How should we respond to tragic national events on social media?
(Image via Shutterstock)

I have made several attempts at writing this blog over the last couple of months, but I’ve always been overtaken by new events and the ever-changing situation. The world is currently a deeply troubled place in which every national or international crisis, atrocity or disaster is greatly magnified and brought to the front of our minds through the prism of social media. But as someone managing a professional or semi-professional social media presence, how do you publicly acknowledge or respond to such tragic or upsetting events?

The policy that Nick Lewis Communications has adopted is ‘business as usual’. This may sound heartless or unresponsive. In regard to terrorist incidents, I have the following good reasons for you to consider:

 

  • Unfortunately, terrorism has now become a regular occurrence in national life. If a company, organisation or individual expresses outrage and sympathy at one attack but not at another or subsequent one, it could become problematic as you have set a precedent.
  • At what level of attack do we express solidarity? Is there a minimum number of dead or injured at which we or a company feels obliged to comment? Personally, I’d rather not go down that calculating route.
  • By commenting on the attack, we are ‘signal boosting’ the work of terrorism. Terrorists are now fully cognisant of the power and reach of social media, and by commenting on their atrocities we are actually aiding their goals rather than hindering them.
  • There is a risk that a company, organisation or individual could be seen to be using the attack in an opportunistic, disingenuous way to increase awareness of themselves on social media. I recently saw a post on both LinkedIn and Twitter where a Welsh business commented “<Business Name> stands with the people of Manchester”. I could not but feel this had more to do with boosting their own profile and getting ‘engagement’ that helps social media algorithms in their favour rather than expressing actual sympathy per se (although I am sure that the company involved were also sincere in their outrage).

However, in light of such attacks, anyone managing a social media feed, either for themselves or on behalf of others, does need to undertake some proactive action. I, personally, would do the following:

  • Review all scheduled social media posts to ensure that anything scheduled in advance cannot be taken to read as either too flippant or problematic in light of a new, unexpected national context or mood.
  • Always look to schedule social media posts or stories that are more sombre and ‘value neutral’ in light of the national context for the following 24 or 48 hours following an incident.
  • Never share any content to do with the attacks unless it specifically relates to the nature of your organisation or the area in which the organisation is located.
  • Ensure that any articles or posts that you share about the incident (you may very well have to comment on it if the attack affects your sector) are from reputable news sources, with articles that focus on reportage rather than opinion.

Of course, the sensibility behind the approach outlined above can be adapted in response to other horrific news stories that are not related to terrorism or aggressive political actions, including natural disasters or tragedies such as the Grenfell Tower fire. In such circumstances, everyone is potentially open to the accusation of commenting too soon before knowing the full facts or to the charge that they are capitalising on events for their own social media prominence.

So what can you actually do if you are genuinely distressed or upset by national events? First of all, I would argue that such expression is better suited to a personal social media account rather than a company or organisational one. After all, are you, the social media manager in this instance, fully authorised to develop and express a ‘company line’ or response to events? I would recommend that anything approaching such subjects should be run past the Managing Director or Chief Executive and also another member of the senior management team to make sure that both tone and content are correct, purposeful and relevant.

Even if you do decide to vent or publicly emote about national events on your own social media channels, I would urge you to exercise restraint and circumspection. Firstly, what are you hoping to achieve by posting a comment? Aside from registering anger or distress, what is to be gained by doing so, aside from nominal solidarity? Do you have the right to appropriate the grief and anger felt more acutely by those directly affected by such events?

Secondly, how do social media posts affect those caught up directly in events? Some people very unwisely use social media to turn such tragedies into a megaphone for their own political agendas while others use it to diminish or dismiss the suffering of those at the centre of it all. Does either approach here actually benefit anyone? Not only that, think about what kind of light such an attitude presents you in – you may have your reasons, but there is a better time and place for you to expand upon them than in the uninformed and chaotic minutes, hours or even days after an incident or event.

Of course, if you’re completely genuine and feel the need to do or say something, why not actually help in a constructive way? In the case of national disasters, often charities club together to form a centralised fund, so why not share links to those fundraising exercises if you sincerely want to help those you’re distressed about? Also, you may want to share news updates from authorities such as the police, government or local government if a horrific event has happened in an area that impacts on you (either personally or professionally). Again, I urge people to be rational about this. For example, why would someone share news or information updates from such sources about a horrific incident in London if they live at the northern tip of Scotland (or vice versa), especially if they don’t have any connection (or social media contacts) in the area affected?

Of course, all of the above just represents my own approach regarding events. Given the varying degrees of magnitude of distressing news that crosses our collective paths, there is probably no one ‘right approach’ to all of this. However, I hope my reasoning makes sense to you, and I’d welcome any suggestions in the comments section below from any other social media or online marketing professional who may have some other constructive advice for us all.

Nick Lewis & Nick Lewis Communications can provide training in social media marketing as well as offer professional management of social media feedsTo find out, please e-mail info@nicklewiscommunications.com or call 07970 839137.

 

Nick Lewis is a communications professional with over 15 years’ experience of working in both the private and public sector.

Nick is now using his wealth of skills and experience to help small businesses and organisations adapt to the modern online age. He helps individuals understand the possible successful applications of Social Media for their business and how they can use and monitor online materials and Social Media themselves to meet their professional goals.

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