November 12, 2013
“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which ravaged parts of the Philippines, Kellen’s social media team came together to answer the question, “How do we address this on behalf of our company and our clients?”
It’s an unfortunate reality we have to face all too often and making the decision can be like walking a tightrope over a snake pit. This year the Internet saw some epic social media meltdowns in response to content posted while the nation mourned national tragedies.
During this year’s anniversary of September 11th, Esquire mistakenly published a photo on its website of a man falling from the World Trade Center next to the headline, “Make Your Morning Commute More Stylish.”
The mistake, while cringe-worthy, was just that – a horrific error. However, Esquire‘s response to the gaffe on social media escalated the incident into a media firestorm. The magazine tweeted: “Relax, everybody. There was a stupid technical glitch on our ‘Falling Man’ story and it was fixed asap. We’re sorry for the confusion.”
Esquire making light of the mistake didn’t sit well with readers. The magazine received hundreds of angry comments and the incident was picked up by national print, TV, and online media outlets.
Epicurious’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing raised the ire of the social media world, too. Shortly after news broke that bombs had been detonated at the finish line of the Boston marathon, maiming and killing marathoners and bystanders, Epicurious tweeted the following:
Epicurious followed up with a blanket apology that followers deemed lukewarm and insincere, creating a major backlash for the popular recipe site.
It can be daunting to craft a social media response to unthinkable tragedies, especially when our heads and hearts are with victims and maybe not entirely focused on our work. Every situation and every client is different, but we’ve created five general rules for posting in the midst of disasters.
1. Stop your scheduled posts immediately.
While scheduling social media posts can be immensely helpful for staying on message and maintaining your social media presence, many brands or organizations may rely on it too heavily. One of the drawbacks of scheduled posts is that you can’t respond organically to developing trends and events. Followers won’t know that a post was scheduled three days before a disaster. When the scheduled post goes out, all they’ll see is an insensitive promotion about a 2-for-1 sale while somewhere, people’s lives have been shattered.
2. Don’t sell yourself – ever.
Gap, Inc. landed in hot water when it publicized its online shopping platform during Hurricane Sandy. A natural disaster is not the time to promote your products. You’ll have plenty of time for that later.
3. Craft one succinct response.
Gather your team together and decide what you’re going to say. You don’t have to be eloquent or try to assign meaning to a senseless tragedy. Be honest and genuine. Sometimes just saying your thoughts are with the victims is enough – because they are.
4. Provide your followers with ways to help.
Relief organizations will need all the assistance and donations they can get. Providing help is not only the right thing to do, it makes people feel productive rather than helpless. Take a few minutes to research which organizations are providing relief or if there’s an official charity associated with the disaster. Make sure it’s reputable and share it with your fans.
5. Observe radio silence.
Once you’ve posted your response and/or ways for followers to help, be quiet. Don’t resume your usual feed as if nothing has happened. Not only could it be perceived as insensitive, it’s likely no one is listening to you right now anyway. They’re tuning into major news outlets for updates.
You might be amazed at how wonderful your fan response can be. Our clients have had followers who shared their sympathy, talked about how they’ve helped in their community, or just said they were grateful to see brands and organizations responding in a respectful way.