National tragedies were once an unusual event. Companies had time to think of a response and send out their neatly-worded condolences to all those involved. Now these tragedies unfold day after day after day. There is no grace period to react and no time for companies to dawdle. Reactions are a tricky rope to walk for brands. Words must be chosen incredibly carefully so as to not offend. With tragedies becoming the norm all over the country, we asked entrepreneurs and business owners their tips on how best to react during these tumultuous times via social media.
#1 – Don’t Seek Benefits
An initial thought is to avoid tying in tragedy to your brand in order to keep things positive but brands that resonate with people are those with personality and if there’s personality this means there is a face behind the brand that people relate to. Being real and personable helps brands connect with their audience on a deeper level so acknowledging the tragedy and saying simple words of positivity is a good idea. No need to get into the details or share an opinion but showing that you are thinking about those who suffered or are suffering loss shows respect and a level of humanism in the brand. Brands can take it a step further and act to help (e.g. post on social media that the whole company team will donate blood or a portion of sales will be donated to the victims families/red Cross/etc.). Overall, don’t shy away from not saying anything on social media because you don’t think it’s business related. In the end acknowledging the tragedy is a decent thing to do but don’t do it for self-fulfilling benefits to your brand. Mentioning a kind thought should be intended for just that. To be kind, supportive, and respectful.
Thanks to Tasha Mayberry, Social Media 22
#2 – Legitimate Help
Whether that’s an organization pledging help to victims or a large corporation pledging to fight for new laws and regulations. Avoid simply seeking attention or just offering condolences. If it could possibly come across as hollow, it very well might. Understand that during times like this that social media is filled with outrage, and unless you’re part of a solution, you’re not going to be seen as much help. If you don’t know how you can offer legitimate help as a brand, avoid the topic
Thanks to Alex H. Bryant, BA Strategies
#3 – Stay Silent
When there is a national tragedy, we advise brands to stay silent on social media. These means putting all scheduled posts on pause and stay abreast of the news and sentiment. After a few days, it is appropriate to offer condolences to your community and determine how the company as a whole can provide support through charitable service or donation. It is imperative to not be quick to post branded imagery during a difficult time or tie the event to your brand in a way that would be insensitive.
Thanks to David Hernandez, lotus823
#4 – Be Conservative
Brands should be very conservative in any public reaction to national tragedies. A guiding principle is to avoid any action or expression that could be perceived as having a commercial interest. Marketers should immediately re-consider any marketing campaigns, including social media, underway or about to begin, for appropriateness amid the new context. If you’re unsure, as to whether or not a campaign is appropriate, it may be wise to delay or postpone the launch. Generally, I advise brands to avoid public expressions in the wake of tragedy. If there’s a way for a brand to assist with action, that’s usually proper, and more importantly needed. However, brands should just provide that assistance quietly. It’s not a moment for a humble brag.
Thanks to Frank Strong, Sword and the Script Media, LLC
#5 – Show Sincere Support
As global atrocities are happening all over the world, I have been asked this question by many of my clients on how we should address this on social media. I always begin by saying to show your support to the families and friends of the victims. I feel it is best for the brand/organization to remain positive and suggest supportive words. An example would be: I want to express my deepest sympathy to the families and friends of the victims who lost their lives at Club Pulse over the weekend. This horrific tragedy is devastating for all of us as a nation and we will do all we can to stand together and show love and respect to all.
Thanks to MJ Pedone, Indra Public
#6 – Bond Communities
Social media is at the heart of our business model, and as such it was imperative to connect with our community in response to the recent attack in Orlando. We were able to use our social outlets as a platform to bond our community in an opportunity to donate to the Orlando community, by deciding to donate proceeds of our “Look for Helpers” carrier sales to Equality Florida, who is managing a fundraiser for the victims and families of the attack. We also allow our social media communities to be a space where our community can reflect on tragedies like this one, and allow our members to comfort each other and bond.
Thanks to Christian Piencka, Baby Tula
#7 – No Promotional Messages
Here are the times it is appropriate to post something as your brand during a crisis: 1) You have an office or location in the area affected and need to communicate information about that location (hours open or closed, for example). 2) You have employees that are directly affected and need to communicate messages to them or about them. 3) If you have a global presence and wish to share messages from one office to another in an affected area, these messages could be of comfort to your employees. Proceed with care here, this one is a gray area that wouldn’t work for all brands. In general, I believe brands are best served by not inserting promotional messages into moments of crisis (and really, any brand social media post is under it all promotional). Many will be turning to social media to read the latest news, and further crowding the timeline with irrelevant information is more likely to cause negative sentiment than positive sentiment. However, if you are going to participate I would ultimately take the opportunity to emphasize the human elements of your company as in moments like these we are all looking to humanity to prove itself just a little bit better.
Thanks to Michelle LeBlanc, Industrium
#8 – Be Consistent
In the age of real-time responses and emoji-laden messaging, being a brand can be hard. CEO’s and Business Owners have to help shape the communication strategies and brand voice for good times and bad — often in real-time. Nowhere is it harder to know what to do then when a national tragedy occurs. The keys to successfully managing your company’s brand reaction at these difficult times balance on 3 key tips. First, make a decision about whether your brand will communicate during tragedies. You don’t have to communicate anything specific about the tragedy. Second, be consistent. If you are going to react to tragedies you have to be careful not to be selective. Brands get in trouble for this all the time. Third, always focus your reaction on being compassionate to the victims and their loved ones and the first-responders. Don’t address political issues which might be controversial or those who might have caused the tragedy. In all of your reactions, the key is to be genuine and authentic to who your brand represents.
Thanks to Seth Waite, RevUnit
#9 – Know the Facts
Before a business decides to react on social media about a national tragedy they must ensure they have all the facts before making any sort of comments. Nothing is worse than a business commenting about a rumor that later turns out to be false. Some events are so painful and tragic it’s difficult not to react emotionally and instinctively. Depending on the industry your business participates in you may be able to contribute more than just a few comments on social media. In other cases a respectful acknowledgement of the victims in the tragedy will be appropriate. Make sure your message is genuine and please refrain from making a comment if your business sees this as an opportunity to join the trending topic. If your business is perceived as exploiting a tragedy it will forever damage your brand reputation. National tragedies are always a sensitive topic especially when a business makes a comment. Understanding the fine lines will help your business react in the appropriate manner.
Thanks to Lisa Chu, Black N Bianco Kids Apparel
#10 – Be Natural
In this environment it may be best to say nothing at all. Think about it. When a national tragedy occurs, the news and social media spheres are going to be absolutely flooded. News coverage is going to be non-stop, and people quickly tire of talking heads who insist on adding their voices when there’s nothing new to report. Making a statement can come off as disingenuous, or even as cynical bandwagoning if you’re not careful. Be particularly sensitive if your business doesn’t have a natural connection to the tragedy. If you want my advice, only post when your business has a genuine link to the event. Did it occur in the city where you’re based? Did it affect someone who works for you? These are the questions you need to be asking. The connection doesn’t have to be intensely personal, but it does have to be natural.
Thanks to Colin McLeod, Felahy Employment Lawyers
#11 – Listen on Social Media
For many businesses and brands silence seems to be the approach taken when addressing a difficult situation, whether it’s an unhappy customer or a national tragedy that has undoubtedly impacted your customers. Yet, silence although the easiest reaction can be detrimental to your business and brand. Instead, brands should take this opportunity to listen to their audience on social media and recognize the pain, stress, fear and slew of emotions their audience is feeling after a national tragedy. The brand should acknowledge their followers and their feelings by sharing a post about the tragedy–while shying away from controversial or political topics if they will alienate segments of their audience. Instead the post should focus more on acknowledging the the impact the tragedy has had on their audience and the nation as a whole (which the brand is a part of).
Thanks to Arsineh Ghazarian, Zveil
#12 – Understand Boundaries
Brands that have tried to leverage national tragedy for marketing have faced backlash (Hurricane Sandy sales, Boston Massacre tees after bombings). In the case of recent Black Lives Matters protests, it was clear that brands supported the sides of the coin that aligned with their values. It’s important that companies consider the implication of making a public statement and whether their audience stands by what is being said, or whether it will alienate them. In a situation where the loss an of life is involved, it is safe to express condolences publicly, but a bit more touchy to go further into sharing a political and religious stand on the issue.
Thanks to Jasmine Powers, J Powers Marketing & Publicity
#13 – Offer Value
Brands should react to tragedies by offering something of value. If you can donate or stand for something of value it goes a long way. I remember Kevin Durant tweeting that he was going to donate money after a Tornado impacted Oklahoma years ago, and it still resonates with me when I think about him today. Simply stating that you’re praying, or that you’re sending best wishes is a solid gesture, but it isn’t enough coming from a brand. Offer value.
Thanks to Vincent Vitale, Fount
#14 – Display Humanity
A brand’s reaction on social media to a tragedy should depend on: what type of emotion/reaction it wishes to evoke, the severity and complexity of the tragedy, and how close it hits home/how relevant the brand is to the issue. In my opinion, brands that are able to portray the intrinsic humanity that created them in the first place (brands, in essence are about capturing and connecting with a set of human emotions) are the ones that come across as more authentic and ultimately succeed in social media. For national tragedies or events that affect a vast number of people, brands should minimally (and with the appropriate tone) acknowledge the issue and express empathy for those affected. If the tragedy happened near the brand (in either a physical or psychographic space), the brand should draft a POV regarding the issue and, beyond empathy, offer some help (which can take many forms: connecting people to donation pages, offering education around an issue, etc). *
Thanks to Sylvia Vaquer, SocioFabrica
#15 – Real Empathy
They need to react sincerely, authentically and sympathetically. Often just a “Our hearts to out to….. who suffered this terrible tragedy” is a simple and heartfelt way of connecting without sounding cheap or fake. Never try to plug your name or your brand in the messaging. i.e. “Whipple Peanut Butter is saddened to hear about the tragedy etc etc” as it dehumanizes the brand and it also cheapens the message. And don’t try to show people how sad you are by how much you are donating, i.e. “Whipple Peanut Butter is donating $10,000 to the tragedy. Our hearts are with you.” If the people behind the keyboards of these brands can act with real feeling and empathy, the messages should come out sounding appropriate for the situation.
Thanks to Callum Beattie, Honest Agency