This isn’t about branding, crisis management, or social media best practices. It’s about our responsibility as participants in social media to be compassionate, conscionable and helpful.
I was about to post a few tweets for SilverTech when the news about the Boston Marathon broke. Once the disbelief passed and my brain processed that two explosions had happened in Boston, I ran through a mental list of everyone I knew running or working in the city and fired off a few dozen text messages. Then, I just watched.
I just watched multiple feeds from TweetDeck in horror at the incident. Marketers, favorite brands and industry pros from the SilverTech agency account. News, marketing and cultural tweeps from my personal account, and a combination of community, sports and non-profit groups from a few other accounts I manage. I watched in horror as events unfolded 140 characters at a time. I watched in shame at the reckless use of social media; and in admiration at the groundswell of help and support from those who attempted to spread helpful information and quell ghastly rumors.
The disaster was covered in real time. Videos, photos, and eyewitness accounts, were all coming through in rapid succession. Millions were retweeting, with zero ability to know what was accurate. Should we be able to participate like this?
Usually, I’m against contributing to the noise for the sake of saying you participated. What’s the value? My take is that if it’s not helping the situation, informing others, or making anyone feel better, leave the tweetwaves free. Don’t add to the noise, because this isn’t about you, and it’s most certainly not about your brand.
But it is about people. It’s always about people. Social media lets us connect to other people and what they’re encountering simultaneously, and this shared desire to connect and be part of the conversation is what fuels the concept of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and all the rest in the first place. We view it as a chance to help, even if the information we are spreading isn’t verified. As individuals, most of us weren’t in Boston yesterday. But as a social media community, it almost felt like we were.
There are no hard-set rules for how to participate through social media in the midst (or wake) of something this terrible. Common sense needs to be a filter, and we need to understand that not everyone is going to get it. Should I cancel scheduled promotional posts? When should we get back to business as normal? How can we help? Do I need to make a statement about our thoughts being with the victims? A lot of good things happened through social media yesterday, and a lot of disgusting things happened yesterday across the board. We should think about them, use them as a guide for how we want to participate as people, and what good it can do.
- Using tragedy as an enterprise to promote an agenda. An unofficial Boston Marathon twitter account solicited donations and follow requests for the owner’s personal twitter account. (The good: the account, and others like it, can be and were quickly suspended). Don’t ever think this is a good idea. Always care; never capitalize.
- Using tragedy to sell your stuff. Just don’t. (If by mistake, you do, apologize fast, and don’t make excuses.)
- Blindly sharing sensational coverage. Reports of apprehended suspects and an exaggerated (or at least currently unconfirmed) death toll had people reeling. Fast news isn’t always better than correct news. The correct news was bad enough.
- The toxic and rapid spread of wrong and harmful information and the social sphere’s need to perpetuate it.
- Social media made it easier than ever to know when friends and family were safe. News that both the Red Cross program Safe & Well was activated and that Google created a People Finder tool spread rapidly.
- Emergency management instructions and disaster protocols were executed faster than ever before to aid the emergency effort. Details about where to pick up belongings, how to report a tip and requests (such as to text instead of call to free up cell bandwidth) were distributed to the people who needed it.
- Officials and responsible on-scene witnesses and news sources updated the masses without the need or delay of the traditional media middleman.
- Evacuations, street sweeps, logistical details and transportation closures/cancellations were announced efficiently.
- Messages of strength, comfort and support spread quickly.
This blog post is a plea for responsibility and compassion. Through social media – please be thoughtful, be kind, and be mindful that this powerful tool needs to be handled responsibly – or at the very least, with some common sense. Through our offline interactions – be thoughtful, be kind, and be mindful that your messages are just as important. Whether you’re talking to one person in the elevator on the way to your office or your thousands of Twitter followers, you have the ability to help others heal.