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How SHOULD a Business Behave After Tragedy?

It is one of the worst tragedies I can remember. Twenty-seven people were killed by a gunman on December 14, 2012 at an elementary school in Connecticut. As a parent I cannot even begin to imagine how parents of the lost children feel. The world is talking about gun control and mental illness, hoping and praying this will never happen again. Parents are hugging their children a little longer.

The old saying “There’s one in every crowd” was never more evident than when I found this discussion happening on the Victims of SandyHook Facebook page…the same day as the massacre.

promoting business on facebook

So many questions about this person. Was she sincerely trying to help and just got it wrong? Was she greedy and trying to mask it with donations? Was she just insensitive? I don’t know. I can’t possibly know her true intentions. And therein lies a big problem with social media: You cannot always make your true intentions clear.

For businesses who are in the social space, a bigger question is “How can a business help in such a tragic situation, without appearing callous?” Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t hijack someone else’s page, or thread, asking people to come like your page.
  2. Don’t link your “help” to new likes, or new sales, from people on that page.
  3. Announce your donations in your own space. Don’t use your generosity as an attempt to grow your following.
  4. Spend time building your community and reputation on your own page so that when you say “We’re donating today’s sales to XYZ”, people know you well enough to see that its altruistic.

Another question for businesses: Should you or shouldn’t you post about the tragedy? If a business posts about the tragedy, even as simple as “Our hearts go out to the victims”, is that ok? Or is even that type of post insensitive when it comes from a business? The more I saw these posts on Facebook and Twitter, the more I felt they were “forced”, or trite…not genuine and heartfelt.

And finally, when is it ok to resume regularly scheduled activities on social media? Some social media managers said they had pulled all their scheduled posts for a couple of days. Others left them up but double-checked for insensitivity. Should we expect all businesses to go quiet for 24 hours out of respect? 48? A week? If a business does choose to acknowledge a tragedy, when is it ok for them to move on?

Ok. I lied…here are my last questions. Is it wrong for me to write this blog post? Does it feel like I am taking advantage of a tragedy myself? How far is too far? Where is that line?

I don’t know that I have any answers for you. I think it’s different for every business. I found myself asking these questions and not coming up with any answers. Maybe you can help me this time.

Comments (5)

  • Marc Ensign Reply

    Thanks Anita! Somebody had to say it and I’m glad it was you. That same day I had posted something on Facebook related to the whole incident and had the conversation hijacked by someone that I went to high school with and haven’t seen in 25 years. He was insulting and fighting with everyone involved in this discussion (including Paul). The same day!!! The! Same! Day! For the first time in my life I was speechless…and you know how tough that is for me! Some people just don’t understand the seriousness of a situation when it doesn’t land right on their doorstep.

    December 18, 2012 at 8:32 am
    • Anita Hovey Reply

      You? Speechless? Not possible. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

      December 19, 2012 at 9:40 am
  • Ken Walker Reply

    A great, concise teaching moment Anita. Waiting a few days, like you did, allows for some reflection time and the ability to decide if the comment is:

    a) more than personal catharsis (if not, refrain)
    b) a real ultruistic contribution without commercial objective
    c) able to be crafted with sensitivity, helpfulness and unique contribution

    Without these three filters a company and its people risk being and being seen as “ambulance chasers” who could severely damage their reputation and cause real pain to those affected by the tragedy either directly or who are caught in a moment of pain identification.

    December 18, 2012 at 9:42 am
    • Anita Hovey Reply

      Thanks Ken. Had a great discussion about this topic on Twitter last night too. Many people simply went silent for a couple of days. There is no right or wrong answer, I don’t think… it so depends the business & audience.

      December 19, 2012 at 9:38 am
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