CNN-Boston-MarathonAny time we have an all eyes on the news tragedy, there is a question about what brands should do with their social media content:

  • Do you act like major networks and news programs and start exclusively sharing updates and (second hand) news about the tragedy?
  • Do you act like a cable network and keep up with whatever social media content was already planned, irrespective of the news?
  • Do you go completely dark out of respect for the tragedy and its victims?

So, what do you do with social media during a tragedy?

David Armano offers five pieces of advice for brands and how they should conduct themselves. It is great advice oriented toward a brand with a larger collaborative social media effort, although some of it (review your scheduled content and remove anything sensitive) applies across the board.

Another piece of advice from David Armano, summed up as “Do the Right Thing,” is a great sentiment, but there’s no one answer to what the right thing to do is.

One safe answer seems to be sending out your brand’s thoughts to a tragedy’s victims. Thoughts are nice, although not particularly efficacious. Some brands take advantage of their large audiences to help broadcast emergency and relief updates. Some brands are willing to go out on a limb and offer prayers. Since many times all you can do in these situations is pray or pay (i.e., donate), prayers are at the top of the heap to help victims.

Other brands, keep on with what social media content was already planned (or inappropriately chosen amid the tragedy), as others (typically individuals) spend their time calling these brands out for their social media miscues.

Perhaps the safest answer is to go dark in the face of tragedy. The challenge is there are tragedies and victims daily.

So does that mean a brand should NEVER share any social media?

No, it doesn’t.

But when there’s discussion about the importance of being “human” on social media, it’s not some b.s. social media strategy mumbo jumbo. You DO have to be human with your social media content, no matter how big or small your brand is.

And if you’re human with your social media sharing every day, you have a lot better chance of getting it right when a human tragedy is close enough to intersect with your social media content.  – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

3 Responses to “What Do You Do with Social Media Content During a Tragedy? There Is No One Answer”

  1. Great post Mike!! Thank you for this… It is completely on-time and I really appreciate that you put this out there… Because, this is something that – I believe – should really demand a very sensitive approach. Great points made, very well taken!

    In the end… my personal take is.. BE SENSITIVE! … Be aware… and, as your own bottom line says >> be human!

    Thanks so much, for communicating! ~

  2. Mike Brown says:

    I received this email from Bill Mullins, Principal at Better Choices Consulting. Bill okayed sharing it with other blog readers:

    “A couple of thoughts on this post:

    “The fundamental insight I’m recognizing about the arrival of Etherspace (the third universal transport system – akin to weather and water – but the one that moves “Enriched content at the Pace of Conversation.”) is that neither brands (nor other organizations) “control” programmatic execution in relation to the tragedy. That is because, with the prompt increase in uncertainty in the emergent circumstance (just like the tornado sirens going off unexpectedly), it is appropriate for leadership to shift from decision-making mode to sense-making mode. You can’t bring an entire giant Brand to a halt; but you can shift some of its attention to the broader consequences of the tragedy on the organizations stakeholders.

    “I already had absorbed that lesson long ago, but it was in the context of my days in the Submarine Service. In the military we rehearsed ad-nauseum the shifts from action-taking, to intelligence gathering (i.e. sense-making) and back to action taking. Beware of advice to seek “the Right answer” – there is no such thing – there are sensible responses and variously more mindless ones – the challenge is for any organization to avoid going totally mindless under the stress of a tragedy. The more complex the organization the more valuable is the rehearsal of such mode shifts.

    “One area that might warrant some discussion is around this point. Because of the way our individual brains work we first experience tragedy in a very acutely personal way – there is no corresponding neuronal response by a Brand – even a well-rehearsed emergency response organization like the fire department is not having a Brand response when called out to the explosion at JJ’s restaurant. Brand is in the background, praxis in the foreground. If the locus of Brand in social media has no praxis related to personal response to the tragedy it probably makes sense to at least dial down the planned activity until the impacted stakeholder groups have a chance to catch-up with what is going on through more standard channels. Just a first thought.”


  1. What Do You Do withSocial Media Content During a Tragedy? There Is No One Answer | The Social Media Monthly - May 9, 2013

    […] you act like a cable network and keep up with whatever social media content was already planned, irrespective of the […]