It is no secret that our world seems to hit us with tragedy at every turn. Like an unstoppable freight train careening uninvited into our lives. Since the topic is unavoidable, the question becomes, as a marketer, how do you go about responding to tragedies? Or do you? There are typically two ways to react when a national tragedy occurs:
- Halt marketing efforts altogether, which allows people time to process the event and do what you can to mitigate the perception of being insensitive by continuing business as usual. (However, stopping all marketing activity could interrupt ongoing launches, contracts with other stakeholders, or put at risk the ad optimization that you’ve spent major moola on. And if you do pause your marketing efforts, the question then becomes, how soon is too soon to return to “normal” activity.)
- Continue marketing as usual. Some people find comfort in normalcy, providing a blanket of reprieve from the horror outside and pointing out there is always a rainbow after a storm. (On the flip side, continuing marketing as usual and not acknowledging the tragedy at all could come off as insensitive and give off the impression that you value earnings over humanity.)
A cookie-cutter response does not exist when it comes to deciding the best way to respond when a national tragedy presents itself. It is the goal of this resource to give you a few options and perspectives, including my own, to help guide you in creating a plan to respond that validates who you are best fits your business.
What Constitutes a Tragedy?
A tragedy can be defined in multiple ways, including but not limited to: school shootings, hate crimes, police brutality, legislation or court decisions resulting in loss of rights, war, death of an impactful community leader, etc.
If you’ve ever turned on the 5 o’clock news, you’re inundated with one terrible thing after another. (There’s a mass shooting practically every day!) So how do you define a national tragedy versus just another day in the neighborhood?
If we cut off our marketing every time something terrible happened, we’d never have any marketing. Therefore, we have to evaluate which circumstances require us to make changes to our typical marketing strategy.
Shift does an excellent job of laying out these Five Factors to determine whether an event could be characterized as a tragedy:
- If an incident occurs directly in your community, the stronger you should consider interrupting normal operations as this is something that directly affects those who receive your material.
- If an incident has great overall significance, the more day-to-day operations should cease.
- Audience Impact
- If your audience has a significant reaction to the incident, it is a good sign that normal operations should pause. Be sure to gauge how your audience is responding to the incident and react accordingly.
- Brand Alignment
- If an incident is impactful to your specific brand or industry, interrupting normal operations should be considered.
- If you have a conversation with yourself and ask, “Self, will this offend my people?” then the answer is probably yes. Using the factors above, use your best personal judgment and base your response on the specific individual incident. Erring on the side of caution, I think, is best if you’re not sure if a specific incident qualifies to interrupt business operations. Better to be safe than offensive.
What are immediate things you should do when a tragedy occurs?
- Pause Automations
Pause your organic social media design and consider whether things could be viewed as
insensitive to those affected by the trauma.
Pausing social media, email, and any other marketing automations you have set up gives you an opportunity to assess the tragedy at hand and determine whether you will move forward with business as usual or if you need to pivot your marketing approach.
After pausing, it will give you the opportunity to review the five factors that determine a tragedy (above) as a step in your response plan process. If you determine that marketing strategies don’t need to be updated, it is simple to unpause and move forward. However, pausing first allows for the time and space to make thoughtful, educated decisions, therefore ensuring you don’t inadvertently send or publish something that sounds insensitive to the situation.
- Consider your Team and Clients
If there are members of your team and/or clients who are impacted, then you should consider how you can go about providing the appropriate support. This very well may happen before pausing your marketing automations, but the key is that they both happen quickly, fast, and in a hurry.
- Craft Your Response
It is important to identify why this issue matters to you and how you plan to advocate on
social media. Things to consider:
- Sharing educational material and informational resources
- Issuing a personal, official statement for your brand
- Collaborating with credible organizations who have begun advocating for the cause
You should still consider how you want to reply to the incident that occurred, no matter if you stop all marketing efforts or not. This is NOT the time to leverage trauma to push for sales, but rather to share open and honest feelings of sympathy and support.
Social media is a perfect way to reach out to your audience, sharing words of comfort and any concrete help you can provide.
- Remember Trigger Warnings
We want to be extra cautious during times of tragedy to include trigger warnings so we can help prevent additional unwarranted pain and suffering for people who are trying to prioritize their emotional health after a tragedy. Listen to episode 18 for more information on trigger warnings.
What do you do ASAP after a tragedy has occurred?
After you take care of the immediate tasks, you can begin to work through this list of things that should be done as soon as possible.
- Process, reflect, and rest.
Self-care is an essential element of activism. It is very important you’re taking care of yourself. Make sure you’re creating content that’s aligned with your values as opposed to being driven from a place of pure emotion. If you have a strong conviction to write immediately, give it a pause until you have the chance to review your words.
- To stay paused or to resume marketing as usual? That is the question.
What are your clients and supporters focused on now? The initial reactions are likely to feel terror, shock, sadness, empathy, helplessness, and even anger. These types of emotions are key indicators that pausing regular marketing efforts makes sense.
You’re not missing an opportunity to be selling because your audience simply is not in the right headspace to make an investment right now. Instead, they’re focused on the tragedy and expect you to be as well. It’s important to re-evaluate after a few days to see if the mood is shifting back to “normal,” then you can proceed with strategic small steps with your existing marketing plan.
Everyone experiences tragedy differently, depending on their environments and upbringing, so make sure you’re consuming content from diverse voices to ensure you best address the issue in an inclusive and respectful way. And seeking counsel on these topics is important if you aren’t positive about the best way to go about responding.
- I’m not marketing at the moment. Now what?
There are a few different ways you can use your time during the days when you’ve stopped marketing due to tragedy:
- Spend the time advocating for and strengthening your messages of support available to the impacted community as well as those who have been impacted directly.
- Focus on plans for future marketing efforts. Think about what you have planned for later in the month/quarter/year and get a jump start preparing those things.
- Spend additional time on your own self-care. Let’s be honest, we don’t get enough time to begin with, and during times of trauma, we need it even more than ever.
- Be prepared for corrections and/or internet trolls.
There are many different opinions on the best way to approach marketing following a tragedy. Social media is tricky in that you should be prepared to receive feedback that is constructive, however, also be prepared to deal with trolls. Check out episode 4 for more info about what to do when you mess up, and episode 5 to learn about trolls.
- But what about ads?
This is my personal opinion and one that I am well aware may be polarizing.
I don’t often pause ads, even during times of tragedy, when it comes to paid advertisements on Facebook/Instagram, where I currently focus most of my efforts and run ads for many clients.
I do this because, with my intricate knowledge of how the ad algorithms work on social media, I know that “pausing” an ad campaign will disrupt the optimization that my clients invest lots of time and money into achieving.
Of course, this is vastly different from halting organic content from delivering — which is something I do recommend.
Make sure you review the content of your ads to ensure there is nothing problematic in the material in light of the tragedy. When dealing with a bombing, for example, I would want to make certain there aren’t any images resembling bombs in my ads, or language that may be insensitive such as, “your sales will explode” or “the first ad bombed,” etc. If these instances occur, turning off those ads and getting new ones running would be imperative.
After reviewing the ads for sensitive images and language, I tend to leave the paid ads running as is. When the ads have comments on them, users will be able to see that it is a long-running ad versus one that has been freshly posted.
In order to easily see the brand’s response to the tragedy, I highly encourage brands running ads to pin the response to the top of their page so that if someone clicks through to the page from the ad, it is easily visible. Of course, if they’ve paused other organic posting, it should be there already.
After reviewing all of the steps to ensure you are responding to tragedy in a just way, the main takeaway is acknowledging that communication and marketing strategy during and after tragedies requires an abundance of concern and consideration.
When planning a response strategy, the most important guideline is to recognize those who are affected by the tragedy itself. Representing who we are and what we stand for to the outside world is a pillar of being a social media marketer. Implementing a considerate response standard when a tragedy occurs helps to respond appropriately to these events.
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