. There is a wealth of information online for parents on how to help their children cope with a tragic event or disaster. Bookmark this article from Healthy Children about ways to support kids and talk to them about disasters so you have the link handy should you ever need it. 

Disasters are always distressing events and the resulting chaos and trauma can last long after the event is over. Families and communities may be struggling with loss and the stress of getting life back to normal and may have to make long-term adjustments. As a medical practice, you can be a voice that provides tremendous support and be an area of guidance for your community to minimize the impact of disasters. Utilizing social media effectively is an essential part of your disaster plans. Done right, it can literally be a lifeline for patients in need.

Social Media Checklist:

1. Use Facebook’s “Safety Check” tool to mark yourself safe and voice your support for your community and families.

2.  Postpone all social updates that are not tied in with the disaster. If the disaster is predicted in advance, sign up for the alerts on sites like and begin posting resources and tips for your followers on what they can do to prepare ahead of time.

3. Inform your patients if your office needs to be closed for a period of time, or if your phone lines are down.  Inform patients of any limitations on the services you can provide. Suggest alternative solutions for families to get the help they need. If your practice is available, let patients know how they can book appointments.

4. Reassure patients that you will be checking in and updating your social pages often.

5. Consistently follow and share local and state emergency accounts for news.

6. Post tips and guides on how people can cope during and after the disaster. Continue posting these following the incident, as patients will want guidance on how to cope with the aftermath.

7. Remember that your social accounts may receive a volume of inquiries and concerns. Be sure to respond to these in a timely fashion.