Addressing Tragedy on Your Business's Social Media Pages (With Examples)

Social Media amplifies everything. Debates are bigger, celebrity gossip is more widespread, and when tragedy strikes, such as this week in Orlando, it becomes a topic of public discussion. 

As a human being, you may be compelled to express your sadness, anger, or support on social media. But as a business owner, it can be difficult to decide if, and how, to make a statement about a tragedy from your store’s perspective. 

This is one of the most sensitive subjects we’ve covered on our blog, but it is also one that is timely and, unfortunately, necessary. While we want to give you some tips for addressing tragic events on social media, we urge you to take the time to come up with a message that reflects the culture and values of your business.


Don’t Act Fast

Sometimes, no words are the best words. You shouldn’t feel pressured to respond to regional, national, or international events as a company – especially as news breaks. Even reputable news sources can sometimes get their facts crossed early in an investigation. Make sure you’re educated on the situation before coming up with your statement.

In the example below, an Entenmann’s employee used the hashtag #notguilty to promote their snack cakes, not knowing that the hashtag was trending because of the verdict in the Casey Anthony murder trial. 

And a store called Celeb Boutique mistakenly used a hashtag connected to the Aurora shooting to promote a dress:

Even if you are up-to-date on the situation, remember why you are on social media in the first place:  to promote your business and build relationships with your customers. If after taking a step back to find calm and educate yourself you decide that a public statement does not serve your company or community, it may be smart to simply log out of social media.


Be Respectful

When addressing tragedy, the key is to be sensitive to those involved. Try to steer clear of political or religious comments; these should be saved for your personal profile. If your business has close ties to religion – such as a Christian book store or store that specializes in gifts created by and for the Jewish community – or a business that includes religion in its culture, you may be able to make an exception to this. Many businesses sent “prayers to Paris” following the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks. 

If you do not wish to address religion in your post, there are many other phrases that can convey your emotions, such as:

  • Sending good vibes
  • Sending our thoughts
  • Sending hugs
  • Sending positivity
  • Sending love
  • Sending peace
  • Our hearts break
  • We stand by

Be open to expressing the culture of your business, but also be mindful of the impact your words can have. 

Good examples or respectful posts by brands:

A Nike tweet following the Boston Marathon bombings:

They were able to tie their message into their brand without making it promotional.

Lenovo following Prince’s passing:

Lenovo was able to share a touching and simple statement to honor the late singer.


Pause Automation

Automation may be a time-saver for busy business owners, but one poorly timed post or tweet can be a deal-breaker during times of tragedy. One of the first things that you should do in terms of your business when news of tragedy breaks is to pause your scheduled posts and check to see if any of them are inappropriate due to the situation.

You may also decide that it’s best to reschedule posts for a later time and refrain from posting out of respect, such as SEO company Moz did following the unrest in Ferguson:

  This post showed that they are human beings before they are a company, humanizing the brand and garnering a lot of positive attention.

Mutual of Omaha, on the other hand, appeared to be cold and callous after a poorly timed tweet came out following the Sandy Hook Tragedy:

Automation can be an incredibly useful tool, but handle it with care.


Don’t Capitalize on Grief

One of the biggest, yet most common, mistakes that brands make in the wake of tragedy is using a tragic situation to promote their company and bottom line. 

Messages of support following tragedy should contain NO branding, NO CTAs (unless you are sharing a donation link), and NO marketing speak. These brands had to learn this the hard way:

Campbells took a much too lighthearted approach to their SpaghettiOs Pearl Harbor memorial post.

Prince fans felt that 3M promoted their logo too heavily in a post honoring the singer.

Kmart included their own marketing hashtag in a post meant to honor the victims of the Newtown tragedy.

American Apparel hosted a FLASH sale during the flash floods of hurricane Sandy.

AT&T included a photo of their latest smartphone in a September 11 tribute post.


How to Show Support

If you don’t want to share a statement from your business on a tragic event, there are still many other ways that you can show your support from your business, such as:

  • Changing your profile photo to a positive message or adding an overlay. ( Ex.: Many businesses added an overlay of the French flag following the Paris attacks)
  • Changing your header photos
  • Sharing donation pages or information on how to help
  • Donating a portion of your profits to a related cause and letting the community know about it on social media
  • Sharing a positive quote without directly mentioning the specific event

We are human beings before we are business owners or employees. Tragedy is a part of life, but it is a part that can be addressed with dignity and respect. Sit down with your team to discuss how you would like your business to act in times of tragedy. If you have a social media manager, connect with them and come up with a plan of action in the face of local, national, or international tragedy. 

You’ll be happy that you did.