Magazine article Public Management

Social Media Use in Times of Tragedy: Contemplating the Proper Response

Magazine article Public Management

Social Media Use in Times of Tragedy: Contemplating the Proper Response

Article excerpt

If you're using social media as an information source for your community, what should you say following a tragedy like the deadly blasts at the Boston Marathon on April 15? The elementary school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut? Or weather-related natural disasters that people experienced this year? Sometimes, nothing at all.

A Relatively New Phenomenon

The age of social media brings with it new challenges, including how to respond during a national tragedy. Remember, as recently as September 11, 2001, we had no MySpace, much less Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Except for e-mail, no vehicle for delivering instantaneous messages existed.

After 9/11, one of the most painful days in American memory, most of us had time to pause, reflect, and put on hold information for print, radio, and television that might be considered inappropriate or offensive.

In recent months, there has been lively debate on this topic in my world--the marketing community--including how and when to tie--or not to tie--a marketing-type message into the news of the day, a widely used strategy.

Gaffes can occur with the most innocent of intentions in any media content, marketing or not. Earlier in April, a new episode of the musical comedy "Glee" upset and angered parents in Newtown, Connecticut, because the plot featured a student bringing a gun to school, where it accidentally discharges. Even though the show's programming is supposed to be topical and current, one of the actors reported that it was not the show's intent to upset people.

Avoiding a Blunder

Usually, however, simply applying your own sense of decency and good taste can help you avoid a blunder. Here are suggestions for do's and don'ts:

* If you use automated posts scheduled through a site such as HootSuite, turn them off immediately. If people don't find them insensitive and uncaring or silly, they'll likely conclude your messages come from a robot--not a real person--which is just as bad. …

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