3 Lessons: How to Behave in Social Media During a Disaster

The Boston marathon explosions came as a real shock yesterday evening.  Much like many of my social colleagues, I want to write about my thoughts but still I feel quite private and emotional about the loss of life, the terror and the scare.  So I acknowledge this, and choose to keep these feelings to family, friends and Facebook and so purposefully write on another tangent – that is valuable business take-aways.

In a disaster, brands should “sit down and shut up” in social media

Quite soon after news of the Boston Marathon 2013 explosions emerged, @unmarketing tweeted “if you have scheduled brand tweets today, turn them off”.   That hit home for me – as I’m fortunate enough to be deeply involved in a number of brands’ social strategies and community management thereof.

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 11.34.32 PM

Admittedly, having produced several very detailed brand playbooks on social management (with sections on guidelines on community management postings & post escalations), I have completely overlooked the idea of including a section on ‘disaster response’.   I actually took the @unmarketing tweet and forwarded it to my staff & clients – recommending strong consideration of a quiet approach.  Stopping any scheduled tweeting is very important as it becomes very evident to the rest of us who is scheduling – which indicates both brand broadcasting and insensitivity to near world events.  His message resonated with many people with 548 retweets and 130 favorites since yesterday.

And so ‘shut up’.. don’t hijack by using an incident as a way to push a marketing message.

Lindsay Bell @belllindsay posted on Facebook another catch by @unmarketing (no flies on him) with Epicurious promoting scones and breakfast recipes around messages of consolidation.  In the amazing commentary that followed from her Facebook friends, one especially caught my eye.   The comment read that brands should ‘sit down and shut up’  then ‘figure out  how you can really help”.

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 10.18.52 PM

Responding in a meaningful way means delivering something that helps the situation at hand.  Google is terrific example of large scale immediate response as they relaunched their Google person finder tool.

These disasters are not times to push any kind of marketing agenda forward.   If there is no meaningful contribution to help the situation, then acknowledge the situation and then go quiet.  Disasters are sensitive situations and certainly not worth capitalizing on nor moving on too quickly to ‘back to business’ commentary, in my opinion.

At the agency where I work, we posted the following comment, which my friend @HessieJones endorsed:

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 10.38.37 PM

This was posted early this morning, before the above ‘sit down and shut up’ comments.

There is nothing worthwhile to say when our hearts and minds are elsewhere.  As it turned out, that tweet resonated with the agency’s followers – getting favorited and re-tweeted quite often.  Gaining a response, however, was not the reason for the tweet.   It was a human response to having nothing to contribute.  The account was silent for the rest of the day.

Finally, in a disaster, don’t share the graphic images on Twitter and Facebook.

One of the first tweets I saw of the 2013 Boston Marathon was of an accident scene with a lot of red on the ground.  It took me a few minutes and more reading to figure out that I was looking at a disaster zone.  I doubled back in my tweet stream to make sure that I didn’t re-tweet any images that were graphic.  Fortunately I did not.  What I didn’t like was the sharing of graphic images across Twitter and Facebook.   Indeed some of Facebook friends admitted to unfriending on Facebook for anyone sharing graphic images.

Many brands would not be sharing imagery of a disaster but news publications do.  They put disclaimers of ‘ warning the images that follow are graphic’ – however, I feel quite strongly some images just should not be shared.

I’m still personally mulling over the Boston Marathon disaster and will continue to think of those impacted for days to come.  Still, it helps me to just write about some valuable lessons for brands in how they react in a real world, near world event – if anything, as a distraction.

I welcome your comments and observations (please add your @ handle).  Thanks.

About these ads

3 thoughts on “3 Lessons: How to Behave in Social Media During a Disaster

  1. Farah Mawani (@farah_way)

    I definitely agree. I provided similar advice to my social media clients, urging an American one in particular to post a genuinely compassionate response. Being completely silent when everyone on social media is focused on a crisis can also be perceived as insensitive. Crises such as this remind as that underneath our companies, brands, and professional positions, we are all human.

    Reply
  2. Justin Fisette (@JustinFisette)

    Epicurious is disgusting for those tweets. I agree that brands should send out their condolences/respect following a disaster or tragedy, then shut down their social media for a limited time to let everything cool down. Adding noise to the information-flow shows insensitivity and hurts business as a whole by digging a deeper hole in the greed field and only caring about profits. Brands must show that the people working for them are also human during these times. If you have nothing productive to say, don’t say it.

    Reply
  3. Laurie Dillon Schalk Post author

    Thanks Farah and Justin for your comments. Much of this sounds rather obvious but there are three things that go against the grain – 1. people may not anticipate this type of situation. 2. World events require quite skillful navigation. 3. Common sense is not common..

    I think Epicurious could be driven by someone with a mandate – who may not understand how to properly react. Could be a junior assignment or a brand that’s made the early stage mistake that social media management is one person’s responsibility and not an integrated team. They probably thought they were being sensitive but were combining messaging with what was scheduled ‘to go out’. Who knows. I do think it is important to coach brands / sr. marketers that planning some content is okay but there remains >50% of content that you can not plan for. Only respond, engage in the moment and react.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s