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Stay Nice or Say Nothing During Emergencies
By: Sarah Jane Dunaway
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Unfortunately during this day and age, it’s important for companies and brands to have both physical emergency evacuation plans as well as an online emergency plan. The bombing in Boston set off an explosion of Twitter and Facebook posts left and right. While this is not a new occurrence — as witnessed during such emergency disasters and situations as Hurricane Katrina and the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School — it’s important for brands to develop a social media policy for how they handle and react to such emergencies.

It may be that I just have a lot of friends who run, as I too am a marathoner, but the bombings in Boston seemed to overwhelm social media, even days after the bombings. It became a contest among users to see who could post the most genuine comment about Boston and who could post it the fastest. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think individual users, while genuinely concerned, seem overly preoccupied with getting likes for their Facebook sympathy posts. While I believe that’s another issue I won’t get into, it’s important to look at it from a brand perspective.

As one of the individuals in charge of my company’s social media accounts I paused to think, “Do we say anything? What do we say? How lengthy should I make our post?” As much support as we may show our friends on Facebook or Twitter when they experience a personal hardship, I look to the brands to pave the tone for how we react — celebrities, too. It’s possibly one of the few situations where I look to celebrities and brands first to set the stage for tone and manner of post.

Which leads to the question — do brands have an obligation to comment at all or should they just keep their mouths shut? We all remember what happened to the actor behind the Aflac duck, Gilbert Gottfried, during the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. His joke about the tsunami led to his firing as a representative of the brand. Companies are better off following the golden rule of “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Nordstrom wrote a simple, yet heartfelt tweet that read, “We're thinking about you, Boston.” Short, sweet, and sincere. Another favorite was tweeted by the Boston Fire Department that read, “Pause for a minute for all the victims. Some have a very long road ahead. Our collective support will ease it. #BostonStrong.”

I know I personally appreciate reading words of support from my favorite brands. While I believe that friends and individuals could dial down the “me too, me too” attitude of posts, I believe brands have a responsibility to pave the way for how we grieve, at least online.

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About the Author

Sarah Jane Dunaway is a brand strategist and design consultant, and the writer and creator behind the blog Clean & Proper. A former member of the paper and printing industry, Sarah Jane specializes in helping businesses of all sizes streamline marketing communications by creating compelling brand identity systems and corporate identity packages. Find her online here

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