When bad news happens, it's natural to want to talk about it or at least acknowledge it. In social media, we call that inserting ourselves into the conversation. And people should do that.
But what about businesses? Should a brand tweet and post on Facebook in the same way you and I do?
There's something to be said for wanting to show compassion. The people behind the scenes on a business page are human too. But recent backlash makes a strong case for stepping back and rethinking our strategies.
On this year's Sept. 11 anniversary, a hotel posted a coffee and muffins special at the same time planes were flying into buildings 12 years prior. A newspaper posted a $9.11 subscription special. A golf course offered a $9.11 discount.
Really? Really. And to say these attempts failed miserably would be the understatement of the year.
As I wrote in a Facebook post that day lambasting the businesses that chose these tacky attempts at marketing, you do not have to commemorate Sept. 11 on social media. Same goes for celebrities who die or other tragedies that dominate the news.
There's a pretty well known country song with these words: "You say it best when you say nothing at all."
Camera company Canon USA went that route on Sept. 11, tweeting "In remembrance, we will be silent on all Canon USA social media properties." And while Canon wasn't trying to be the news on that date, all of the poor choices put the spotlight on its choice.
On Monday, when a gunman killed several people at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., a few brands let us know that they were shocked and sorry about what happened. Seems harmless enough, but coming off of Sept. 11 there was greater focus on finding the day's big screw-up. Thankfully, we didn't have one.
Now that we got that out of the way, here are a few tips to consider regarding social media and tragedy:
If your brand has no direct connection to a tragic event, don't mention it. And don't post on your social platforms. You can take Canon's lead and tell people of your choice, or you can just do it. No one is going to forget about you or think you've disappeared forever. In the aftermath of the mass shooting at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last December, ESPN's management told its staff to stop tweeting. ESPN's headquarters aren't far from Newtown, and we still refer to that decision today as bold and heroic.
Turn off whatever posts you had scheduled to automatically go out that day. We can talk about the merits of that in a separate column _ and we have _ but you don't want something unrelated, or worse something that can be misconstrued as something else going out at an inopportune time. Turn everything off and think about what, if anything, you are going to post.
You should have a plan for these things. Businesses should never just leave this to chance and up to the person manning the social accounts on that day. Decide ahead of time how you will react to certain events and make that policy known so it's followed.
Your intentions may be nothing but good, but it's risk vs. reward. That golf course will forever be known as the business that offered a 9/11 special. That hotel will never be able to put muffins out again.
Perception means everything.
What questions do you have about social media? Tweet them to @scottkleinberg. He might select yours for use in a future column.