Tragedy in the world – How should brands respond?
Tragedy in the world – How should brands respond?

Tragedy in the world – How should brands respond?

Over the weekend, the world was shaken by bad news coming from multiple corners of the world – Bombings in Beirut, and the incidents that captured the sympathy and heartfelt outpourings of everyone on social media, the tragic shootings in Paris.

When news breaks of a tragedy somewhere in the world, many brands may be wondering how best to express their sympathies and respond to tragedies in their online communications. The days of digital means that we can respond to world events as soon as they happen, but this can be a double edged sword, and brands should think carefully about what they say – or say nothing at all.

It may seem like common sense not to try and piggyback off bad news to try and sell more products or generate more attention for your brand, and yet we still see it every time there’s a tragedy – There’s always a company that manages to say the wrong thing and come across as completely insensitive and offensive.

So today, we’ve shared a few things to keep in mind if you decide to respond to tragedy through your brand’s social media accounts.

Say it well – or say nothing

The first choice you need to make is whether to say something at all. Personally, I think that acknowledging the event or situation, and offering sincere condolences to those affected by the tragedy, reminds your followers that you and the people at your brand are indeed human.

I like this point that was made in a recent Sterling PR article:

“…the authentic human reaction to tragedy is to stop what you’re doing and pay attention. Real people personalize tragedy. They empathize with the victims. They want to help. It’s human nature. In the midst of tragedy, carrying on as if nothing has happened is the opposite of authenticity. Nor is it particularly human.”

As a recent Invest Ottawa article states:

“You have to think about whether what you have to say is really necessary. When the country is focused on a tragedy, anything you say has a strong chance of seeming like you’re attempting to profit from it. Your best bet is to turn off any scheduled Tweets or posts and stay silent.”

Do something genuine to help

If there’s been an emergency fund or appeal set up and your company is doing something to help the people affected by tragic events such as providing free support or donating money, then you can suggest that others do the same – Don’t make it all about you though. In light of the recent events in Paris, Airbnb for example has activated their disaster response service, which allows people to open their homes and offer accommodation to displaced people for free.

Offering helpful information can be a good idea as well, such as the details of a website or phone hotline where concerned people can go for more information on events as they unfold.

Review who is handling your social accounts

If you have any doubt whatsoever about who manages your social accounts and their ability to post something that toes the line between being respectful and heartfelt, while not being self-promoting, then review who’s in charge of your accounts immediately, or ask them not to post anything that hasn’t first been approved by the rest of the team. We’ve all heard the “the intern did it” line way too many times, and it just doesn’t cut it.

This is NOT a time to promote your products or your brand

This is not a time to offer a special 24-hour discount on products in your e-commerce store which have the French flag on them, or offer any type of completely insensitive “special sale” and link it to the tragic events. Food brand Epicurious did exactly this in the wake of the Boston Bombings in 2013, and then proceeded to copy and paste a lame canned response to its followers over and over again, which shifted the blame to the audience for finding their tweet offensive. Bad move.

Do NOT make jokes or make light of the situation

It is never your place to try and ease the tense situation with a “bit of humour”. You might have seen US brand Kenneth Cole’s massive PR fail a few years ago when news broke of rioting and unrest in Egypt. However, they do get a few small crumbs of brownie points for the fact that their CEO personally stepped up and took full responsibility for the tweet, rather than blaming “someone else” (i.e. the intern).

Don’t take an overly political stance (unless appropriate to do so)

Unless your brand is inherently political in nature, this is not the time to share your opinion, or the opinion of whoever happens to be managing your social media accounts. Refrain also from sharing opinion-based articles on who people think was responsible for the incidents, or what the government is or isn’t doing well in the face of the crisis.

Agree on when it’s appropriate to start posting again

Don’t be the brand that continues to go about posting merrily as if nothing has happened. If you’re halting all communications, also be sure that all automated and scheduled tweets are paused as well. You may also want to take a look at any paid search campaigns and social ads, and pause if necessary.

Consult with your team and monitor the news closely to determine when is the right time to resume your social strategy and start posting regular communications again.


The whole team at Reef sends it heartfelt condolences to all of those affected by recent tragedies in Beirut, Paris, and everywhere else in the world currently experiencing conflict, turmoil and the suffering of innocent people.

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