Brands and social media response after tragedy

by | Oct 3, 2017 | Blog, Social Media | 0 comments

On October 2nd 2017’s content calendar we had a post scheduled for a client to promote a film they had out a few years back. It was a sales post with a funny meme from the film. I thought to myself,

“This is great. This will be fun to create as I’m tired of feeling hopeless as I read terrible stories and fights on Facebook between acquaintances over what should and shouldn’t be done in the face of yet another tragedy and mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas. I’ll work on this project.

And then I stopped to think: Why am I pushing a movie when tragedy just happened in our country? The client isn’t in the middle a current promotion for this film. And it feels very disrespectful and out of place when people are still dying from a deranged gunman.

Nikki and I made a decision right then and there that on a day (or days, if appropriate) after a tragedy when it’s dominating the news cycle, we’re going to pause planned content for clients. If there’s a promotion happening at the moment, we’ll reconsider or switch the days on which we post. And if a client wants to post something directly related to the tragedy, we’ll facilitate the post (Pray for Paris, links to Charity organizations, etc.). But otherwise, in the face of tragedy, with the brands we currently work with, we are going to remain silent.

Brands and Celebrity Response

Throughout the rest of the post, we’ll share some brand and celebrity responses to recent tragedies.

Please join us in supporting the relief efforts organized by clicking the link in our bio!

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I spoke with a few others about how they handle social media in light of tragedy and this is what they said:

Elena Raines, Social Media Manager

After a tragedy like in Las Vegas, for one of the big entertainment brands I work with, we pretty consistently halt posting for 24 hours – sometimes more but rarely. We don’t typically acknowledge it any way, and when we resume posting we have to be mindful of not being insensitive or using triggering words.

For a smaller company, I suspend normal posting and will occasionally post about the incident. It kind of depends on the severity {of the tragedy}. I did post about Vegas for a small company yesterday.

With my talent/celebrity clients, I recommend they not post normal, every day content.

I let them decide if they want to address it, but I usually send them an email when there is a tragedy or a death of a public figure so they can decide if they want to post. Most talent does and often asks for help in drafting the post or finding an appropriate image.

Social Media Manager, Fast Casual Restaurant

We’re really sensitive after a tragedy and are conscious about posts in the market where the tragedy occurred. Typically we go silent for a period of time or if we do post, it’s around a way to help. One example was after Hurricane Irma, our team donated a percentage of sales to help with relief efforts. We have to monitor those posts because regardless of our good intentions, sometimes people will comment negatively. There is no right formula after a crisis – it’s a case-by-case basis.

Erin Gross, Community Manager

From my experience, it varies depending on the brand and the tragedy. You have to assess your audience and if its appropriate to insert your brand into the conversation.

I think you should always assess your marketing plans and see if you need to make changes and be more sensitive to the situation.

Karen Hyland, Public Relations Executive and Small Business Owner

For our business we very publicly stated our support of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. Not only were we elated, but it fits directly in to our values as a restaurant: Dignity, Respect, Inclusive. There are other issues (i.e. gun control) that we don’t publicly comment on, despite our personal beliefs. The gun debate isn’t really part of our value DNA as a brand or business. (And we DO live in the South).

I think it’s brand 101: You should NEVER be public about something that isn’t authentic to your value framework….it’s just specious.

Beth Thorne, Social Media Manager

You have to weigh how each brand’s own voice relates to their public involvement. Some find it best to take the day off and return a few days later with a more somber tone. Others are vocal in their community and want their support to be a part of the bigger social conversation, and in that case we #hashtag with thoughtfulness and reserve.

Always, no matter the business or your strategy, you take stock of what you have planned to post for the next several days and regroup for appropriateness and thoughtfulness.

If you have an event that you can’t cancel, of course you continue to promote it only after providing a thoughtful response to the recent tragedy. It’s a balancing game that while contingent on what your client needs, is always benefited by your careful and cautious oversight.


Other Perspectives

I went searching outside of our circle of friends and business contacts to see what others have said. In 2016 PR Week asked two experts if brands should go dark following tragedy.

Jay Bear, Social Media expert and author of “Hug your Haters” (and great speaker- I’ve seen him twice!) says:

“If TV is wall-to-wall talking about something terrible, do not post. Stop all automated posts, then resist the temptation to say anything at all. Do not post from the brand that “our hearts and prayers are with the survivors” (or similar). Nobody needs to be comforted by a company.

That’s not what companies do and not what companies are for. People provide comfort, not companies.”

Alternatively, Courtney Harper from SVP, Reputation Partners says brands shouldn’t go dark:

“Brands, companies, and organizations that are already active on social media should maintain their presence. Now is not the time to go dark. Suddenly going silent could unintentionally convey that you have something to hide or aren’t in control of the situation – neither of which are positive for your brand reputation.”

As a company that run social media and PR for brands and individuals, these are conversations we have to have about what is and isn’t appropriate following tragedy (or even following less tragic events like a celebrity death). Some brands and personalities may feel the need to post, whether the situation hits close to home or they are passionate about the topic (i.e. gun control). Others want to stay out of the conversation out of respect or feeling like it isn’t their place. Depending on the industry, tragedy type and personality of the brand or client online, there are different responses that are appropriate.

For Method Agency, with our current roster of clients, our new policy is to: Stop all automated posts and assess the situation; Halt any planned posts that do not fit the mood or identity of the client; Per any client requests, work with them to create any relevant posts.

What do you think? Should brands stay silent? Should they respond?


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