It’s a given among social media leaders and practitioners that when tragedy strikes we hold on social media publishing. No one wants the brand they manage to be the one selling movies or mac ‘n’ cheese or anything else in the middle of an unfolding incident. So as soon as that CNN alert hit our phones, the tweets start pouring in or we hear/see on the news that there’s a bombing in Boston, a shooting at a school or anything else we push the pause button and wait for things to die down before resuming. But this is almost exclusively focused on large, single and unusual incidents and this approach ignores the everyday violence that too many people in the U.S., much less countries across the world, have to deal with.
Over the 4th of July weekend 54 people were shot and wounded in Chicago while 10 were killed by gunfire. But no one stopped publishing their sales, promotions and deals on Twitter. People were asked to buy or read about toys, gadgets and recipes, just as they usually are. It’s an interesting bit of hypocrisy and one that mirrors the 24-hour news channels. What it shows is that for all the talk about brands – and the people behind them – being sensitive to tragedy, what they’re actually reacting to are a subset of tragedies that are 1) Concentrated and 2) Unusual. And while last month’s horrific and tragic shooting of parishioners and clergy at a South Carolina church in a matter of moments fits both those criteria, the same number of people being killed over the course of two or three days in Chicago does not.
Let me be clear that I’m not saying one is worse than the other. That’s not the case at all. But we can see that one passes the test while the other does not.
Concentrated: The kinds of things that result in the decision to suspend social brand publishing usually happen in a matter of moments. It’s a single incident like the Boston Marathon bombing that has long-term repercussions. Or it’s an evolving situation like a school shooting that can unfold over the course of hours. But it’s there. There’s a distinct time where it is and isn’t happening. A weekend of shootings in Chicago, though, happens slowly, over the course of 48 or 72 hours. 10 people weren’t killed in a single house in a single moment. They were killed over time, something that makes their deaths less worthy, it seems, of respect and silence.
Unusual: Let’s be honest: We don’t expect a shooting in a small Southern church. But, no matter how racially and culturally sensitive we claim to be, gun violence on the south side of Chicago probably doesn’t surprise us much. While we may be individually appalled by it, there’s a heavy lack of shock about the latter incident that results in most social media brand managers not even considering that this might rise to the level of needing to take a respectful pause on the hard-sell to their online audience.
Again, I’m not advocating that brands *not* suspend publishing in the wake of tragic incidents. What I am saying is that we need to be honest about how the rules are not hard and fast. We operate using a double standard that labels some moments as rising to a higher level of importance than others. Keep that in mind the next time you pat yourself on the back for your sensitivity.