In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the devastation that swept Texas and especially the City of Houston, our hearts ached with sympathy. The nation focused its attention on Houston, on Harvey’s victims, on the gut-wrenching losses, and on the stories of heroism that invariably arise from tragedy. The multitudes not affected turned to social media to express concern and love or to share means of support for Harvey’s victims. This is typical in the wake of tragedies; however, there is a right way and a wrong way to mention tragedies on social media. As we approach one of our nation’s most well-known days of tragedy and remembrance (9/11), we advise to tread with humility, reverence, sensitivity, and sincerity.

Don’t Make Tragedy about You

Some of the best-worst examples of brands posting on social media in the wake of tragedy stemmed from Prince’s untimely death in 2016. Prince’s death was the time to reflect sincerely and somberly, not to promote one’s brand or product.

  • Avoid having any tie-in to sales, promos, or your product. Prince was from Minnesota, so the Minnesota Twins’ image of a purple-lit stadium with the text, “Fitting that it’s raining in Minneapolis today,” is an homage to the icon without being self-gratifying.
  • Don’t do any cross-promotions. Getty Images tweeted a photo of Prince with a link to purchase Prince photos available on their site, which was inappropriate.
  • Avoid putting your product front-and-center of your expression of grief.

o   Cheerios tweeted, “Rest in peace.” The affront was using a Cheerio over the  “i’ in “in,” which made the message seem insincere.

o   Maker’s Mark tweeted an image of purple wax on their bottle with the text, “We’ve done purple dips before but don’t have any in market currently. Just wanted to bring it back as tribute. Keep an eye out!”Yikes.

Don’t Back-Door Brag on How You’re Helping

Times of tragedy often bring out the best in others and can be a time for you to help by fund-raising, taking donations to those in need, or raising awareness. What you don’t want to do, though, is give yourself an over-the-top shout-out. “Just wrote a huge check to #harveyfloodrelief. How are you helping?” Instead:

A Great Example of Appropriate: Justin Gaffrey Gallery

A Great Example of Appropriate: Justin Gaffrey Gallery

  •  Share links for legitimate ways to donate monetary resources. This American Red Cross link through You Caring, for example, shows how to donate and how to show solidarity with #HarveyStrong.
  •  Post links to groups in your area that are taking donations. Further help by listing items that people need during such times. If you want to incorporate a little cause marketing, post a picture of your group donating, or pitching a helping hand. No need to elaborate. Or challenge others to help or donate. Cause marketing is fine, but going over the top with the amount you’re donating, or the time you’re giving? It’s a little tacky.
  •  Share information about your own fundraiser. Make sure all proceeds go toward helping the cause, whatever that is.

Be Sincere in Your Support

Lastly, when tragedy does strike comment only if it’s appropriate and if you’re able to be part of the solution and can help to raise awareness. For example, when Robin Williams and other talented celebrities lose battles with depression to suicide, if you are already active in mental health support, express your grief and then raise awareness and support for those who battle these issues on a daily basis.

Tragedies remind us of life’s bigger picture, that we are all connected and that we are at our best when we reach out and help one another. Social media is a resource for touching others and for enacting positive change. It’s not about one; it’s about all.

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Though you’re a brand, at the heart of that, you’re human. We at The Storyteller Agency genuinely believe in the power of stories to reveal our shared humanity, in helping those in need, and in helping brands sincerely be real people who meaningfully connect with audiences in times of joy and sadness. As always, tell great stories with storyteller marketing, offering your audience a genuine look into your mission and brand.