How should your business respond to tragic events on social media?

Posted: 26th May 2017

How should your business respond to tragic events on social media?

The tragic events in Manchester was shocking but also disturbingly familiar. There have been too many atrocities, too many silences, too many occasions which require us to show our solidarity with others. On Tuesday, I found myself implementing my emergency procedure on clients’ behalf with the depressing knowledge that I have done it too many times of late.

It is also striking how much social media comes into its own in times of crisis. Not as a marketing tool, an advertising platform or a PR machine, but a vehicle for letting loved ones know that we are safe, that we are loved.

Yes there are the odd Twitter trolls peddling hate, but the overwhelming feeling was one of togetherness and hope. Strangers come together to offer condolence and search for meaning or understanding. Much good can be done and long may it continue.

From a professional point of view, brands have to tread incredibly carefully in such difficult times. It’s easy to seem crass, insensitive or downright offensive, and there are plenty of social media posts to make one wince.

I spent most of my career in television, so the drill is instinctive. What have we got coming up? What needs to change? What needs to go in its place? It helps, to be honest, to have something that feels like automatic pilot which you don’t have to think about too much.

Every business reacts differently, obviously, and everyone on the receiving end will react differently too, so these are very much my personal sensibilities, and those which I hope my clients share.

Thought 1 – Turn it all off

Whenever there is a major event, my immediate action is to turn off the scheduled posts for all of my clients posts. This is to give me some breathing space, consult clients and decide the most appropriate response.

If your social media is run by a team, have this conversation beforehand. Let them all know that if an incident happens, that is the drill until you can give it some thought.

Tip: If you use Buffer or Hootsuite, there’s no button for this but you can dive into your schedule and just unclick today’s day. On Edgar, there is a handy ‘pause queue’ button (Buffer please take note)

Thought 2 – Make a thoughtful decision

Different situations require responses, and this is really up to your judgement – but please make a judgement and don’t let things drift along.

For me, the events in Manchester were so horrific, and so close to home, that I didn’t feel business as usual was appropriate. People were using Twitter and Facebook to find loved ones, to express grief, to try and process the trauma that had happened. Even those who were not directly involved the world seemed to have paused for a while and absorb what was happening. With these feelings, no one really cared about scheduled tweets promoting your latest service or special offer. No one really gave a stuff about your latest blog post. All of my clients’ (and my) planned marketing content was turned off for 24 hours.  My newsletter which was due to go out was paused until the following day, and my latest article went unpromoted. It may sound harsh, but those companies that didn’t felt insensitive and a little complacent. Yes business has to continue, but actually, does it really?

If you decide that the incident is not a critical one, then there is no need to take everything down for a day, but do make sure you run through your scheduled posts to make sure that there is nothing jarring or insensitive which suddenly seems inappropriate.

Thought 3 – Create a response

Businesses are run by people, and we are all as capable as each other at expressing sympathy, empathy and sadness. Don’t feel you can’t make any comment at all, indeed it might seem odd if events go completely unreferenced. Your business has values, and if those are values of compassion then there is no reason not to share them.

It sounds cynical but I have a collection of appropriate images and quotes to use which I can locate easily. You will also find that very quickly, there will be sentiments and images that rise to the surface, that you can add your voice to. #StandTogether is good example.

Tip: Many companies create something quickly in Canva or Photoshop. If you’re going to create images or quotes to use, don’t put your logo on them. I think it looks crass, others may disagree but they’re wrong.

Tip: Brand accounts are not the place for controversial political opinions. ‘Our thoughts are with the victims’, or other messages of support should be your main priority

Thought 4 – Talk to people

We are all human, and we all want to engage with other people, especially in times of sadness. I was alone in the office on Tuesday and found social media invaluable for finding likeminded people to collectively exhale with, whether business associates or not.

If your business is in a position to help, then please offer to help.  If you have a large following, use that following to spread messages that need spreading.

Thought 4 – Pause, then carry on

And today is back to business as usual, grateful that we have that privilege.

What do you think? Do you think it’s the place of businesses to reflect, or carry on as normal?

The budget that would normally have been spent on promoting this post, will be donated to The British Red Cross Appeal for the victims of Manchester Arena.