How To Handle Marketing During A Tragedy

Now that many brands have become a part of the social media community, they find themselves in the middle of a discussion about current events -- many of which, unfortunately, have been natural disasters and manmade tragedies.  The recent bombings in Boston are a good example, as is Hurricane Sandy last fall. Social channels were instantly flooded with news, helpful information and people locators. Brands were right in the flow.

In the aftermath of such events, it’s important to take a step back and question how best to handle these situations. Lately, I’ve had a lot of business owners and brand managers turn to me and ask: What do I do when tragedy strikes? Here’s my response:
Help, if you can.  If you have a service that will help people, dive in. Show that you’re truly a member of the community by helping neighbors in time of need.  We saw this full force when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast last year. Brands big and small -- from Tide, Starbucks and Duracell to local restaurants, Laundromats and retail stores -- helped people by providing cell phone charging stations, access to phones, laundry and food. The same happened in Boston as small business owners rallied around the marathon runners and spectators. This kind of support not only helps people in times of need, it also builds brand loyalty.
If you can’t help, get out of the way.  When tragedy strikes and you’re not really a part of it, pull out your marketing -- particularly on social media or wherever you have a strong presence. There’s nothing more insensitive and inappropriate than a brand continuing to post product benefits when consumers are dealing with a crisis.
But the question remains: When is it okay to resume business as usual? 
You have to keep your pulse on your consumer. When they appear to go back to normal -- resuming tweets and Facebook posts that aren’t consumed with news of current events -- so can you. Obviously, the closer you are geographically to the events, the longer this takes. Use your judgment as a member of the community to make those kinds of decisions.
Revisit your current marketing strategy.  There’ve been many occasions when a brand has inadvertently released an insensitive campaign right at the time of a tragedy without even realizing it, often because it was planned prior to the event. For example, Nike just pulled their “Boston Massacre” t-shirts from the market, acknowledging the poor timing. Shortly after 9/11, many brands pulled advertising and promotional materials that featured airplane imagery. As a brand, you can’t ignore these issues and hope they go away. Social media picks up everything, so you are better off being transparent, apologizing and taking down anything that might offend people.
Let human nature be your guide. Imagine you are talking to your neighbors. After all, with the capabilities of social media, that’s exactly what you’re doing.




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