By Abby Forman, Account Coordinator, R&J Public Relations
Around 3pm ET on Monday, April 14, 2013, millions of people around the world were saying to themselves, “Oh no, not again.” Horrific memories of September 11, 2001 suddenly rushed back into our heads, and as a nation we found ourselves in an all too familiar position again, bound together by another national tragedy that had all of a sudden taken more innocent lives away from us.
One important difference between now and then, however, is the predominance of social media and online media, and how that affects the speed and delivery of news to the public.
Whether we turned on our computers, our radios or our televisions, it was everywhere; sights and updates (whether confirmed or rumored) from the Boston Marathon bombings that took the lives of 3 innocent people (to date) and left more than 100 injured. However, how are we to know what is really true and what is not? With social media running at a million miles per second nowadays, hundreds of thousands of rumors can be started and go viral within minutes. Moments after the blasts, tweets began flying, and while television news was trying to make sense of what happened showing scenes of the rescue effort, Twitter accounts were streaming photos and eyewitness accounts.
As “news” gets spread over social media, and millions of people around the world spend hours watching it relentlessly for the latest updates, it’s most important for PR people, especially those who manage social media for their agencies or their clients, to take a step back from our usual “guerilla marketing” tactics and follow specific guidelines.
- Show Compassion: Our first and foremost responsibility is to the victims, their families and those deeply affected by whatever horrific tragedy took place, whether it be a natural disaster, school shooting or etc.
- Halt marketing/promotions: Disable any social media messages that are unrelated to the situation at hand. Turn off automated tweets, and disable email marketing and promos if you can.
- Be a resource: If you do choose to tweet or post to social media, it should be only to offer condolences and share helpful resources.
- Social Media is Not Always Accurate: Acknowledge social media as an instantaneous source of news and not a reliable foundation for facts. Do not retweet or post anything that you are not sure is 100% accurate.
- Respond to criticism: If you were behind on the news and sent a tweet that some found offensive or insensitive given the situation, simply acknowledge that to your online community. Let them know that you’re suspending any unrelated messaging.
Most of all, during times of tragedies and crises like the one we just experienced, it’s important to let people mourn and grieve the way they choose to and understand that emotions are running high. Even if you or your clients had no connection to the events, show respect and offer condolences in any way possible.
And understand that things will return to normal. But in the meantime it’s our job as public relations professionals to keep the public aware, informed and overall, keep them updated. And even during times like these, that is, perhaps the best we can do.