Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Three Social Media Rules After a National Tragedy

I promise not all of my posts are going to be about PR. Really. But after the events that have swept the news in the last few weeks, I had to talk about this important topic.

The rise of social media has changed the way news is delivered and the scope of its reach. For example, when the Boston Marathon bombing suspects were being pursued in 2013, Twitter users listening to local police scanners were live-reporting the events faster than the proper journalists could get their hands on the information. That’s just an example of the living, breathing organism social media has become.

And its potential to create a monster.

So, how can you maintain proper social media etiquette in the hours and days following a tragedy with national ramifications? You can start with this.

If you have scheduled posts, turn them off.

When actor-comedian Robin Williams died last week, Facebook and Twitter exploded. Everyone wanted to express their sentiments, their shock and sadness and other reactions. But peppered in my feed were promotional posts that were way too chirpy to not be pre-scheduled. Those can be very off-putting to people who are experiencing a roller coaster of emotions.  And that’s certainly not how you want to stand out. It can get you blocked or unfollowed, unfortunately.

Wait until social media has calmed down a little and then you can return to business as usual. But until then, toning down your promotion is most respectful.

When in doubt about whether or not to make a public statement regarding the tragedy, it’s best to stay silent.

One of the dangers of social media is how easy it is to post information -- information that’s hard to retract once it’s been published. Though you may feel strongly about a topic, there are countless others who feel just as strongly for the opposing side of your argument.

While there’s nothing wrong with having or expressing an opinion, most of the time it’s best and most tasteful to avoid statements that may spark controversy, appear to be posted for the sake of shock value, or potentially offend in times of heightened emotions. You can discuss your opinion in the safety of friends and family members and leave your social media platform for what you do best. And on the flip side of that, if you're not sure whether or not to say something, don't feel you have to just because everyone is doing it.

If you believe this tragedy could be capitalized for a sales opportunity, think again.

During Hurricane Sandy, several retail giants were chastised for incorporating Sandy-related hashtags and trending topics into their promotional efforts. Not okay.

When I was working in full-time book PR, I can’t tell you how many authors wanted me to pitch their books to the media in areas that had experienced a tragedy just because there was a similar thread in their fiction or a message of hope in their memoir. Still not okay.

Even if you’re well-meaning about it, if your post promotes you or your product, especially if it contains a direct link to sales, it will most likely be counterproductive for you. If you genuinely want to help, then donate money or free books to any official causes related to the tragedy. And you don’t have to publicize this generosity, either.

The moral of the story is: in times of tragedy, it's always better to help with actions instead of words. While I believe you have the best intentions in the world, words are powerful, especially when emotions are high. So use them wisely :)

What are your social media dos and don'ts after a tragedy? Have you seen any really bad faux pas on your feed?

Laurie Tomlinson is a wife and mom who writes stories of grace in the beautiful mess. When she's not writing, she enjoys car singing, baking, and going on adventures with her husband and little girl. 

Her first book won the 2013 ACFW Genesis Award (Contemporary), and her second is a current finalist in the 2014 Genesis Contest (Romance). She is represented by Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary.

You can connect with Laurie at www.laurietomlinson.com or Facebook.com/AuthorLaurieTomlinson.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh wow. I've never even thought about this before. While I don't even know how to schedule twitter posts, I can certainly see how happy posts would be a bit off-putting during times of tragedy. Thanks for the heads up, Laurie. You got me thinking.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great words, Laurie.
A similar situation happened to me between yesterday and this morning. I was talking with a person, setting up their guest visit to my website. It was my turn to respond. Fortunately I saw her FB status this morning, relating a huge tragedy that happened to her late last night. Needless to say I did not write her back yet and will wait for the appropriate time. Instead, I commented with sympathy on her status.

What great advice you gave today. Thank you!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Super advice, Laurie! I definitely agree with staying quiet at times during a tragedy. When I heard about the passing of Robin Williams, I was shocked, as were most people. I don't know a lot about suicide, so I observed rather than commenting on people's posts. I saw some division as people shared their opinions and were reamed for doing so.

Your advice of actions being more effective than words makes sense.

GREAT post!

PS—the new look is wonderful, ladies!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

@Sherrinda - You bet! And this is mainly for people who use their social media for building their "brand", of course. I just saw so many tacky things over the last few weeks (and over the years working in PR) that I had to speak up :)

@Mary - See? Great discernment on your part! Love that. More people need that wisdom and discernment in their lives!!

@Jeanne - Thank you for commenting! And THANKS for the compliment. Still a few things to tweak, but I think it's gorgeous!

Ashley Clark said...

Wonderful post, Laurie! I always get frustrated when I feel like people are trying to make a penny off of a tragedy. And I hadn't thought about pre-scheduled posts... interesting!

Elizabeth Byler Younts said...

Well said, Laurie. I completely agree. I wish more people were as level-headed as you!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Ashley - Yes! Pre-scheduled posts can be problematic in this instance but otherwise great if used correctly. Oh man. Now I think I have another blog idea... :)

Elizabeth - Thank you! And thanks for stopping by! We need to host you for a visit sometime!