Over the last month I’ve been thinking more and more about how businesses interact in social media and share their thoughts and reflections on local and international events.
How do you find the balance between business marketing and sharing personal or social news on social media especially in the midst of a hurricane, flood, fire, terror attack or other tragedy?
In my view there are two extremes that most people take:
Extreme #1 – Never talk about anything but business, the world is too chaotic.
Extreme #2 – Never talk about business, the world is too chaotic.
We’ve seen the companies who continue to use the anniversary of 9/11 to promote their products and I’ve been amazed at entrepreneurs who continue to share their own offers in the midst of a big disaster without any acknowledgement about what’s going on.
While I don’t think that your every business post needs to begin with a paragraph on natural disasters, social justice and environmental crises, we can’t just hide our heads in the sand.
Sending out ‘business as usual’ posts ignores the fact that some of those people receiving your email or update are fleeing from a hurricane, mourning the loss of life or fighting for equality.
The biggest danger in the intersection of our marketing and the world at large is scheduled posts. It’s a big time saver, sure, but when your marketing promo goes out as scheduled just hours after a mass school shooting or you’re encouraging people to meet you for an event in Florida when it’s being battered by a storm you just look insensitive and ignorant.
This week’s anniversary of 9/11 was a good reminder of this balance we all must find and, as business owners, we must take the lead.
I remember clearly that I stopped at the grocery store on my way into school on 9/11 and the cashier was the first person who said the name “Osama Bin Laden” to me. Some would consider that odd but it reminds me that everyone was shook, even all the way out here in California, and while this man showed up at work for those who needed groceries (or I’m sure, in my case, coffee), we were also discussing it as a community.
Here’s what that man didn’t do:
“Yeah, it’s a tragedy. BUT OUR NEW YORK STYLE BAGELS ARE ON SALE!”
“I can’t believe so many people in those towers died, you know life is short: buy a box of donuts.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, did you see our strawberries are on sale? We have a coupon for…”
Any of those responses, absurd as I’ve made them, are inappropriate.
But swap out a few words and I see entrepreneurs making those same mistakes.
“Let’s donate to Charlottesville. NOW ABOUT ME.”
“The terror attack in Manchester was horrible… do you want to attend my event?”
“*head in the sand* Me, Me, Me, Me!”
Once you see the model you’ll be astounded how it happens in real life.
Every business has to decide for themselves how to address such tragic events within their community.
Here are a few of the guidelines I’ve set:
- Don’t shy away from a big event just because the words are imperfect.
- Be human first, don’t ask how this will impact ME in the same breath as a prayer.
- Offer concrete ways to help beyond good vibes, prayers, hopes and love.
- Not every post or email has to center around the latest tragedy – make sure that concern and care doesn’t spiral into tragedy porn.
- When appropriate, donate directly to the efforts but do not share the details and especially not the amounts. Donations should always be a private decision, not for public approval.
Again, these are just my personal decisions on where I feel comfortable.
One final recommendation:
Reach out to those who address these issues directly whether in social spaces or with disaster relief for their recommendations, languaging and to support their cause. i.e. don’t morph the business into something it’s not because of your feelings but use your platform to shine a light on those already doing the work. Be sensitive in these requests and avoid trying to co-opt these efforts or take advantage by “borrowing” graphics, essays or ideas without giving due credit.
The world isn’t getting easier, in some ways it feel like we’re in a boxing ring every day, waiting to face a new opponent and see where the hits are coming. Remember that your business can absolutely exist and market and serve its clients while the world feels like it’s falling apart. Just don’t ignore the very real situations happening outside your doors.