Responding to tragic events on social media

by Nellie Maher April 1, 2019

The recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, is a sombre reminder that we live in a world where violence and tragedy are all too common. These events turn the news cycle on its head and people turn to social media to grieve, post messages of support, and seek information. While there might be violence and negativity in the news daily, there are some tragedies that cause global focus to shift to a singular issue. During this time it is the responsibility of social media and community managers to be sensitive with what they post.

When your brand is directly involved in a crisis, reacting within the first 24 hours is crucial. However, most tragedies will not have a direct connection to your brand, and your instinct should be to hold off on social media activity as opposed to reacting. This is not the time for opportunism.

Here are the steps you should take directly after a large-scale tragedy:

Evaluate outbound content

In the wake of a major event, a post that ordinarily would have been fine can come across as tone deaf or insensitive. Your first course of action should be to scan the content you have planned for words, photos, and hashtags that could have a different meaning during a period of mourning. For example, a post about “shooting a photo” might be insensitive and triggering after an incident involving firearms.

Pause paid advertising

In the days after a crisis, social media advertising can do more harm than good to your brand. Because you can’t control where in someone’s newsfeed your ad will be shown, there’s a high risk it may appear next to a news update or other content about the event. In the first 24 to 48 or hours, content with a heavy sales focus or buy now messaging will read as insensitive, and users who see your content for the first time next to a post about crises may not have a positive brand recall. Do the right thing and take a step back from selling.

Manage interactions with respect

At Quiip, we’re all about servicing online groups through community management that is respectful, helpful, and responsible. In the days after a tragic event, this is even more critical. If you usually have a playful dynamic with your fans, it may be best to tone it down slightly in favour of a more straightforward tone of voice. Just as you should review your content for potential issues, review the standard responses you use for these same issues.

If your brand has proximity to the event, geographically or otherwise, consider creating additional responses. If it’s likely that people may come to your page for information, give your team the tools they need to share helpful, resources and updates.

Consider a response

In nearly all cases, it’s not appropriate for your brand to react proactively to a tragedy. If you’re an avid social media user, you’ve probably seen brands who jump in on trending hashtags without doing their research or try to speak on topics they aren’t knowledgeable about. It’s insensitive at best.

If you’re doing something to help the victims of a tragedy or helping in another way offline, it may be appropriate to post messages of condolences online. If not, staying quiet will be your best course of action. Run any messages of this nature by multiple stakeholders, including – ideally – someone who can adequately assess whether those affected by the event are likely to be negatively impacted. Diverse voices are your friends in times of crisis; remember your point of view may be privileged.

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