A Guide for Brands on How to Do Social Media in the Wake of a National Tragedy

A Guide for Brands on How to Do Social Media in the Wake of a National Tragedy

Yesterday, an unimaginable tragedy shook a small town in Connecticut and subsequently, the rest of the nation. As I watched the news unfold and read reactions online, I was reminded of how one tweet or status update during a time of crisis can have serious repercussions for both brands and individuals.

In recent memory, there have been several instances of misguided conduct on social media in the wake of a national news event or tragedy (See: Celeb Boutique ‘Aurora’ dress, Kenneth Cole, KitchenAid and American Apparel). As such, I wanted to share some tips on the appropriate way brand managers should use social media immediately following the announcement of a major event or crisis.

We live within a culture that would rather be first than right, one in which everyone feels the need to comment or analyze a situation before all of the facts are known. And no matter how small or inconsequential you think your actions are, your thoughts,  ideas and comments can spread like wildfire and lead to a domino effect of misinformation.

So it is extremely important for all of us, during times of crisis, to tweet, tumbl, like, post and pin responsibly.

how to do social media

Deactivate scheduled or automated updates
As soon as you learn about a major national or local tragedy you should immediately deactivate any program or plug-in you use that sends out scheduled or automated updates to your social media platforms. You should also check your settings pages on each platform to temporarily revoke permission for any of your connected apps that push updates out onto your timelines or news feeds (Check out: MyPermissions.org).

When a major national event takes place and everyone is using social media to post their reaction or understanding of the event, it makes you/your brand look insensitive when scheduled updates or irrelevant information continues to appear.

Unlink social media pages
Many brands link their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so when you update one the other is automatically updated as well. This is a strategy that I do not recommend as each platform has a different format and audience. However, it is a common practice.

If the bulk of the public response to a tragic event is taking place on one platform such as Twitter, you may think that it is safe to post updates to your other social media pages. Before you do that, make sure that these updates aren’t being pushed to any other destination.

It is also important to make sure that if you’re charged with updating a brand’s social media accounts during a major event that your personal accounts aren’t also open on the same dashboard or app. If they are, it becomes much easier for a message meant for your personal account to inadvertently appear on the brand’s page, which we’ve seen happen many times before (See: KitchenAid)

If you’re going to make a statement, make it brief
It is human nature to want to comment on a major event. And if you represent a brand in this space, your customers or clients may be looking for you to make some type of statement. If it makes sense for the brand to do so, make it brief.

Do not attempt to analyze or make updates about the event from the brand’s official social media pages
You may be tempted to discuss and make sense of the event, but unless the product or service you are selling is absolutely relevant, do not do this. Also, if the product or service you are selling is relevant to the event, think twice before doing this.

You may even want to reconsider talking about it on your personal accounts, because whatever you say in the public domain can still have an adverse affect on you and the brand(s) you represent.

Do not use the event as a tie-in to brand-related deals or news
We’ve seen this countless times before, when a brand jumps on a trending topic or national news event to send a tongue-in-cheek update about a sale or product before (or in spite of their) understanding the magnitude of what’s going on.

In the case of the Aurora theater shooting, an online clothing boutique saw that the word ‘aurora’ was trending and wrongly assumed that people may like a dress in their line by the same name. After superstorm Sandy ravaged the east coast, American Apparel thought it would be clever to create a ‘Hurricane Sandy’ sale. Both of these instances were met with a tremendous amount of backlash.

So if you feel like you should send out a clever or funny update, please refer to the above examples beforehand and reconsider. 

If your business is affected by the event, direct consumers to a statement on your company’s website
If your business is impacted by the event (ie. area lockdown and store closures or your employees are involved), use social media to direct consumers to a long form breakdown of the situation on your company’s website or blog. And make sure you’re monitoring your feed and sending as many links to the official statement as necessary.

Don’t automatically assume that the people tweeting or retweeting your brand’s account for information have read your timeline to see that a statement has been made.

Consider holding off on posting any brand news or conducting media outreach out of respect for all of those involved in the tragedy
Too many people express condolences and then go back to business as usual, but sometimes your customers, clients or followers may not have gotten there yet and you don’t want to make the mistake of offending anyone.

Internally, you should discuss a timeline to determine when it’ll be appropriate to resume normal business activities on social media. This timeline should also extend to your media outreach.

 If you have additional tips or suggestions, put it in the comments.