On April 14, one day before the horrific terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line, nine militants clad in suicide vests killed 35 people in a brazen attack on the Somali Supreme Court in Mogadishu. Scores of people were injured.
On that day, not a single U.S. company suspended its social media marketing efforts. Facebook updates and tweets danced merrily across pages. Nowhere did anybody call for a halt to these messages as the horror of the attack sunk in. While I can’t be sure none were posted, I’m unaware of a single Somali who chastised American companies for their insensitivity as they continued to pitch their brands and wares while the dust settled among the dead and wounded at the Supreme Court building.
In a study of contrast, as news of the Boston attack spread, consumers flooded Facebook, Twitter, and other social media channels with condemnation of businesses and individuals that continued to push their marketing content, particularly those who didn’t turn off autoposts. This was not the time for crass marketing; it was a time for communal grieving and reflection.
Edelman’s David Armano was quick to tweet a friendly reminder:
On Facebook, PR entrepreneur Peter Shankman argued that the reminder shouldn’t be necessary—by now, everyone should know better. Posts and articles have followed with advice for social media managers.
To be sure, there were egregious and thoughtless messages from U.S. businesses to American audiences. Foodie website Epicurious had to pull some palm-to-forehead tweets
connecting the bombings to recipes, such as one linking to Cinnamon-Scented Breakfast Quinoa that read, “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start the day.”
Most offensive was entrepreneur and author Guy Kawasaki
, whose legions of interns continued distributing banal tweets. When confronted with the wrong-headedness of his tweeting as the devastation of the attack became unbearably real, he tweeted his disdain:
On Tuesday, Kawasaki evidently deleted most of those tweets, but didn’t offer any acknowledgement that he’d done anything wrong.
If only every instance of a company or individual blithely maintaining its schedule of marketing posts were as easy to condemn.
I confess that I didn’t think to turn off the GaggleAmp messages I had set up to promote the most recent episode of For Immediate Release
(FIR), the podcast I co-host. GaggleAmp enables me to set up promotions for the episode, which are distributed to people who opt in to receive them. They can tweet them or share them on Facebook or LinkedIn. FIR is something I do for fun, not profit; it’s not connected to my business, it’s free, and our audience is international, so even after the GaggleAmps occurred to me (when one was re-messaged by an Australian listener), I didn’t think it was that big a deal.
I did hear about the messages, though, from a few who questioned the wisdom of sharing them in the early hours of the Boston bombing.
But the surge of hostility aimed at autoposts and other commercial messages has me most concerned for offshore organizations. The fact is, many of those criticizing companies were unaware that at least some of the offenders were not U.S. companies and their messages were not aimed—at least, not entirely—at U.S. audiences.
Do we really expect every company to suspend their activities when a tragedy strikes our shores when our own companies and social media managers never consider affording the same consideration when their nations are similarly afflicted?
Sadly, given the speed with which so many people brought the hammer down on Monday, my advice for the foreseeable future is yes. As unnecessary as it should be, any company with a global online presence conducting its marketing in English should turn off autoposts and suspend marketing when such a tragedy strikes the U.S.
With what is clearly a hairpin emotional response absent critical thinking, offended American consumers unaware of a company’s nationality could damage the organization’s reputation.
Besides, as Shankman correctly noted in a later Facebook update, “In all recorded history of time, no company has ever gotten in trouble for keeping quiet for 24 hours when a crisis didn’t
involve them. Just saying.”
Still, it’ll be nice to see the day when everybody can take a deep breath and, as Andrea Weckerle, founder of nonprofit Civilination
, put it in a Facebook update, “Just give it a few minutes rest until everyone’s not feeling as raw.”
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. A version of this story first appeared on his blog a shel of my former self.