There’s a tension in me. A terrible tragedy happened yesterday to people in my country, in my cousin’s city. But it didn’t happen to me, at my marathon, in my city. I am connected to Boston’s reality only through the media; I am removed, and because of that, it is easy for me to forget and return to my norms. But part of me asks, “Shouldn’t I be in mourning, too?” I am most aware of this struggle in the context of social media—the public eye.
Yesterday, as news of the Boston Marathon explosions roared through social media outlets, I observed numerous tweets telling brands to turn off their scheduled posts out of respect for what had happened. For one afternoon, stop promoting. I understood. We should be in mourning, too. So I tweeted a company whose posts about iPhone5S rumors kept rolling through my feed and asked them to stop. Their response was that the world doesn’t stop for tragedy and neither do they. This rubbed me the wrong way, because parts of the world did stop.
Brands and individuals need to examine: what should proper social media etiquette be after a tragedy?
This is the first time I noticed a backlash toward brands that weren’t responding with, what the Twitterverse judged to be, an appropriate level of social media silence. I watched as the US House of Representatives observed a moment of silence and then got back to voting. I wondered what is the appropriate amount of silence for a brand?
The tradition of mourning is long and varied, but the central idea remains: to set aside time, clothing, and/or actions to grieve and pay respect.
What would happen if, the day of a national tragedy (official definition pending) and—gasp—the day after, all brands went silent except to offer their condolences and share news related to the tragedy? I propose that brands would gain more in consumer loyalty than they would lose in money. But even if they did lose money, integrity is priceless. It is worth more to voluntarily disrupt a social media schedule in order to pay respect to those whose lives were involuntarily changed forever.
We’re making all of this social media stuff up as we go, of course. There aren’t many rules yet. The etiquette that we set today will be the precedents of tomorrow. So how should we respond on social media during and immediately following a tragedy? When is it okay to start posting about iPhones and albums and fashion?