Business, social media and tragedy Reply

Any week that inspires the trending Twitter hashtag of #WorstWeekEver has got to be a doozy. From marathon bombings and manhunts, to letters poisoned with ricin, to earthquakes in Iran and Japan, to a massive explosion in Texas, this week’s news has been dominated by fear, tragedy and horror.

But I’ve been impressed for the most part about how social media has been used for good during this time. In a very real way, it has brought our American community, and indeed the world, together. It has been the town square where we have congregated to keep informed, exchange information, and express our anger and despair.

And it has been shown to be a valuable tool during times of crisis. Terror suspects were identified, smoked out and learned about through social media. Social media was used to find missing loved ones. It was used to help local people open their homes to stranded runners and their families. It has been (and is still being) used by police, schools and news organizations to communicate with and give instructions to millions of people in a major urban area. So many of us, in fact, learned about this week’s news — every depressing bit of it — through social media.

Luckily, it seems as though most brands instinctively knew to do the right thing, too. Although there were exceptions, most businesses knew to disable their social media auto updates immediately following the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings to avoid appearing insensitive. Many others posted tasteful messages of solidarity with Boston in the hours and days afterwards. The mood this week has been decidedly more somber and less “business as usual” on social media.

“Going silent” is good advice for business, so is showing empathy.

I happened to run across an article published this week by, ironically, Boston University about Scott Monty, the global digital and multimedia communications manager for Ford Motor Company. He has a great perspective on how companies and organizations should manage their social media accounts in the wake of tragedy. I loved it and thought I should share it with you:

The best thing that companies can do is play an active part in these online communities — they can’t be seen as an advertising platform. You need to talk, listen, and engage. Monitor what’s going on. Just showing up and trying to push things down people’s throats won’t work, and they will object. It’s really just acting like a real human being, showing that there are real human beings behind a campaign.

In other words, businesses: Get personal. Be genuine. Show your individual personality and humanity in a way that doesn’t tie back to what you’re trying to sell, even a little. Do good deeds without an expectation of getting anything in return.

Be a resource if you can, a welcoming place to congregate if you can’t. Put a spotlight on acts of heroism, big and small, and the inevitable stories of good that emerge.

People will remember how you behaved during a time of tragedy. They will remember how you made them feel.

Lynn Esquer/SocialproseLynn Christiansen Esquer is a principal at SocialProse Media. Email her at lesquer@socialprosemedia.com

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