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I wrote an article for an upcoming issues of The Social Media Monthly magazine about how high visibility tragedies are affecting brands’ social media strategies. While much is written about what a brand should do DURING a tragedy, The Social Media Monthly article focuses on what brands can do before the next tragedy, and includes interviews with social media luminaries Jim Joseph and Lisa Grimm.

Deepak_Chopra_TweetSocial Media Moments of Silence

One norm developing relative to tragedies and social media management for brands is the “social media moment of silence.” This phrase reflects an expectation that for certain tragedies, some or all brands are expected to curb or completely halt social media sharing out of respect for victims of tragedy.

Something I didn’t cover in the article was our exploration on what defines a tragedy warranting a social media moment of silence.

Both Jim Joseph and Lisa Grimm acknowledged there are no hard and fast rules for which tragedies necessitate a social media shutdown. Yet reviewing 2012 and 2013, the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT and the Boston Marathon bombing represented the tragedies where expectations were greatest for shutting down social media sharing for brands…and others.

5 Areas to Monitor for Social Media Moments of Silence

In the absence of fully-defined norms, here are five areas to consider before and during the next tragedy to help shape your brand’s social media sharing:

The Tragedy’s Geography – Social media moments of silence seem confined to First World tragedies, and more specifically, those taking place between Washington, DC and Boston. Much of the news media is concentrated in this corridor, and events here receive more attention than shootings, weather, explosions, and disasters elsewhere.

The Volume of Immediate News Coverage – Use CNN as your gauge for how much attention a tragedy is broadly getting. The more continuous coverage a tragedy receives, along with a high degree of immediate live coverage, raises expectations for a social media moment of silence. Greater uncertainty in determining the extent of a tragedy can also argue for keeping silent – in case the tragedy suddenly gets much worse.

The Familiarity of the Story Surrounding the Tragedy – The easier it is for the members of the general public to place themselves within the story, the more likely a moment of silence is expected. It was clearly easier for the public to see themselves with kids at a school or at a major public event in a major city than to be located in a small rural town with a major explosion.

The Types of Victims Involved in the Tragedy – The larger the number of victims, the younger the victims, and victims felled by human-on-human violence all drive higher expectations to shut up your social media voice.

The Tragedy’s Current Status – A lack of closure seems a major factor affecting how long a social media moment of silence is expected to last. The longer the period of uncertainty (whether that’s if the tragedy is over or the time to understand the reasons), the greater the likelihood the moment of silence needs to extend for a longer period of time.

What do you think about social media moments of silence?

As we said at the start, the norms aren’t all formed on how to approach a social media moment of silence. What do you think of this list? Are there other criteria you would add?

We’ll be monitoring these five criteria (and others that emerge) going forward toward solidifying stronger strategic guidelines for modifying brands’ social media behaviors during various types of tragedies. – Mike Brown

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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