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In the wake of a national tragedy, social media misuse among brands is not uncommon. Since social media is still fairly new, many brand reps have not yet devised a plan regarding how to respond online in the event of a national tragedy. This became especially clear on Friday following the heartbreak in Connecticut. As we saw in the aftermath of the Newton school shooting, many marketers and brands have no idea how – if at all – to respond when such devastating instances occur.  While there isn’t one right answer as to how brands should react online, there are certainly numerous wrong ones.

Tragedies like the Sandy Hook School shooting make our nation a little smaller and more united. In the wake of such horrific events our humanity surfaces and there is an overwhelming sense to connect with one another. Many brands, marketers, and individuals turn to social media to voice their feelings, and offer condolences. It is among these related tweets and Facebook updates that sales/marketing posts from brands on social media stick out like a sore thumb.

The common consensus as to how brands should behave is to stop all brand promotions and self-awareness during the time of hurt. Since our humanity surfaces in the wake of such devastating events, you’d think this would be a no-brainer for brand reps and online marketers. However, I was surprised by how many Facebook pages I saw posting careless branded content in the midst of such tragedy.

Regardless of whether these brands have automated their social media process, or just blatantly chose to continue with their branded content posts despite the events taking place, it is very bad PR.  It can make a brand look out of touch when it’s broadcasting anything promotional during a time when the bulk of its community is focused on something else. If you’re going to interrupt their news feed in real time, it had better be worth it, and it had better be sensitive to the emotion that your community is experiencing.   (PR Daily)

Therefore, instead of continuing on with your regularly scheduled posts for the day, it’s a good idea to recognize what’s happening and to express your sympathy and concern. If you schedule social media posts ahead of time, it’s imperative that you immediately log into your platform and cancel or postpone the posts.

Dove is one example of a brand that went ahead with their scheduled posts on Friday afternoon. They received comments questioning why they would post anything while the nation mourned. The company posted here with a chance to win body wash and pajamas. One commenter said:

“Here is m soap box: you suck. You are the only manufacturer on my followers who are not following our tragedy. I am so disappointed in you….” 

This was followed by another commenter, who wrote:

“Some have even gone silent for the day out of respect for those innocent children. Very disappointed in Dove.” 

On the other hand, many brands did an excellent job responding, by simply giving one brief statement of condolence then going silent for the remainder of the afternoon. One such example is Target (pictured below):

This response makes more of an impact. It shows us that these brands might actually be a little human, that whoever is in charge of tweeting for Target Style is an actual person with feelings who cares about other people. Sure, they got the #FreeShoeFriday hashtag in there, they are a business, after all – but they also showed us that they do believe some things are more important than free shoes. Shoes will be there next week. These children and others who lost their lives in today’s tragedy won’t be. (media logic)

There are no words to fully describe the horror of the Connecticut tragedy, and there is no social media “best practice” for such terrible events. However, while there may not be a “right” thing to do, there is a human thing to do, and I believe that’s letting people grieve and connect with others online without interrupting them with your branded content. Save your marketing efforts for another day.

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