How Should Your Business Respond to Tragedy?

Online Business I was working hard yesterday, offline, so it was late afternoon before I heard a school shooting had occurred. I hoped for the best ~ that no one had been killed ~ and I still haven’t wrapped my head around what happened. It can only be described as “the worst.” 26 people killed at a grade school, including 20 children. 2o kids who were 6 or 7 years old.

I haven’t thought of much else since. I’ve hugged my kids a lot, and tried not to let them see the tears in my eyes. They’re 4, 5 and 8. I keep thinking about how it would feel to get the news that there was a shooting at their school. I can’t even let my mind go there. Yet, the parents of 20 kids are living it today.

Being the only adult in my house, I turned to social media to join others in trying to make some sense of it all.

To my surprise, there was a lot of talk about whether brands (i.e. big businesses) were sincere when they expressed their “heartfelt condolences” about the tragedy in Connecticut, and other similar happenings.

Even more to my surprise, was the number of people who said brands sound sleazy, self-promoting and insincere when they express their sympathies following a national tragedy.  Some described it as “cheap and easy SEO.” Others opined that it was fine to respond on one’s personal profile, but that such things shouldn’t be mentioned on any business network.

Is it Genuine?

Maybe I’m naive, but I just can’t imagine that the decision-makers for any brand are sitting around saying, “let’s capitalize on this tragedy by pretending to feel bad, with the real intention of promoting our business on social media.” After all, the people making the decisions for the brand are just that ~ people.

And, like our President said in addressing the nation, ” I react not as a president but as anyone else would — as a parent.” When a business responds, I assume “it” responds as a mother, or father or brother or sister or . . . however they’ve been effected as a person.

Is it Appropriate?

Well, why wouldn’t it be appropriate? Unless the post has some promotional content in it, how could it possibly not be appropriate? The alternative is to ignore it. And I’m thinking if your business takes that approach, you would be similarly vilified as faceless, uncaring and inappropriate. The country is in mourning and you continue to push your marketing message as if it’s not happening??

It seems to me that not only is it appropriate, it’s necessary. It’s the human thing to do.

I know when it comes to online business, people like to do business with people, not companies. But doesn’t this also apply to offline businesses, no matter how big they are?

Does Everyone Do it Right?

Well, of course not. And because the whole world is watching, it can be a big deal when you don’t do it right ~ whether it was intentional, or an honest mistake.

It seems that the biggest blunders usually come on Twitter. For example, KMart did a bad thing in response to the Connecticut shooting:

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#Fab15Toys makes it look like they were trying to promote themselves within the Tweet. Because I believe in the good of humanity, I’m buying the fact that the hashtag was included because they were in the middle of a tweetchat bearing that hashtag.

If you’ve ever been to a tweetchat on tweetchat.com, you know that you don’t even have to type in the hashtag. It’s automatically added for you. I’ll admit that this tweet looks really bad. And that it’s the kind of mistake you really can’t afford to make. But I still refuse to believe the humans at KMart made a conscious decision to promote their hashtag in this tweet.

Another recent ill-advised tweet came from The Gap:

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The Gap defended this tweet saying they were only trying to “remind all to keep safe and indoors.” Not a very smart tweet for sure, but I do wonder whether it was sent before the level of devastation was seen and felt from Hurricane Sandy. I just have to believe that stuff like this comes from ignorance, and not a conscious decision by any brand to try to capitalize off of a tragedy.

There will always be the exceptions. The people that are just plain crazy. The football player with the racist pronouncement against the President, who had the nerve to interrupt the Sunday Night Football game with his remarks during a memorial for the Connecticut victims. The so-called “church” that plans to picket the funerals of the victims on the grounds that the tragedy was God’s answer to the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

But these aren’t the people that run successful businesses. They aren’t the ones who rise to the top in our nation.

Maybe I live in hope of a better day. But I believe your business should respond to tragedy as a person. Because businesses are people. No matter how big they are. And, if you say something stupid, I’ll assume it’s error or ignorance, unless I’m shown otherwise. What do you think? Please share in the comments below.

 

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