3 Ways To NOT use Social Media in Response to a Tragedy

There’s no denying or hiding from the fact that something absolutely terrible beyond words happened last week. If you aren’t aware of what happened, you’ll have to find the information elsewhere because I will not, within the text of this post, mention the location, details of the occurrence, or the name of the accused because I simply do not want this post to surface for searches related to those terms. That is not the point of this post.

The goal of this post is to discuss proper uses of social media via your business accounts when tragic situations occur by highlighting companies and organizations that I believe, either used the tragedy as a means for self-promotion, and/or simply did not take the appropriate steps in verifying information before jumping to be first to post on Facebook or tweet.

So, without further ado, here are examples of what NOT to do on social media when tragedy strikes:

1. DO NOT post and tweet photos and information without verification or you will be crucified by commenters.

It was difficult, practically impossible, to be online the day the tragedy occurred and not see post after post about the situation, the investigation and the suspect. When the first picture of the suspect surfaced it was being described by most as the perpetrator’s mug shot. Normally that wouldn’t have been the worst mistake in the world as other sources and commenters were quick to point out that it was not a recent picture – however the person was smiling in the picture which sent conversations spiraling out of control and conclusions being drawn based on the incorrect description of the picture. This is irresponsible journalism; the majority of those photo posts came from news stations who should be held accountable for getting their facts straight before they re-share incorrect information posted by others. The backlash is damaging. As soon as commenters saw this post, knowing it was incorrect, comments flew in doubting the accuracy of any further information shared by those news stations. If they can’t get their facts straight on this, can we believe anything else they post?

To that point, as a business, be careful what you retweet and re-share with your audiences. Don’t automatically assume because you see something posted by a reporter or news station that it is correct – or you could face similar backlash.

 2. DO NOT stray off-topic to garner comments and page views. 

I’m a Facebook ‘Like’ junkie. I have ‘Liked’ some 1500 or so Facebook Business Pages – both because of personal interests but also as research for my clients. That being said, when I sit and read my News Feed, I see posts from LOTS of businesses. What struck me as terribly offensive not only on the day of the tragedy itself but even still during the few days that have passed, are the number of businesses from various industries that are abandoning their topics and their focus to strike up conversation on their Pages about some aspect of this tragedy.

I finally got to the point last week that I had to say something about it to one of the businesses. The company was a social media company whose ‘About’ section of their Facebook reads, “Helping Individuals & Businesses Discover How Best To Use The Power of Social Media!”

The post that pushed me over the edge on this particular business’ Page was an image of one of the weapons used in the tragedy and a question to their Facebook fans about their position on being allowed to sell ammunition online. So I asked them what that had to do with their business, social media, and I took a screenshot because instead of defending their position, they did as I suspected they would do, and later deleted the post – because, well, I guess they realized it didn’t have anything to do with their business and perhaps it wasn’t an appropriate way to try to increase their Facebook Page EdgeRank.

Another big offender of this was social media/technology news site, Mashable, who describes themselves as “Social Media News and Web Tips – Mashable – The Social Media Guide”. I am a huge fan of Mashable as a social media resource – but when their posts became less about Facebook, Twitter, and Apps, and ALL about the tragedy I became disenchanted and questioned their motives – and I was not alone.

Moral of the story: posting your condolences is fine, but completely going off-topic is going to turn your readers against you.

One approach that I really admired was that by ONEHOPE Wine who simply said, “We’re going to take silence for the remainder of today and tomorrow. It just doesn’t feel right to carry on about wine right now – I’ll make a post in the morning. Peace to you all.” Not only weren’t they about to go off-topic but they didn’t even feel appropriate posting at all. An admirable stance, in my opinion.

3. DO NOT hijack the hashtag and then play dumb.

When lots of people are talking about a certain topic on Twitter, it goes to a section of Twitter called, “Trends” so you can see what these topics are and jump into the conversation if you so desire. From a marketing perspective, companies will monitor the trending topics and try to use them in their tweets for more exposure. When tragedy strikes, a hashtag will surface that people can use to more easily find relevant information. And as inevitable as it is that there will be hashtags trending related to the tragedy, it is equally inevitable that at least one company will screw up and hijack the hashtag for self-promotion. (Remember Kenneth Cole’s tweet?)

This time a clothing company used the hashtag to promote a link to a product and, well, it did not go over well. After the backlash they took down the tweet and as part of their apology claimed that the person responsible for the tweet did not know what the hashtag stood for and meant no harm. Guess what? That doesn’t help your company look better. If your marketing strategy is to capitalize on tweet exposure by posting tweets that include trending hashtags – you better make darn sure you know why that hashtag is trending and what it means before you go using it.

If you want to be on the safe side, post your condolences if you see fit, then just lay low for a couple of days. When something like this happens, information is flying around so fast that you really can’t believe everything you read online as fact and although tempting, it’s very risky business to re-share and retweet via your business accounts.