Thursday, April 18, 2013

Going Dark on Social Media


 
What is the right thing to do in our social media conversations in the face of a tragic news story?  I had not thought much about this before the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012 in Connecticut.  That day as the horrors of the shooting played out across the media, I noticed a lot of tweets, Facebook posts, and other social media updates that were "normal".  But was the world normal in that moment?  Too much of what was going on in social media was too self-promotional to match the situation of this national (and worldwide) tragedy.

Immediately following such an incident I often see authors saying "Buy my book", (or those in any profession hawking thier goods) and it can feel akward.  While some of these tweets and posts come from the use of pre-scheduling software to release updates.... other people will continue to add to the live online steam without a thought about the news that is dominating the day. 

When people die, is it really right to be barking for sales?

Since last December I have had several conversations with other authors, speakers, consultants and small business owners about how we might properly behave online when it comes to promoting our businesses when there is a tragic news story that has an impact that reaches over our whole society.  (Additionally, several speakers have shared ideas about what to say from the stage if you are speaking to a live audience in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.... which is also a touchy subject without clear answers).

There is no right answer here.  How people are impacted by horrors that are not in their back yard can vary.  Some may not be tuned into the news and not be aware.  Some may not feel connected the same way as others.  There are countless things that impact the proper course of action.

Personally I have decided it is best (for me) to "go dark" for 24 hours following some act of terrorism or other awful event.  The bombings at the Boston Marathon have again made me revisit my thoughts.  I do not think talking online about my books, speaking engagements, or other topics is necessary or appropriate in the time of a national emergency.  Thus I did not blog, tweet, or leave updates on Facebook or LinkedIn for the past day.

But this brings up another question.... is 24 hours the right amount of time?  Should it be two days or a week?  If we go too long before returning to our normal life are we allowing the terrorists to win?

My daughter asked if a policy of "going dark" also related to natural disasters (like a hurricane)?  And what if it is not terrorism, but an accident of some kind?  How about incidents in other countries?  Hmmmmm, I am not sure that I can pre-qualify the level of destruction or the severity of what qualifies for my holding quiet on social media.  I think it is more of a guideline that a policy, and I would have to make the decision on a case by case basis.

Should I tweet about the tragedy itself?  I had not thought of this before the issues in Boston.  Someone I know as running, and she was near the explosion, but was it my place to tweet that, or even re-tweet her updates?  Many people posted their thoughts and prayers online that day as they were learning of the incident.  I did not do this (as I decided not to make posts of any kind), but I do not fault those who publicly state their reactions to the acts of horror.  We have come use these social media outlets nowadays as part of our interactions with both friends and the greater society, and there is something comforting seeing so many stand united against evil.

I did leave a message on the Facebook page of that friend who was running the Boston Marathon.  She had posted early in the day about her upcoming race, and so we knew she was there.  She crossed the finish line as the bombs went off (she was right there) and she wisely used Facebook to let people know that she, and her family, were all unhurt.  I commented on her page that I was happy for her update, and praying for her (and others).  Was that really social media, or was that a private conversation with a friend?  Hard to know where the lines are drawn.

I do not write this post to dicate to others who they should behave online on days when the news is dominated by bad things.  I do not hold the answers to these issues of our modern times.  But I am curious how others feel about this topic.  What did you do that day? 

Have A Great Day

thom singer

4 comments:

Scott Robinson said...

I thought the same myself, Thom. I think the answer is to be sensitive to the newness of the news. I happened to land in PHX literally at the time the news was breaking on Twitter, so I had no idea what the typical cycle had been until then. The news immediately was consumed with the Boston bombing. It was obvious that other tweets were coming in they had no idea what was going on. People were out of the office returning, or at a charity golf event or like myself, traveling. The most apparent thing was the scheduled auto-tweets were still running and hadn't been turned off. Of everything that afternoon. I could see through that and excuse the oversight. But those who were posting self serving msgs when the entire world had to be aware of the news, seemed the most insensitive.

I think just being conscious there's something larger than ourselves when news like this happens will lead us to make the right decisions on when is best to re-engage with our message.

Scott Robinson said...

I thought the same myself, Thom. I think the answer is to be sensitive to the newness of the news. I happened to land in PHX literally at the time the news was breaking on Twitter, so I had no idea what the typical cycle had been until then. The news immediately was consumed with the Boston bombing. It was obvious that other tweets were coming in they had no idea what was going on. People were out of the office returning, or at a charity golf event or like myself, traveling. The most apparent thing was the scheduled auto-tweets were still running and hadn't been turned off. Of everything that afternoon. I could see through that and excuse the oversight. But those who were posting self serving msgs when the entire world had to be aware of the news, seemed the most insensitive.

I think just being conscious there's something larger than ourselves when news like this happens will lead us to make the right decisions on when is best to re-engage with our message.

Joey McGirr said...

Thom, I agree with you that some thought has to be given when one becomes aware of a national tragedy. On the other hand, large (and smart small) brands spend millions of dollars and plan sometimes up to a year to promote their products and services. It's difficult to imagine all the commercial Christmas social media posts coming to a halt immediately following a disaster. There's also the issue of proximity. Sandy Hook, Fankenstorm, the Boston Marathon and even the events from this morning in West, TX are all subject to proximity. There's war and unrest all over the world, but we don't immediately feel the pressures of Syria or Afghanistan, Just as people in Seattle, WA are probably going about business as usual give the fact that dozens may die from this mornings explosion. Should we never post our commercial messages (I'd say no every time - IMHO - It's social media, not commercial media, but I digress...)
I have been giving thought and study to this subject for some time. I'm even talking about this at the upcoming AusOME event: http://www.meetup.com/Austin-Online-Marketing/events/113223582/
You should come. I'd like to use your examples to see if we can't get a dialog going and come up with some more fodder for future blog posts. =)

Debra Helwig said...

For my company, we posted a note on Twitter that our hearts were with the people of Boston, and let that stand pat for 24 hours. Personally, I wrote this post (http://debrahelwig.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/what-really-matters/), which hits your point in that I encouraged people to stop any sales activities that are based on fear and to instead focus activities on contacts that are building, working together, we can do things related. There's lots to say and lots to do - but when the nation is struggling to assimilate this much pain and fear and anger, the tone of the messages simply needs to change for a time. Not necessarily "go dark", but watch what you say and how you say it. And as to how long, I think it's totally dependent on the situation. Go with your gut. It's smarter than your head in cases like this.