By Jane Davidson
In the aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern* US history, Americans took to social media to share the news, post their prayers, call for policy action, and respond to the comments of others. As a brand, influencer, or artist, your decision to connect with your online audience regarding this or any other tragedy is an important one, and should not be taken lightly.
We surveyed 20 American millennials from major metropolitan areas to discover their perspectives on brand and celebrity reactions to tragedy on social media, and our findings mirrored what we suspected: while they appreciate a human, caring response to a tragedy with an actionable component, a thoughtless, politically charged response can be much more memorable in a very negative way.
But what if you have good intentions and people misread your thoughts anyways? This is what really makes it a hard line to walk. Our survey group had a wide variety of responses to these two tweets we shared with them.
First, everyone's favorite social media influencer, Donald Trump! He posted this tweet shortly after the news of the shooting:
Let's start with the positives:
"currently googling 'how to move to canada'"
- Survey response to "What are your thoughts on this tweet?"
Let's move on to the next one:
At first glance, do you see problems with this tweet? Our survey respondents didn't.
"I appreciate that she used her large twitter audience to spread the word about how people can help"
- Survey responses to "What are your thoughts on this tweet?"
However, many people jumped on this tweet for being incorrect. "Mass casualties" is not the same thing as "mass shooting", so people became angry that she (inadvertently) ignored other larger tragedies like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina.
If anything, this tweet demonstrates the power of a proofread! All of the negative comments in our survey about that phrase or punctuation could have been solved quickly with a double-check of the tweet.
With these results in mind, here are some Do’s and Don’t’s of your social media response to tragedy:
DON'T try to “capitalize” on a trending tragedy
Generally, we recommend for clients to comment on trending topics in a creative, relevant way, but this is not one where you should be using the trend for personal gain.
That doesn’t mean you can’t comment on it, and it doesn’t mean you can’t use the hashtags. But it also means you shouldn’t post about it unless it’s your genuine response
DON'T make it about you
For brands, don't use your RIP post to promote your latest release or direct buyers to your online store. If your an influencer or other individual social media user, please don’t post a selfie and #RIP__ or #prayfor___. Your content and captions should match as a general rule, so even disregarding the tactless post, you're not reaching the proper audience who's looking for the content that matches the hashtag.
DON'T turn it political - unless it’s relevant to your brand.
If you’re an artist who spends much of their time fighting for causes like gun control or LGBTQ rights, then it would make sense to make a comment about those aspects of a tragedy.
But if you’re a small business that generally just posts pictures of their sandwiches, suddenly calling for mental health reform can confuse or alienate your customers.
Again, that doesn’t mean you can’t comment on the issue, but it might make more sense to post your political thoughts on your personal social media pages where your friends and contacts know you and your beliefs well rather than on your Mom & Pop shop page.
This isn’t just a political issue, it’s also a content issue. We have several social content philosophies at BEGIN, and one of the main ones is: “Calculated, Creative, Consistent, Quality Content is Key”.
When you suddenly post something politically charged out of the blue, you’re violating Key #3: Consistent. Your real audience follows you because they enjoy the type of content you put out. If you change your post-type, they won’t know what to expect from you, and are much more likely to un-follow or simply not engage with your posts.
DO be authentic.
People want to know that there's a real person behind your posts! Commenting on current events or tragedies in a human way will help you show through your brand. If you fit into a category where it would be strange to go from your content to the event’s content, don’t be afraid to still comment on other posts with your sentiments about the situation.
If you are someone who fits in the “political works for me” category, share other perspectives that resonate with you, be real and heartfelt in your sympathies, and do it because you care, not because it’s part of your social media playbook.
DO be sensitive to the situation.
Pay attention to the purpose of a hashtag! Don't blindly use one without checking what it means first. You'll end up offending your audience or worse. (And you don't want to look like an idiot...)
Also you’re not a reporter (well, you might be, in which case you probably have a better idea what to do in these situations), so don’t feel like you have to provide live updates on an emerging story.
Be VERY careful about sharing unconfirmed reports (that can hurt your followers’ trust), posting the names of criminals (remember the victims, not the perpetrators), and don’t share posts from questionable sources.
Jane Davidson is the co-founder and Director of Brand Development for BEGIN. She is passionate about using these blog posts to share her knowledge and unique perspectives on a variety of topics with a community of creative entrepreneurs.
Tweet her @janebegins
We surveyed 20 people by posting on a variety of Facebook groups. 80% of respondents are female, 90% are between 18-35, 60% of respondents are from Los Angeles, and all live in a major city.
Please note this was not intended to be a scientific survey. All responses were open-ended and anonymous.
If you'd like to view more detailed results of our survey, please contact us.
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