Op-Ed: When Tragedy Strikes, Silence is Golden

By Kiran Aditham Comment

We’ll spare you the preamble and just let you read this piece sent to us from Heidi Modarelli-Frank, VP, client social strategy at Cleveland-based agency, Marcus Thomas.

The world has learned to turn to social media when tragedies unfold. Whether it’s a school shooting, a hurricane or the senseless bombing of the Boston Marathon earlier this week, we’ve learned to turn to social media within the immediate hours of the event for news and information.

We want facts. We want to know if our friends and families are okay. We want to know that WE are safe. If we are directly affected by the tragedy, social media can play a critical role in helping us learn where to go, where to get help.

But I can assure you, as the facts are unfolding, we don’t want or need to hear from brands that have nothing to do with the tragedy. I don’t need to know that may favorite ice cream brand’s hearts are with the victims when I don’t even know how many victims there are, or if someone I know is a part of it.

It’s not that I don’t think the ice cream brand is being sincere. I’m sure there’s a community manager sitting behind her computer just like I am with a lump in her throat as she watches the tragedy unfold. It’s that, sincere or not, your sentiment at that point and time is disruptive and provides no value. You’re inserting your brand’s voice in a place it doesn’t belong, at a time when it’s not needed.

Imagine if there was a major car accident at a downtown intersection and a bunch of local companies ran out to the accident wearing sandwich boards that said “We’re thinking of you, accident victims.” In the meantime, ambulances are at the scene and smoke is still pouring from the crash. The companies would be flogged by onlookers.

There’s a time and place for everything. The early hours of a tragedy are not a time or place for brands. Put a hold on your social media content calendar for a day or longer. Clear the social media airways so that people can find what they’re looking for. Not a single consumer will say, “Hey, I didn’t hear from my favorite soda company in a whole day.”

When you return, be sensitive about your content. Use common sense and respect periods of mourning. Kind words for the victims are fine. Better yet, provide a way for your community to jump in and help. Delivering value to your fan community should be the cornerstone of any brand’s social media effort. In the midst of an erupting crisis, the best value a brand can deliver may be silence.