Updated January 28, 2020

If you’re a hospital, community health center or other public health organization, your social media strategy should include a contingency plan for disasters and health emergencies.

Ask yourself this question: Would you wait for the morning paper to get the latest news on the impending storm, if all of your friends were chatting about it on Facebook? People no longer wait for information, and if you don’t step in as a voice of authority, others will.  Even the New England Journal of Medicine has chimed in with this report on how health workers should use social media for emergency preparedness. FEMA, too, offers this social media training course for emergency responders.

Your marketing department may not be on the front lines, but it should still integrate a disaster response plan into its overall digital content strategy.

When do we use a social media plan for disaster response?

Don’t allow yourself to become the Hospital Who Cried Wolf on your Twitter feed. Be smart about what constitutes a real medical emergency, but also savvy enough to be tuned into what the public really cares about.

Here are some examples:

  • Any weather event, like hurricanes, tornados or wildfires
  • In case of an outbreak (like coronovirus) or epidemic, or to warn of one
  • When you need blood donors, perhaps after a natural disaster or mass shooting
  • Major pharmaceutical recalls and infections

Top 5 ways to manage health emergencies with social media

Use the channels you may already have: your social networking sites and mobile apps. These channels allow users to share information in real-time, which is key when disaster strikes.

Here’s how your existing social media channels can perform double-duty:

  • Start using Facebook and Twitter right away, and devote enough personnel to the job so your updates provide fast, real-time info. Think minute by minute, not once an hour.
  • Share information about what your own hospital is doing or needs, but don’t be shy about sharing crucial information from other, trusted followers, like the American Red Cross or your local enforcement. This way, you can become an official voice of authority. 
  • Have a hospital blog format ready for cross-posting your updates. Consider temporarily highlighting this blog on your homepage, where it has high visibility.
  • Be set up for email updates – see a basic example here used by Florida veterans hospitals –  but provide options. Allow users to receive real-time updates or to get them compiled as a list of headlines sent out every 30 minutes or hour. Make this email signup a constant feature on your website because people may not find it when they need it.
  • Consider push notifications for your mobile users so they can receive text-message updates. And remember that other hospital mobile apps – ER wait times, for example – may have been created for patient convenience, but can be crucial at times like these.
  • Don’t wait till the eve of a large storm to have a communication plan in place.

If people are seeking critical emergency news, they will start following you, and will continue to do so once the emergency has passed. Make yourself a trusted source of valuable information, and you will increase traffic and engagement to all of your content.



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