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Should brands stop posting during a crisis?

4 min read


SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues.

This week, we asked: Did your organization temporarily stop posting to social networks following the Boston Marathon bombing?

  • Yes: 52.94%
  • No: 47.06%

Last week saw social media at its best and its worst. Social networks helped share important information, reunited loved ones and gave people an outlet for their grief in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. But social networks were also used to spread rumors and share a variety of insensitive remarks. There’s a lot to unpack about the pitfalls and best practices for using social media in a crisis, far more than this one post can contain. So let’s focus on one area: best practices for corporate social media posts after a traumatic event.

A brand has three options when a crisis hits. They can:

  1. Keep posting your usual content as if nothing has happened.
  2. Post new material specifically tailored to relate to the crisis.
  3. Cease or reduce posting for a short period of time.

Depending on a brand’s focus and circumstance, any one of those three options could be the correct one. Some brands may opt for option No. 1 on some occasions and No. 3 on others. Every crisis is different for every brand.

Option No. 1 may be appropriate if you feel that your follower base is not involved in the crisis. Your audience may be geographically insulated from an event or your area of focus may be substantially removed from the crisis. That said, remember that it’s not a question of whether you or your employees care about an event. It’s all about how your followers feel. They may be more invested in the event than you think. A handy test is to look at what your followers are posting about. If everyone is preoccupied with an event, you may want to reassess your plan.

Option No. 2 works best when you have something to contribute. If you’re a health organization, for example, you may have resources you can share during a natural disaster. Most brands won’t fall into that category. That’s OK. You can just say that your thoughts are with the people affected by the crisis. It’s not an especially powerful statement, but a terrorist attack or a disaster isn’t really the time to try to go viral. Instead, focus on community building and avoiding obvious gaffes.

Option No. 3 is almost always an acceptable response to a crisis. That may sound counterproductive, but brands are often advised to try to be human on social channels, right? Well, human beings often don’t know what to say in the face of tragedy. Unless your brand is somehow tied to the event or the response effort, everyone will understand if you post a short note saying you’re going dark for a little while out of respect for the event.

For most brands — media organizations, political groups, aid organizations and the like are among the big exceptions — the risks of social media posting during a crisis outweigh the benefits. Chances are good that no one is logging on to find out about your latest project during a national or global emergency. But a brand can be the recipient of some negative publicity if they make a crass or insensitive remark.

At minimum, smart brands will stop any scheduled updates and ask some hard questions about how those posts will viewed before starting again. The one constant is the need for vigilance. You can only make an informed decision about what’s best for your brand if you’re aware of the situation.