How Brands Should Behave on Social Media During a Tragedy
The unbelievably tragic and gut wrenching events of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut are still unfolding as I write this. At this time we know that 27 people have been killed and of them, 18 are children. With the exception of tears, prayer, telling my family that I love them and writing this I’m having a hard time focusing on anything else. When something like this occurs, our world’s become smaller, our humanity surfaces, and there is an overwhelming sense to connect and experience our emotions together. In this day and age, social media serves as the most powerful and effective way to band together.
Companies and brands, like people, have personas and are active on social media. The vast difference between people and brands is that part of brand personas include content that either promotes a product/service or genres of content related to their product/service to ultimately impact their bottom line. Every brand has varying strategies for why they’re in social, what they’re trying to accomplish and how they go about accomplishing it. A fundamental element of the how for any brand is content. Some brands schedule this content and moderate it sporadically and others take a more hands on approach, having a community manager who serves not only as content creator and curator, but as the spokesperson of the community; often someone good at emulating company values and beliefs online (which is what you should be doing, but that’s for another post). While being shocked about the events of today, another shocker has been watching several brands that clearly have automated their social media process to the point that they’ve posted careless branded content in the midst of this tragic event and been completely non-responsive to their communities who’ve commented on it.
On the flip side, I also saw the best response to a tragic event on Facebook and Twitter from any brand I’ve ever seen. Vitamix, a product I’m proud to own, posted the following on Facebook and Twitter:
Talk about a phenomenal response from a brand. They:
- Acknowledged the tragic events that took place today
- Notified their community that they would cease posting regular content, and
- Gave their community the channels to use in the event customer service was needed
To top it off, after seeing this in my Twitter and Facebook feeds, I shared a tweet and Facebook post commending Vitamix’s efforts. Shortly after, I received a DM from Vitamix’s community manager, Jenn Vojta, who shared with me that she misspelled Newtown, Newton and had reposted. I told her that her misspelling was null and void and commended her personally for setting a great example for mar comm folks and she responded with, “Thank you. We really appreciate it. One of our core values is family and we felt we needed to respect it.” That’s brand purpose and company alignment you just can’t fake (more fodder for later).
What I’ve seen from brands today is a great reminder that in this new age of marketing communications, applying the old one-way messaging strategies of yesteryear to modern mediums can have a really negative impact on your brand. In addition, human tragedies and Acts of God are sadly becoming more common occurrences these days, and like crisis communications plans, are something brands need to plan for. In addition to the branded content issue, does it make sense for you to acknowledge the event or will it come off that you’re trying to insert yourself unnecessarily in a conversation? Each brand has different values and beliefs that apply when our national (and in some cases global) community is at odds. There’s no substitution for defining what you stand for as a brand and getting your organization to rally around it in everything you do in order to effectively communicate internally and externally during a time like this. Here are a few ideas/things to consider:
Know Who You Are!
If you don’t have a solid brand identity, then get busy working on one. It’s pretty hard to emulate one if you don’t know what it is. In Vitamix’s case, their community manager was able to tell me that one of its values was family, which makes perfect sense that they would acknowledge and react as they did. What an organization believes and values is integral to being effective in general, but if it’s faulty it will come to light in your internal and external communications which has a different impact these days than it used to.
Call a Quick Team Meeting to Determine the Communications Plan
When a tragic event hits, get together with your communications team to determine what course of action you’ll take and how that effects any content dissemination and conversation plans, from sending a press release to content going on Facebook, Twitter or other social media. What is the company/brand stance? Should you acknowledge the event with condolences on your communications channels? Or is it best to remain silent. What is the messaging?
Cease Posting Any Scheduled Content
If you do nothing else, pull the plug on regularly scheduled content. Posting sales specials, asking your community to do a survey and any other marketing messages are not best practice during a time like this. Sure, some people may not notice or care, but you don’t want to be “that guy.”
There is much to add. What say you?
Hug your family. Tell them you love them. Talk about this tragedy with them, no matter how small they are. Carve out some time to think of about the victims and their families.