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Responding to Tragedy on Social Media: A Brand’s Guide

The worst mass shooting in our nation’s history killed 50 innocent people and wounded 53 – suddenly that tweet promoting your blog on the top 5 ways to drive traffic to your site is irrelevant. When your entire timeline on Twitter and Facebook is being flooded with people mourning, the last thing you want is for your brand to come off as tone deaf (at best) and insulting (at worst), by tweeting and posting promotional content.

Social media isn’t a 9-5 job. Life happens outside of that time block, and as social media managers, our job is to always be plugged into what’s happening in the news so that we can react to it in a timely manner. We’ve blogged about real time marketing and how it can be a clever way to capitalize on a pop-culture moment (think Oreo’s dunk in the dark Superbowl Tweet). But what about when tragedy strikes? How should brands respond to catastrophes like the Orlando shooting?

Step 1: Delete All Scheduled Posts for the Day

You MUST delete all of your scheduled updates as soon as you hear the news. When an entire nation is processing a horrific tragedy, the last thing you want to be doing is promoting your brand or posting about industry news. Embrace the silence and let it be. If you use Buffer as a scheduling tool, there is a pause button product on their roadmap that is being voted on. So rather than deleting the day’s posts, you can pause the activity and turn it back on when appropriate. If you use Sprout Social, you can turn the scheduled post into a draft and come back to it later. 

Step 2:  Be Personal, Be Human

If your brand decides to respond to the event, make sure you do everything in your power to ensure that the message is personal, deeply empathetic, and human. Oftentimes, people are wary of brands that tweet about events because of the assumption that they are trying to capitalize. Do everything in your power to dispel that idea. Leave the branded details out of your message. Don’t use your logo on the image, and don’t use your brand’s hashtag. Simply offer your condolences and let people know there is a real-life, breathing human behind the handle. This is not about brand exposure. This is not about capitalizing on a real-time event. This is about mourning together as a nation. If you are tweeting for the wrong reasons, it’s best to not comment at all.

Step 3: Help, If You Can

If your brand has a service that can help people, roll up your sleeves and be of service to the community. A great example of this is when Tide, Starbucks, and local brands helped the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy when they provided access to phones, clothing, and food. This active and helpful form of brand exposure breeds more brand loyalty and shows more empathy than any well thought out tweet or Facebook post ever could. If you cannot offer this kind of monetary help, showcase the companies that do.

Real-time engagement can be a double-edged sword. It’s a great tool for brands to be creative and to capitalize on the positive cultural moments, but it’s just as important for each brand to have a strategy for responding to the bad ones – even if that strategy is just remaining silent and staying out of the way.