This week’s Social Brief was one of the toughest that I’ve had to write.

There’s plenty going on in social: LinkedIn just got bought by Microsoft, Snapchat’s messing with their ad format, but there’s one topic dominating the conversation, and it’s the last thing that any of us want to talk about.

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know my stance on brand communication during times of tragedy: If it doesn’t add value, don’t post it. 

I am aware that this post is a brand communication, so I’m not going to make any political comments, offer thoughts & prayers, or even mention the incident except for a link at the bottom of this post to a fundraising page to benefit the families of the victims.

Here’s where I can offer value:

During times of tragedy, posting on our social channels becomes a very sensitive subject, and because our space is so new a lot of well-intentioned mistakes have been made. In this post, my intention is to provide my experience and recommendations to play a part in improving how our brands communicate in the future.

There is no definitive right or wrong answer to how/when/what to post during a tragic event, or even what defines “tragedy”, so I’ll offer a set of guidelines to help lead your thinking the next time you’re faced with the difficult decision:

How do we define a Tragedy?

Such a personal and sensitive topic will always be an emotional one, so the best time to develop an objective set of criteria is before the worst happens.

Unfortunately, bad things do come up around the world on many days, so when do we alter our publishing behaviour and when to we continue on with business as usual? Here’s the criteria that I suggest:

  1. Does it directly effect our community?
  2. Is it dominating the global social media conversation?
  3. Are we directly effected?

If any one of the above is true, then we pull the emergency brake on publishing and pause anything/everything that’s going out (that includes ads).

Then what?

During such an emotional time, as humans our natural response is to offer our condolences, or support for the victims and families.

As much as we personify our brands, they are not people capable of real compassion, and any effort to convey emotion can easily be misconstrued as the brand trying to spin the message in its favour.

If the people behind the brand feel strongly that they want to show support, then a coordinated effort, published through the team’s personal channels will show much greater support than any heart, hashtag, or graphic posted from a brand’s account. 

Note: This effort would not create an opportunity for UGC sharing from the brand.

While brands aren’t capable of real human emotion, they are capable of significant influence and financial support. If we feel so strongly that we must do something, then let’s do something meaningful. Make a donation, host a blood drive, or promote the link to a donations page. All of those things are real, meaningful support that will benefit people. 

When do we return to our content calendar?

When it comes to human communication: this is an art, not a science. Our return to a regularly scheduled programming must be played by feel. The following three are indicators – not rules – that will give you a sense of when to ease back into publishing:

  1. The topic is no longer in the top 3 trends on Twitter
  2. Our community has resumed regular conversation
  3. We feel settled enough to make smart decisions about what to publish

In this case, all three of the above criteria must be met before we feel comfortable to resume publishing. As a rule, for the 24 hours following our first post, we’ll be extremely mindful of the language and imagery that we’re using. We focus on providing positivity, beauty, and perhaps some inspiration in people’s news feeds, with no mention of the previous events.

Make no mistake, after a major tragedy like this, there is no going back. The world will never be the same place that it was on September 10th, 2001, or before Hurricane Katrina. The best that we can do is remind ourselves why we’re in the businesses that we are, the positive change that we’re out to affect in the world, and be grateful for the opportunity to pursue it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I appreciate your attention, and hope that this has been valuable to you. 

If you feel the urge to reach out to the victims, click the link below – it will take you to a place where you can offer financial support.
Donate Here