Managing social media during a crisis

How Brands Should React on Social Media During a Tragedy

In this day and age, when a tragedy or crisis strikes, everyone knows about it almost instantaneously. When tragedies occur, whether they are international or within a smaller community, companies need to know when to show they care and when to be quiet. 

Last Thursday when Prince passed away, hundreds of brands quickly jumped on the bandwagon to post about his passing on their social media pages, using their products to acknowledge his memory. Maker’s Mark shared an image replacing the signature red wax with purple wax “in honor” of Prince. Fans thought this was very insulting, because Prince never drank. Cheerios also posted an image to their Twitter with the words “Rest in Peace,” with a cheerio dotting the “i.” Fans were furious to see the company injecting their brand into their condolences.


Bonnie Burton, says it perfectly in her article, Prince’s Death Highlights Fine Line Between Sympathy and Advertising. “If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that companies can express their sadness for the passing of an icon without using their products to do it. Capitalizing on tragedy on social media should never be a company’s end game. You wouldn’t hand out flyers for your company at a funeral, so why do the equivalent on social media?”

So how should your company react to situations like death or even international crises like shootings and terrorist attacks? David McFarlane shares his tips in the article, Social Media Respect: When to Care and When to be Quiet.

Think before you tweet

Do I have anything to contribute to this discussion?

That’s a good question to ask yourself every day, but especially in the wake of a mass shooting or tsunami. Can you write anything helpful as thousands grieve and millions mourn? While an outpouring of Eiffel Tower peace signs after the Paris attacks, can unite a country (and world) in grief, put yourself in the shoes of the victims. On memorial days, think of veterans and the descendants of civil rights freedom fighters. Would you want to see your brand’s post? If not, pause your content, and be respectful in silence.

Speak from the heart, not from the wallet

For some companies, doing nothing at all would feel wrong, as if ignoring the fact that hundreds of lives were lost. If a tragedy or memorial affects you on a deep level, your brand can create something from that sincere place. It should be about humanity, not marketing. On no occasion is it wise or compassionate to capitalize on a serious issue.

Put your management where your mouth is

If you do want to come across as human, consider using a true human voice. You have many in your company.

As a CEO, manager, or employee, tweeting with your personal account will come across as more sincere than a brand name. If you want to make a difference, decide with your management team to donate to relief efforts or offer services to those affected. Just don’t publicize this with your professional accounts. It can come across as promotional, as Bing learned.


Don’t always avoid politics

Sometimes sensitive topics aren’t always sad. They can be celebratory, too, even if they’re political and potentially divisive. Commercial brands should never endorse a political candidate, but if you support a current issue with your company culture, you can (and probably should) post about it at relevant times. If you decide to speak up or take a stand on something your company believes in, you may offend some of your audience, as Honey Maid discovered with their “This Is Wholesome” campaign. If you do it well, though, as Honey Maid also learned, you may attract even more customers for your integrity.