Image: Mogo Zoo, Chris Staples (Donate to Mogo Zoo’s Official Recovery Fund )
In what is typically a time for relaxation, reflection and renewal, the new year – and new decade – in Australia has commenced with the nation’s attention firmly focussed on the bushfire crisis unfolding across the country.
Our Christmas holiday period and carefree quintessential Aussie summer break by the beach or ‘up the river’ has been overshadowed by the disastrous realities gripping many communities.
Fires have been burning since September in northern NSW (including the Hunter region).
Days before Christmas an inferno swept through the Adelaide Hills wine region.
On New Year’s Eve emergency struck in Victoria’s Gippsland region, southern NSW and Kangaroo Island.
WA and Qld have also not been without incident.
At current count, Wikipedia advises some 8.4 million hectares (20.8 million acres) has been destroyed together with over 2,500 buildings (over 1,300 houses).
Twenty five human lives have been lost and in NSW alone, an estimated half a billion animals have perished.
The heroes are those on the front line – the volunteer firefighters who fight tirelessly in horrific conditions, their families who kiss them goodbye and anxiously wait for them to return, the volunteers at evacuation centres and control centres helping people and animals. Our thoughts are with them constantly. Our appreciation immense.
Given the magnitude of the bushfire crisis, it’s almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t been directly or indirectly impacted by the disaster personally or amongst their family and friends.
At PG HQ we’re heartbroken for everyone impacted and for the losses experienced. We have clients and friends who have been affected and are still under threat all around the country – and this is just the beginning of the fire season.
It is fair to say Australia is hurting.
What those on the front line and those directly impacted are going through is unthinkable. It’s been likened to an atomic bomb – war conditions. Unimaginable.
The rest of the country watches on with helplessness, sorrow and anger.
Undeniably, it is a sensitive time. Emotions are high and fatigue is setting in – there are differing views. Debate, arguments and outrage will emerge, especially online – it already is. But clearly this is a ‘long haul’ scenario. It’s not the time for conflict amongst ourselves – it is the time to come together, build our sense of community and support one another. It will be a long, long time before the dust settles.
People feel motivated to act. They want to help.
We have been asked about the best way for businesses to respond and engage at this time. Many of our clients and people within our networks feel compelled to assist – but what is appropriate? What is the best way to engage? How can they help?
From a business perspective, whilst not a strict fit, it is somewhat helpful to draw on the theory of cause-related marketing – where businesses and not-for-profits (or causes) collaborate.
To navigate this landscape as a business is tricky, but the rule of thumb before acting will be to ask:
- Am I being genuine and authentic?
- Is this sensitive?
- Is this helpful? Meaningful?
If it is – then it’s okay to proceed. But continue to monitor the social responses and be aware of community reactions.
If you’re in doubt, run your idea past a friend or trusted colleague and ask for their feedback.
- Acknowledge the Crisis
If you haven’t already, acknowledge the bushfire crisis on your business’ social media platforms. It shows that your business is relatable, personal, human!
- Keep your message simple, be personal, be factual, be genuine.
- Make sure whatever image you’re using is current (related to the current 2019/2020 situation) and legitimate (not photoshopped) and credit the source.
- Link to where people can donate to fundraising efforts (make sure it is a credible source).
Social media is a conversation. It makes sense for an event as significant as this to be part of your conversation online. Be prepared to respond to and acknowledge comments on your page.
Consider whether to make political statements or comments. This might not be appropriate or a good fit for your brand. Proceed with caution.
You don’t need to share content beyond that – unless it is specifically related to your business, or your business is impacted or able to assist directly.
- What about my current marketing activity?
It may seem inappropriate to market and sell at a time like this, however day to day activities still need to occur. People still have businesses to run, employees still have bills to pay, people still need consumables etc.
So whilst it may be worth re-thinking or holding off on massive new launches and campaigns, regular, planned marketing activity is still appropriate. Life still does go on.
It is worth reviewing any content for inappropriate words or images to make sure that content that was pre-planned, created and scheduled is not insensitive in the current climate. Think about the context and use of phrases like ‘on fire’ or the use of the fire emoji even.
- What should my business do?
Repeatedly we’re told that the aid organisations and these communities need immediately is money.
There are many, many reputable and credible aid organisations already equipped and mobilised to respond and help in crisis situations. You can help these organisations by donating directly to them (it’s tax deductible) promoting them on your social media and telling your audience how they can directly donate too. Examples include:
Each of the state based volunteer fire services have bushfire appeals:
Foodbank Australia is accepting donations of money and goods.
Red Cross is calling for blood donations.
Celebrities and personalities have been using their influence to raise funds. Comedian Celeste Barber identified that her international followers couldn’t donate to Australian organisations so she set up a Facebook Fundraiser which has currently attracted donations of more than $42 million from her global audience. You can donate here.
Motivated by Tegan Webber’s #GoWithEmptyEskys (encouraging people to visit and support the regions when the crisis is over to boost the local economies) and @buyfromthebush, Turia Pitt and Grace McBride created @spendwiththem an Instagram page highlighting businesses who have directly been impacted by the bushfires to provide direct consumer contact and support.
So amongst all the destruction and devastation some really positive and meaningful initiatives have been supported and emerged. The content already exists. There are plenty for you to share and promote to your audiences.
- What about my own business’ fundraiser?
Your business can donate directly to any of the charities above. Most accept financial donations and there are many organisations collecting donations of goods, services, experiences etc to auction for fundraisers in the future such as the Adelaide Hills Wine Region’s Bush Fire Appeal.
If you still want to raise funds directly by your business, there are a few options businesses are already implementing, but you need to consider them for appropriateness, sensitivity and to ensure that it doesn’t appear that your brand is profiteering from the events. The objective must always be sincere and be to raise awareness of the events and the way people can contribute – not to promote your brand.
Appropriate options may include:
- If you have a large audience – set up your own Facebook fundraiser and then donate the money to one of the other appeals. Just like Celeste did – She’s set the bar high. Good luck!
- Donate 100% off profits from sales for a fixed period (say 24 – 48 hours) to the appeal or 100% of profits from one product (say a certain label of wine) to the appeal. That way it is simple, transparent and people are clear about what you’re promising. Back it up by showing how much was raised and that the donation was actually made. Donating 10% of profits still means 90% profit to you and may be seen as trying to use the event to drive sales, not donations which may be damaging.
- Donate services. Offer your services or expertise in return for a donation by getting people to donate a certain amount to a bushfire appeal and then provide them with your service. For example provide a night’s accommodation at your B&B in exchange for a donation of $200. Or donate your services directly to people or businesses who will benefit. For example a freight business offering to transport donations to bushfire affected areas or evacuation centre.
- Corporate volunteer days. Allow your staff paid work day(s) to volunteer with BlazeAid or other bush fire relief centres– sorting donations at Foodbank or other collection points, or caring for injured animals at wildlife rescue centres.
Of course, any of these strategies can result in content and photos which can be shared on social media, but remember to do it appropriately and sensitively to promote the cause, not your business.
If you do get comments on your page be sure to respond whether they’re positive or negative. If they’re negative, hit the pause button for a while – don’t respond immediately. Take time to consider how to best handle it… usually it’s best to acknowledge it and invite the person to take the conversation off line or agree to disagree. Continuing to engage is not necessary or helpful usually.
- Can I just do nothing online?
Yes. You can. That’s a perfectly valid option. You can quietly donate or support in the way of your choosing and remain silent publicly.
However, given that almost everyone in Australia is impacted directly or indirectly in some way, as a good corporate citizen it is appropriate for most businesses to at least acknowledge the crisis and convey sympathies even if they don’t promote any other support that they may or may not offer.
There are many other ways that people are supporting and contributing and it truly is inspiring in the face of such tragedy to watch the Aussie spirit rise up and triumph.