How to Deal with Tragedy on Social Media

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I don’t have to tell you that we are living in the age of social media. It is now the norm to see news of momentous events coming to us on Twitter before CNN or any other network can report it. Pictures and video, sometimes ugly and chilling, are sent from phones before reporters or even first responders can arrive. It all goes viral in a matter of minutes. Families and friends of victims learn that their loved ones may be involved in some horrific event before they can be contacted by authorities. Sometimes, it is all too much to take media in times of tragedy

Tragedies take many forms. There can be national events which touch us as a country, or local catastrophes which are felt within the community. Sometimes, as stories unfold through social media, there is an impulse to comment and share. When your business takes a step into the world of news events, however, caution should be observed. It’s all a matter of protecting your brand.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 we posted a blog which we hoped everyone would understand came from the heart, but there were still some who accused us of being self-serving. Even with the best of intentions, and tiptoeing gently, we couldn’t remain above criticism. It served to remind us, however, that our reputation is our most precious commodity.

Because of the volatile nature of social media, and the hair-trigger reality of everyday events, I established an editorial policy regarding major news events which probably merits sharing. This reflects an approach based on our commitment to sharing useful, informative content, combined with a civic-minded need to contribute to our community, and a commonsense respect for the CommonPlaces brand and image.

A Practical Social Media Response Plan

Freeze all planned content posts

Most of us schedule social media updates through services like HootSuite or TweetDeck. At the risk of something embarrassing slipping out, the prudent thing to do is to put everything on hold. Never assume that that infographic on Pinterest, or that meme intended for Facebook is benign.

Assume editorial command for any branded social media

Make sure that your staff posts comments solely on their own social media accounts. I’m not advocating censorship, here, just assurance that opinions or statements aren’t coming from a branded site.

Stop ‘- Observe ‘- Listen

Initially, make absolutely no statement of any kind. None. Follow every development closely, but don’t believe everything that comes across your various sized screens. Listen to your co-workers and management to assess general impressions and feelings.

First statement must be brief, sincere, factual

Put raw emotions aside. When the time is appropriate, you should confront the situation, but not dwell on it. Don’t allow any brand messaging to creep in. Keep it short.

Remember that a time of crisis affects everybody. Be smart, and realize that it could be a crisis for your brand, as well.

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