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Common Sense Social Etiquette during a Tragedy

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iStock_000017466099XSmallThis is a topic that has sparked a fair amount of controversy. During Hurricane Sandy, several online retailers were criticized for talking about online shopping and tying it to the storm. And certainly over the past couple of days, there have been tweets that were considered insensitive as well. So many of us schedule posts and tweets ahead of time. But when tragedy strikes, we need to have a clearcut strategy for how to handle this, as well as what we post during and after these events.

Use personal judgment. In the simplest of terms, if a post or a tweet would bother you as a person, then take it down. As a lifestyle blogger, and a social media manager, I do schedule a great deal of my posts and tweets ahead of time to save time. Monday I was completely unaware that anything had happened until my husband called me. His sister was running in Boston, and was 3/4 of mile from the finish line when the bombs went off. As a runner, I had been following a live blog with updates on the status of the elite runners in the morning through Runner’s World but that coverage ended well before the explosions took place.

To be honest, when I found out what had happened, the last thing I was thinking about were those posts and tweets. All I could think about was the horror of what had happened. But shortly thereafter, after sharing my own sadness about the day, I shut off my Twitter and Facebook posts. To me, that felt right. I didn’t feel right talking about my blog or any others, or sharing a marketing campaign, with such sadness surrounding us. I can’t imagine anyone was interested in hearing about getting their home organized or how my dog was sleeping on the coffee table when I got home from a conference.

Show compassion. I myself am not particularly bothered by seeing posts and tweets unrelated to the tragedy…there are many who will say it can help brighten your day when all the news around you is depressing. However, it does bother me when I see companies using the tragedy as a marketing tool. I don’t want to see #BostonMarathon tagged in your marketing campaign. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I’m probably going to unfollow you, and you’re going to lose a customer. Enough said.

Acknowledge mistakes. If an untimely or insensitive post/tweet goes out, acknowledge it. There’s always a chance of not hearing the news on a timely basis, and if you use automated tweets and posts, like so many do, there’s a likelihood that something will slip through the cracks. But as soon as you hear, make the appropriate adjustments, and apologize for anything insensitive. It’s the right thing to do.

Once you’ve made adjustments to your social media accounts, the question remains as to when to resume your regular posts and tweets. Again, use your judgment. You may want to take into account where you’re located…if you’re in the same area as where the tragedy took place, it will take longer to feel like you can resume posting. It may depend on your brand as well. One of the most wonderful things about social media is the fact that its “social.” You actually have the opportunity to reach so many more people than you can reach personally and build customer relationships online. But those relationships in some ways are more fragile than face to face interactions. Be smart!  I don’t think there are any absolutes here. Living a couple towns over from Newtown, and a few hours from Boston, I did feel the need to go silent for a period of time with my social media accounts. Yes, business goes on, but I think the last thing anyone wants to see at a time of terrible tragedy and mourning is a marketing message. To me, that’s just common sense.

My intention isn’t to call anyone out…rather it’s to spark a dialogue. These are the guidelines I follow for myself and those I work with, but I’d love for you to chime in as well.

How do you handle your social media accounts during times of tragedy?




Monday 13th of May 2013

At the time of the Boston bombings I was in pre-op with my daughter who was going in for brain surgery. Never has a national tragedy mattered to me less. Sitting in the waiting room while she was in surgery the news was on and many people were glued to the tv wanting every detail as it came out. I couldn't care less. My daughter's head was splayed open with a doctor cutting out part of her skull. Nothing else in the world mattered right then. I had family and friends waiting to hear how she was doing, how everything was going. That's what all my social media was about that day. And for a few weeks afterward, because it's been a long, tough recovery for both of us.

I don't market. I write. I write what I feel and what's going on in my head and in my life. I almost never write about tragedies. But I do take that split second to thing about whether anything in what I just published will hurt someone who is focused on the tragedy. My life doesn't stop; my social media life doesn't stop. But I try not to be hurtful.

Anyone who uses a tragedy to market would lose me as well. My heart can't take all the pain in the news lately so I've been avoiding it as much as I can. I've been trying to live my life in my little corner and ignore the rest of the world. However, I still know what's going on and anyone who uses it to sell a product would offend me and turn me off their product forever.

Interesting discussion. Sometimes I am still shocked by the audacity of people. I can't believe people use tragedies to market. No, that's not true. I can believe it. I just wish I couldn't because it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Michelle Nahom

Wednesday 15th of May 2013

My focus would have been on my child as well. I can't even begin to imagine what you have been through. My thoughts and prayers are with you! The marketing thing really gets to me. You said it perfectly, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Friday 19th of April 2013

Using tragedy for marketing purpose is just plain wrong but every day there is a tragedy happening somewhere - thousands are dying every day of hunger, contaminated water supplies and preventable diseases and it doesn't raise a column inch in the media. Many more will die on the roads or from "normal" murder than were killed in Boston. We should sympathize with all those caught up in the tragedies that are reported in the media, of course we should, but if we care about one human life we should care about all of them. That would mean we'd never post anything, if we stopped posting because a tragedy occurred.

Michelle Nahom

Friday 19th of April 2013

You raise excellent points! I think it is best to use our own personal judgment on what we would and would not want to see, and take it from there. You are absolutely right, there are many more tragedies out there that don't get publicized the same way and we should care about them all!

The Dose of Reality

Wednesday 17th of April 2013

The marketing thing makes me ill. That's just gross. I don't know about the tweets or posts. I actually like things that make me feel normal. I don't think it's disrespectful. I actually think the way people immerse themselves in the news cycle and watch show after show and video after video for hours on end after these terrible national tragedies can be very unhealthy. At least it is for me. --Lisa

Michelle Nahom

Thursday 18th of April 2013

I can't watch it either. It's too upsetting and it's stressful for the kids. We haven't had any of the news coverage on at all this time. Of course we see plenty of it on the internet though. I don't mind the normal postings either, a lot of people say it makes them feel better. I just couldn't bring myself to tweet or post right after. The marketing stuff is offensive though. No matter what, that's a bad idea in my opinion.


Wednesday 17th of April 2013

I struggle with this one. I want to be sensitive. I would never capitalize ever on a tragedy. I had a guest post scheduled for Tuesday and it was published as originally scheduled. I felt odd about it at first but then not so much. Like AnnMarie, I need to normalcy. I'm not avoiding and I want to be respectful but also want to talk about "other things," which by nor surprise, is how I am when tragedy or death is personal. I think we each have our own way, but respect is key.

Michelle Nahom

Wednesday 17th of April 2013

I think we all want normalcy. I enjoyed many posts that had nothing to do with what happened and I also enjoyed the many inspiring posts that referenced the tragedy as well. For me, I needed to write about it. I needed to quiet down on social media. Others had their own way, but as you said, respect is key.


Wednesday 17th of April 2013

It is interesting. My sister is a public figure in Jersey and during the night that Osama Bid Laden was captured, she was tweeting and posting about the show, "The Voice." A fan called her out on it, but she truly didn't know! It was still breaking news and she was spending time with me and my daughter. I don't schedule anything (I know, I know) so I stayed silent for about a day after Boston. Then I wrote a post about the tragedy and I actually scheduled that one to post in the middle of the night since my next morning was so hectic. It was strange to schedule something during a sensitive time, when I usually don't. I wanted to be heard, in my own time and in my own terms.

Michelle Nahom

Wednesday 17th of April 2013

Your post was wonderful! No one is going to be on top of breaking news every single's simply not possible. But I think as soon as we hear, we need to make a conscious decision as to what we are comfortable with. For me, it was to remain silent. I think the bigger issue is showing sensitivity and not using the event as a marketing me that's offensive, and it will probably cost that company my business.