Breaking news: how to handle when it hits your non-profit

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Since it's debate season and election season this winter, you may be wondering how your non-profit can take part in larger news events. Will they mention your issue on the next debate? Or will the work that you do wind up unexpectedly in headline news? It's important to build a contingency plan before you need it, so you don't miss out on the opportunity.

If you're in the middle of a crisis or a major event such as a debate, the best thing to do is put out factual news information first on social media. That is where people expect breaking news these days: Twitter especially, but also Facebook. The more unbiased your details, the more likely it will be widely shared (think like a news reporter for this: report just the facts ma'am, and make sure you have references so you don't get ahead of the story and say something wrong.) If there are known hashtags (especially for events like debates, there will be), be sure to use those - but if you are breaking news, there may not be any hashtags in wide use yet. So feel free to use something #appropriate, and maybe others will follow suit. If you're livetweeting or Facebooking an event, be sure to share photos too if you can.

After the immediate breaking news is done, we're starting to get into the analysis part of the news cycle. First, share a simple message of condolence or a thank you as appropriate (i.e. shout out to Oprah on Twitter and Facebook in thanks for her mentioning you, if you're lucky maybe she'll even retweet or share). Use the appropriate hashtags, so you can be a part of the larger national conversation on social media. If it's appropriate, this could also be a time to point out what WASN'T asked at the debate or press conference etc.

If you have facts to contribute to the discussion, be sure to share those out (be following the hashtag discussion on Facebook and Twitter). For example if you work for an environmental organization and there's been an oil spill, have graphics already ready to go for social media on oil spill costs, cleanup options etc. (If your issue is such that you know you will be facing incidents again and again, it's good to have evergreen factsheets and graphics ready for when the next incident happens.) For a debate or forum, if you know your opponent's talking points and can fact check as it happens, that's ideal. After the fact is still good too, if you can do it before all the reporters hit their deadlines. When news is breaking, there's usually a lot of misinformation being passed around and you can step up to be a reliable source to the conversation. Make sure you post a URL along with fact snippets, so people know where to go for the reference material (and also if they want to become a part of your organization).

If there's an action step associated with your issue, have that ready to go (as much as possible). You can launch a petition or action on your own CRM pretty quickly usually, but MoveOn/ etc. have an approvals process for their system and it won't be so instant. You can update the backing text on a MoveOn petition instantly (if it's already approved and launched), but the petition piece itself can't be changed. This may be a good time to share older petitions back out on social media, if they have new life. Be sure to nudge partners (if you're using MoveOn, Change, Credo etc.'s petition tools) to let them know the petition is taking off again. It may make sense to do some paid promotion on Facebook etc. too, if the issue is hot again.

Reach out to larger organizations that are paying attention to your issue now. Many large multi-issue organizations may pay attention only during the moment (they have huge memberships and don't focus on just 1 thing day to day). Now is your time to get their attention and maybe work together on something. It's helpful to have built those relationships ahead of time, rather than trying to get their attention in the middle of a crisis.

This is also your chance to potentially engage with major influencers on Twitter. If the country is talking about an issue, various "celebrities" often will be too.

As long as your issue is being talked about in the national conversation, you should try to stay a part of it. Follow all the appropriate tags on social media, pay attention to what the journalists are saying and the latest updates on the story. You can keep adding to that via social media, and you'll see your audience and engagement grow, if you're adding value rather than a "me too".

This also may be an opportunity to build stronger relationships with your supporters. If a lot of people are commenting and sharing your posts on Facebook and tweeting at you on Twitter, feel free to respond, retweet, follow back etc. Show that you're a real person behind the organization, not a P.R. bot.

Don't forget to handle the flood of new people to your organization or campaign. You should send an update email to your list, and more intro-level social media than you would usually. Assume that many people are coming to your issue fresh, and they don't have all the background knowledge you might have. If you want your new supporters to stick around, then it's worth trying to gently bring them up to speed on where you're at on the issue. More advice on non-profit crisis and live event communications here.

Popular in the Community