It’s been a long week. Boston. West, Texas. Tragedies have penetrated every corner of the country, and social media has played a big role in how those stories played out. Many of us first saw reports of the tragedies on social media; many of us frantically refreshed our Twitter feed for news when there were no answers. Later, we came together to mourn, to organize, and for some, even to hunt for the parties responsible. For some, including me, social media use will forever be linked to my memories of the Boston Marathon.
Through it all, there’s been a raging debate over what role, if any, brands should play during a crisis. There have been some great posts written, including my favorite by Steven Shattuck, about how brands should behave during these events in sensitive ways. You should read those posts and internalize those lessons for next time (because, sadly, we know there will be a next time), but I want to give you just one guideline when managing brand social media during a national crisis:
Be a person.
For a couple of hours or even a whole day, stop thinking about how your brand can capitalize and think about how your brand can help. Maybe the best way for you to do that is to be quiet, to stop the constant yammering of noise and let people use social media as a great town square of grief and sharing without getting tangled up into branding messages that ring trite and false. Maybe the best way you can help is to mobilize people and assistance, if you happen to be in the area. Maybe there are donations you can make–bottled water, bandages, or maybe just a quiet place to sit and recharge a phone. Sharing information about ways to donate money or counseling resources.
There are dozens of ways you can help, and one simple way you can screw it up: Trying to capitalize on a tragedy. Look at the fallout from Epicurious’ entirely tone deaf tweets sharing recipes for New England scones and breakfast oats in solidarity with Boston. “Oh, yes, very sad–by the way, please click on our links so we get pageviews!” Don’t be that person. And likewise, don’t be the person yelling about your great sales when the entire nation is trying to come to grips with terror in our midst.
When a disaster strikes, react first as a person, then as a brand. Allow yourself to act with compassion, feeling and the golden rule. Do unto social media as you would have it do unto you. If you follow that rule and aren’t a terrible person, you’ll always, always be okay.