On Monday, April 15, 2013, the eyes of the world turned to Boston as tragedy struck the Boston Marathon. As the city turned to social media sites for information and to check in on friends, brands were faced with an important decision – what to do.
While many companies posted heartfelt responses on their social media sites, one of the most surprising came from an unlikely source – The Chicago Tribune. Originally on the front page of the Sports section, The Chicago Tribune included a full-page ad with a touching editorial paying homage to Boston through a common denominator – both cities’ love for sports. The ad was also posted online and shared on the Chicago Tribune’s Facebook page and Twitter account. From there, the ad spread quickly. On Facebook alone, the post generated more than 11,000 likes, 700+ comments and over 12,000 shares.
The brilliance of this ad was that it was simple, relatable, and heartfelt. In comparison to other messages expressing sorrow, thoughts and prayers, the uniqueness of this ad stood out. The Chicago Tribune ad highlighted sports as a common thread for both cities and communicated it in a way that shined the spotlight on Boston.
While it’s doubtful that the ad was meant to receive so much attention, there’s an authenticity to the ad and editorial, which likely lead the high volume of people who shared the ad. It’s been a tough time for the city of Boston and all that watched the Boston Marathon tragedy unfold, and this ad shows how a simple, thoughtful piece of content and message can bring people together.
For companies, the key takeaways are to act swiftly, but be thoughtful and listen to your online communities:
Immediately cease all planned social media communications and sponsored campaigns.
Scott Monty, Global Head of Social Media for Ford Motor Company, summed it up perfectly when he tweeted, “If you manage social media for a brand, this would be a good time to suspend any additional posts for the day.” In fact, the brands that didn’t react swiftly enough to remove pre-programed, or sponsored posts faced criticism by their fans and in some cases, by the news media.
Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes – and newsfeeds.
When any tragic event hits, don’t forget that you’re also a consumer experiencing and coping with the situation. Many people now turn to social media sites for news and information. Do a “gut check,” and really think through what feels right for your online community.
Form a cross-functional team and keep all communications consistent.
Create a cross-functional task force to hear different opinions and determine if and what type of response is appropriate for your company and your consumers. This is important because all external-facing communications should be consistent, yet personalized for the channels they’re going out on.
Keep messaging authentic – no marketing allowed!
Being perceived as marketing against a crisis or tragedy is far worse than saying nothing at all. It seems obvious, but poor judgment calls still happen. Don’t let it happen to you.
Anticipate a range of responses and learn from them.
No matter how well intended your post or communication is, expect to see a range of responses, including negative comments. There are some consumers that will perceive any message you put out as marketing, while others will be thankful for the support and some will have suggestions on how you can support the effort. In addition to offering your thoughts, take this opportunity to learn how your consumers want your brand to act and offer support in these situations.
Please join me in extending your thoughts to Boston and all impacted by the tragedy at the Boston Marathon.