When Tragedy Trends

When Tragedy Trends

When I read about the bombings at the Boston Marathon yesterday, my first thought was of my husband’s colleague, Tom, who runs the marathon each year in full gear for the Wounded Warrior project.

We’d been talking about Tom’s extreme commitment to bring attention to this worthy cause, how he wears blood-stained combat boots — and the blood is from his own toes rubbing against the boots as he runs, year after year. Tom is a veteran, a hero, and he runs because he can, to honor others heroes and veterans, those who cannot.

I thought of Tom, and I texted my husband to see if he’d heard any news from him.

I scanned Twitter and #prayforboston (trending.) I watched some video footage taken at the scene and read a few news reports online.

I prayed. I sent a tweet to two Boston friends and remembered that one of our newest clients is in Boston. I prayed for him, too.

A couple of hours later, I received an email from a client asking that we remove his scheduled tweets for the remainder of the day. Honestly, his note prompted my first thoughts about how we, as a social media company, could/should respond during times of tragedy, during this tragedy.

After Newtown, my team discussed the issue. Several team members responded quickly to that tragedy, sending notes to clients and encouraging silence or respectful responses on Twitter/Facebook in place of regularly scheduled content.

In retrospect, that event could have prompted me, as a leader, to communicate with our clients about a recommended practice during tragedies.

chrisbroganChris Brogan, who I trust as it relates to online presence, got into a few scuffles on Twitter yesterday by pushing back on the idea that when tragedy happens in America, companies should stop marketing.

His tweet brought a poignant reminder that tragedy happens every day around the world. Social media channels are powerful because they allow us to connect instantly with people everywhere. And every day, around the world, people’s hearts are breaking. But we continue our lives online with business as usual until tragedy happens close by.

The news from Boston is heartbreaking and devastating and we respond because it is personal to us, close to home. In fact, Chris’ argument only solidifies my perspective and choices during times of tragedy in our country.

When events affect us, we respond. My hope is that when we see our international friends and connections suffering in response to tragedies in their countries, we could respond personally to them in solidarity and support.

Events are not more tragic because they happen in America but they are more personal.

So the question is this: What is a proper response online during times of tragedy? Should a corporate response be different from an individual response? How can we best serve our clients during times like these?


The reality is that many of our clients would not have heard the news about Boston (or any other breaking news) until several hours after the fact. The reality is that we schedule/automate some content to help our clients maintain a consistent online presence in the midst of busy travel and work schedules.

The reality is that when tragedy strikes, response must be personal and heartfelt — as team members contracted to support our clients’ online content sharing and influence building, we cannot possibly craft responses to represent each client accurately. To attempt to post on clients’ behalf in response to tragedy, in my opinion, would be disingenuous. We can’t know how they are personally responding to breaking news, nor should we try to do so.

In the absence of knowing how each client could or would respond,  we can choose silence on social media channels to be respectful and considerate. Clients can, as they see fit, send out tweets or Facebook updates acknowledging the tragedy with a personal note. Or, we can give our best advice (pause automated content during times of tragedy) and let our clients choose a course of action.

As my friend Lisa Gates so eloquently stated: Turn it off. Be silent for a bit.

About Becky Robinson

I am the owner of Weaving Influence and the leader of the Weaving Influence team. We help authors and thought leaders grow their online influence. I am also a wife and mom of three daughters, and I enjoy running, reading, writing, a good cup of coffee, and dark chocolate.

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What People Are Saying

  • Excellent perspectives and beautifully written. I love the advice to silence marketing but personally respond. Aren’t people at the heart of our organizations? Those hearts could touch lives in a way no degree of marketing can. If it’s authentic and real, change the marketing message to genuinely express care and compassion.

    Good plan … Having a plan you hope to never implement,ready for situations you hope will never happen.

  • Thanks for this article, especially in the wake of this tragedy. It is always difficult to know the “right” response to something horrific, and also keep in mind that tragedies occur all over the world everyday, unfortunately. Thanks for this read.

  • Beautiful, as always, Becky. I also noticed how quiet email had gotten by late afternoon. I think people were searching for more answers, hoping for some good news in all of this.

    For me, personally, I’m always reminded to slow down and hug the ones I love. Every day, every second is precious.

  • Well done Becky. I don’t know if it’s my age or my personality, but when something like this happens, I want to separate my response from what I think others should do.

    I prayed for people and I chose not to comment or react. I wasn’t on Twitter or Facebook. Anyone “marketing” to me didn’t find me at that time. I also didn’t ask anyone to do anything extra to accommodate my preference. I didn’t engage.

    But I also try not to judge (and I’m not suggesting that anyone else is except for the comment about Chris Brogan’s tweet).

    I’m curious why some people feel the need to judge others’ response. I don’t want to spend the energy judging the reaction of anyone else.

    I appreciate you organization’s sensitivity to your customer’s preferences. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Mike.

      I think suspending judgment at times like these is a wise choice!

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