Social media is often praised (and often by this writer) as real-time communication. For brands, it is an excellent way to solve customer problems or reach out to them directly for any reason. There is also a backlash, however, when missteps or misinformation go viral. We all saw many instances of this on Monday as Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the Northeast. Many false reports of evacuations came out (even CNN was guilty of this). Many photos of the destruction also went viral. Though most of these images were in fact real, they were just from different times (some months or years ago). It made it difficult to decipher the true information, like the evacuation of NYU Hospital’s NICU and PICU.

In addition to fake photos, two major brands are under fire from their insensitive posts about Hurricane Sandy. Gap and American Apparel made missteps in their messaging, encouraging those indoors and “bored” to shop online:

Social media was useful in helping those in the path of Sandy, especially when it came to people letting friends and family know they were alright. Similarly, politicians were able to tweet messages to those without power. In a haunting post, Govenor Malloy of Connecticut posted these instructions:

Even with this ominous tone, social media was instrumental in getting people the help they needed. Many posted information about shelters being open, which roads/businesses were accessible the day after and more. Being careful with social media in a natural disaster or state of emergency is paramount, as it is out there for the world to see. Individuals as well as brands need to use their best judgment before posting information and clogging news feeds with information that may be incorrect or insensitive. Always erring on the side of caution is not just for storm preparation, but also for social communication.