Should Brands Respond or Go Dark After a Tragedy?

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Black_Ribbon.jpgBefore we write about most topics, we like to take a look at what others have had to say about it. We Googled, “What should a brand do during a tragedy,” and posts, similar to this one, aligned all too neatly with recent events. Charleston. Paris. Colorado Springs. San Bernardino. Brussels. And now Orlando.

It seems brands often think about how to react after something terrible happens, but as PR professionals, we have a responsibility to guide our brands and clients in times like these. Circumstances differ, of course, depending on what has happened exactly, but here are our general recommendations.

Hit Pause on Automated Posts

Most marketing messages and social media posts can continue as usual following a terrible event, but some that may have seemed perfectly harmless the day before can be wildly inappropriate after a tragedy. For example, a “Blow Out Sale,” is not what people want to read about after a real-life explosion. You wouldn’t want to post your blog with the clever title, “The #1 Problem in the World Today is the Oxford Comma.” Therefore, it is wise to pause any automated posts so that you can review them before something hurtful or embarrassing is unknowingly sent.

Don’t Unnecessarily Insert Your Brand into the Conversation

You know that friend who finds a way to make world events all about them? Don’t be that guy. The instinct to want to send “thoughts and prayers” or condolences is a good one, but it is virtually impossible to make it sound entirely sincere when coming from a brand. Emotional support is not what brands offer, and it isn’t what people want from companies.

There are, however, several exceptions.

If the event unfolded in your community, if you have employees involved, or if your company is directly involved in some other way it may be wise, perhaps even necessary to make a carefully considered statement.

The other exception is if you can actually do something directly to help. JetBlue, for example, was not involved at all in the horrible events that unfolded in Orlando, but they do happen to be the largest carrier at the Orlando airport. They have offered free flights to family members of the victims and offered to waive rebooking fees for people flying into or out of Orlando. Are they doing this just for PR? Who cares? It’s an example of the right way to get involved.

Train/Remind Employees About Social Media Expectations

Social media training should be done well before anything bad happens, but a reminder following a tragic event is always a good idea. Tight control over all company owned channels is necessary. It should be clear that dishonorable content such as racial, ethnic, sexual, and religious slurs are not tolerated. Your social media policy should be fully documented and signed by every employee.

Carry On

If your posts have been screened for untimely content and they are unrelated to the event, it is generally okay to continue with your campaigns. You may want to make some adjustments to campaigns that target geographies that were impacted. (I was running a telemarketing campaign during 9/11, for example. We stopped all activity for a week nationwide. We didn’t begin calling on New York City again for months.)

It’s a hard fact of life, but the show goes on.

We need it to, or the bad actors win.

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