07 Jul 2016
7 Brand Social Media Rules When the News Is Terrible

7 Brand Social Media Rules When the News Is Terrible

A routine by comedian Anthony Jesselnik hilariously criticises social media posts offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of unfolding tragedies. “You are not giving any of your time, your money, your compassion. All you are doing is saying ‘don’t forget about me today…lots of crazy distraction in the news right now, but don’t forget how ‘sads’ I am’”.

The routine comes with a language warning, but should still be compulsory viewing for brands considering their response to everything from the death of beloved celebrities to natural disasters to terrorist attacks. If individuals who make every tragedy about them with empty gestures look foolish, that ridiculousness increases by an order of magnitude when it’s a company.

Like just about every other thing on the internet, what constitutes an appropriate response is up for impassioned debate. There are some that argue that brands should steer clear of social media entirely; others feel that that it can be done, you just need to careful. The answer depends a lot on the nature of your brand.

But if you do decide to post something, here are some guidelines to keep in mind so the world doesn’t end up mocking you for using your ‘sads’ to tailgate a tragedy:

1. There’s No Danger in Doing Nothing:

There are a few occasions when it would be weird for your brand to not say something. Perhaps the beloved celebrity is a brand ambassador or at a stretch, embodies your brand’s spirit. Maybe the disaster is happening in your organisation’s home town or at an event you sponsor. Beyond that, it’s OK to remain silent. Nobody is watching the wall-to-wall news coverage of a horrific incident and thinking “Gosh, I wonder how Coca-Cola feels about this terrible human tragedy. To the tweets, and don’t waste a second”.

2. That Goes For Unrelated Posts, Too:

It’s also worth considering holding off on social media in general. If the whole nation is posting about how devastated they are about the day’s events, your hilariously crafted viral video about cheese is going to look jarringly out of place and is unlikely to hit the mark.

3. Err On The Side Of Caution:

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s nothing people enjoy more than getting offended by things on the internet. It’s better to be hyper-cautious, especially if your detractors can tie it back to a long standing criticism of your company. Even if you are an edgy brand and your target audience will get your point, you need to consider potential damage once a post is shared without context beyond the climate-controlled environment of your own feed. That’s not to say you can never take a stance on anything, but it needs to be a conscious decision. Many brands such as Medibank are taking a polite but firm “shut down the haters” approach on their social sites to things such as criticism of ads featuring same sex couples.

4. Don’t Blindly Jump Onto A Hashtag:

Before aligning your brand to an innocuous seeming hashtag, take a moment to understand the context. It’s a big world and most of it has Twitter, so you don’t want to make assumptions about why a hashtag is trending, as British online store CelebBoutique did in 2013, when it claimed that people were using the #Aurora hashtag to talk about its Kim Kardashian inspired dress of the same name and not because of the mass shooting taking place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Even knowing what the hashtag is for can be perilous if it’s not the right tone for your brand. In 2015 Mortein tried to insert its humorous mascot Louie the Fly in the #PutOutYourDress campaign, which saw people hanging out bridal dresses to honour a murdered woman whose body was found the day before her wedding.

5. Check Your Scheduled Posts:

Another way brands can inadvertently come unstuck is by forgetting to check whether your scheduled posts fit the mood of the day. You can bet the day that you’ve scheduled a post featuring a shark is the day that there will be widespread media coverage of a shark attack. Even Apple has had a scheduled post faux pas: when the iPhone 6 was released, Joan Rivers excitedly posted on Facebook and Twitter how much she loved her new phone, which was awkward because the legendary comedian had died two weeks previously. While many scheduled posts go up first thing in the morning in order to reach the biggest potential audience, don’t make it so early that no one in the organisation has checked the headlines yet.

6. Don’t Make It About Your Brand, Not Even A Little Bit:

If you are going to say something about a tragedy, say something about the tragedy, not yourself. Putting your logo on a photo of the city that just suffered a terrorist attack is iffy. Create a response that makes sense. When David Bowie died in 2016, a lot of brands paid tribute but none so clumsily as Crocs Shoes which tweeted (and quickly deleted) a picture of a white Croc overlaid with a Bowie-style lightning bolt. Even if the company is knee deep in Ziggy Stardust lovers, in the public’s mind rubber clogs are like the anti-Bowie and it smacked of self-promotion. If you sell something that would have been handy for people to have in the disaster, it’s hard to mention that without appearing like you are cashing in on other’s misfortunes.

7. Do Something Constructive:

Make a donation to help those affected by the event. Direct people to the right places to seek or offer help. People are increasingly cynical about empty gestures so let you actions speak louder.

Staying within the bounds of good taste can be a difficult task for brands during major tragedies, especially when the whole mantra of social media is about becoming part of the conversation. Companies and social media accounts are run by humans who not only feel affected by events that touch the rest of the population, but can make mistakes. With a bit of caution around posting during these events, you can help stop your brand from becoming a punchline.

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