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Social Media and the 9/11 Anniversary
By: Jennifer Graber
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In the wake of the somber 9/11 anniversary, as a nation, we continue to reflect on the tragic day that forever changed our fate. The nation lost thousands of beautiful and kind souls that can never be replaced. And with each passing year, as we remember 9/11, the memorials and celebrations continue to evolve. As a sign of the times thousands of tributes have popped up online in various social media outlets, from individuals and companies. With the evolution of tributes the question arises — what is the appropriate way to handle paying homage to 9/11 in a genuine and respectful manner? And how did some companies handle the recent sobering anniversary?
 
Regardless of how much we might try to stop it, time marches on. Collectively we move on with our lives and go forth towards the future. But is this how we, as marketers, should approach 9/11? Do we ignore it? Acknowledge it? 9/11 is a day that will never be forgotten, no matter how much time passes. And, honestly, we can’t pretend it didn’t happen now, ten years from now, or 50 years from now. So for companies it would be unwise, and perhaps disrespectful, to not honor the tragedy. Posting about other things on social media on 9/11 seems strange somehow. But it is important to note that companies must tread lightly in their efforts.
 
Yesterday, for instance, AT&T posted a picture on Twitter that featured a cell phone image that filled in beams of light where the Twin Towers once stood. Twitter users almost immediately took to social media airwaves to express their disappointment over the tweet. AT&T soon deleted the tweet and issued an apology and stated that they never meant to offend anyone and only meant to honor those affected. What do you think? Was this offensive? Or was there too much of an elevated emotional sensitivity?
 
Though AT&T probably caught the most flack, there were other companies that hit some serious nerves on social media. Esquire Magazine mistakenly posted the text “Making Your Morning Commute More Stylish” next to a picture of a man heartbreakingly falling out of a building on 9/11. The response from Esquire left a lot to be desired. The magazine tweeted the following message, “Relax, everybody. There was a stupid technical glitch on our “Falling Man” story and it was fixed asap. We’re sorry for the confusion.” "Relax, everybody"? Seriously? Even if you are unsure of how to respond in a crisis or how to handle a tribute you can rest assured that is NOT the way to do it. A lesson in this case would be to avoid sarcasm and humor at all costs!
 
Despite the ruckus over improper responses and misguided tributes, some companies actually did get it right yesterday. Companies like Brooks Brothers, Chick-fil-A, Marc Jacobs, and Waffle House kept it simple and poignant. They acknowledged the anniversary for what it was, and expressed sympathy and solidarity via social media. Those companies seemed to understand how to properly utilize social media on a dark anniversary.
 
What are your thoughts on the use of social media in times of honoring national tragedy? Avoid it or acknowledge it? Honestly, companies would be remiss to not use social media for good. Don’t use sarcasm and don’t use humor. Be respectful. Keep it simple. Things get too complicated when you throw too many aspects into the mix. Social media can twist and turn even the best laid plans into something all wrong. And remember, above all else, companies should use social media to honor and acknowledge the day —a day so indelibly etched in history that our lives have been forever changed.


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About the Author
Jennifer Graber is a Business Development Manager and marketing enthusiast. Her specific interests include branding, consumer behavior, development, integrated marketing communications, and new & social media.
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