Social media strategists must once again examine how they communicate during a tragic event. This week’s events in Boston reinforced the fact that during an emergency, people turn to social media to get news and updates, while staying in touch with friends and family. The importance of this particular role of social media must be respected by marketers, and proper etiquette is a must to avoid an embarrassing situation for your brand.
The rapid growth of the medium has left many in charge of social media strategy with an incomplete understanding of how to behave during a tragedy. Lisa Buyer has engaged this conversation at Search Engine Watch with her article “Social Tragic-ology: How Brands Learn to Be Part of Real News“. The follow excerpt from that article lays out some basic rules those in social media strategy should understand:
“In the wake of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, it became more apparent that we need to continue the conversation about how people and brands should communicate during times of tragedy and crisis.
Contrary to what the small and robust community of social media marketing professionals believe, the masses, which includes a large majority of brands and businesses are still learning basic functionality of social media platforms.
You Can’t Schedule Life, or Social Media
While scheduling tools are helpful, social media isn’t something you can set and forget. These are communities of people who interact in real-time.
If you’re lucky enough to have a community grow up around you as a brand, you should be just as plugged in as they are in order to strengthen your relationships and sustain your reputation.
Brands Still Need to be Reminded
“I have a lot of respect for Shankman, but based on the fresh stream of blissfully unaware brand and personal Facebook posts and tweets, many organizations hadn’t seen the news or when they did had not remembered that they had scheduled content, or content in their ad queues to reassign for a more appropriate time,” according to Lisa Grimm, director of PR and emerging media at space150, who also contributed to the writing of this post. “It is especially important and our duty, as those who have experience in the field, to be helpful as opposed to snarky during these times.”
Education and Strategy is Paramount
Let’s face it, social media isn’t always in the hands of accredited public relations professionals with years of crisis management experience on their resume.
Does your community manager know the answers to these questions? Chances are if they don’t then neither does the organization:
-Do we comment when there is a natural disaster or national tragedy? If so, what does that sound like?
-Cease all scheduled or planned content for X period of time.
-Check ad schedule and pull content promotion or campaigns for X amount of time.
“It is clear that proper education and strategy is lacking from many social presence online. Anyone operating social channels should understand fundamental crisis communication skills,” Grimm added.
Start sketching a plan or revise the one you have; make sure to include how your social team should operate when something tragic occurs.
This Epicurious Twitter feed used the Boston Marathon bombings as a way to promote recipe content on its popular recipe site. #Fail.
The tweets ended up being deleted. The brand’s community manager apologized and Epicurious made a statement: “Our tweets this morning were, frankly, insensitive. Our deepest, sincerest apologies.”
This is what can happen on social media. All of a sudden you are now the story.
Don’t let this be you. If you’re going to be in the conversation, keep it on topic.
“I think it’s awesome that they apologized and I get that we all make mistakes, but this should be an indicator that this account manager needs to learn a few nuances of communication,” Grimm said.
Check Your Sources (Even When it Isn’t a Tragedy)
Brands are learning to become news content publishers and getting bruised and beat up along the way. The ones who will succeed will follow journalism and communications best practices regardless of the topic by doing routine editorial fact checking and confirming sources.
The last thing you want to do is perpetuate misinformation
The social media world continues to spin and brands will continue to figure out the right formula for the social PR newsfeed.”
Additional Keys to Social Media Strategy During Tragedy: Do’s and Don’ts
This topic of social media strategy during tragic events was discussed by Buyer after the Sandy Hook school shooting in December as well. In this post she outlines some do’s and don’ts that social media strategists should keep in mind:
“Do the equivalent of traditional signs of acknowledgement via social media — Sending a card, Putting a flag at half mast, Taking out an ad in remembrance, Starting a fundraiser, Laying flowers at the makeshift memorial
Your brand needs to be real during a community tragedy — Be human. Acknowledge what is happening. Be real. Take off the automated posts. Get real in real time when tragedy strikes. Be credible. Report and share news, but confirm sources and facts first. Be Caring. Consider sensitive subject matter. If your brand is part of the tragedy or in a related industry, take a close look at what you are reporting.
Be considerate. Take a few days off from your normal editorial calendar. Think about it, is anyone even paying attention to what you are promoting? “I typically recommend to cease posting branded content for the day, however always remain active in the community (regular moderation responsibilities),” Social Media and PR Specialist Lisa Grimm said in a heartfelt blog post she published the day of the Connecticut shooting.
Be alert. Have a meeting with the communications team and put someone in charge of watching real-time news so you are aware of issues–good or bad–that can impact your community.
Have a clean slate. Consider taking down recent postings that might be offensive to current events.
Don’t take the situation lightly — An American Apparel ad for a “Hurricane Sandy Sale” sparked backlash from the Twittersphere. American Apparel is just one of several companies that committed online marketing faux pas in times of crisis. Last year, fashion designer Kenneth Cole’s Twitter account made light of the protests in Egypt by tweeting, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.”
Don’t avoid the tragedy — Your brand in social media is now part of “the media” and your response (or lack thereof) will be noted by your fans and community.”