Monday afternoon, tragedy struck Boston.
Following the news that two explosions had gone off near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, everyone seemed interested in what would follow. In a lot of ways, conversation did.
Many took to social media to express their feelings, ask questions or post recent developments in the story. It seemed to stay like that for awhile, too.
Once I started to see posts and tweets not regarding the situation in Boston, I felt uncomfortable. It felt wrong.
I started to think; when is it too soon to change conversation following a tragedy?
A food website called Epicurious sent out the following tweets to its 385,000 followers the day after the incident:
When tragedy strikes, it leaves people affected by it mourning, hoping and wishing. The last thing they need is to be bombarded with advertisements.
After receiving criticism, the company deleted the tweets and mentioned each person who responded in separate tweets with a formal apology:
These identical tweets seem less than genuine and their reputation may be damaged because of it.
So, what do we do? How soon is too soon? It’s not that all media activity should cease, but discretion is necessary.
For companies with scheduled tweets, this could be a problem. A tweet could be released during an inappropriate time. Reputation is everything and it can be so easily ruined. Within seconds, a 140-character thought can be seen by thousands.
Turn off those automated tweets as soon as news of a crisis erupts to prevent this.
Every type of media seems to struggle with how to approach life after a disaster, including comedy shows, where laughter seems to come so easy.
When Regis Philbin asked David Letterman about his decision to return to the air less than a week after 9/11, the “Late Show” host said, “I remember not wanting to go back, not feeling ready to go back, but knowing we had to go back. And you know — my concerns were minimal compared to people who really suffered.”
But he did. He opened the show by mentioning the attacks, offering his condolences to those affected by it, praised the first-responders and asked New Yorkers to remain courageous.
Near the end he said, “And I have one more thing to say, and then, thank God, Regis is here, so we have something to make fun of. If you didn’t believe it before, and it’s easy to understand how you might have been skeptical on this point, if you didn’t believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now… New York City is the greatest city in the world.”
After, he continued the show as usual.
Letterman made people laugh for the first time since the attacks and he’s remembered for it. He used caution and respect. He thought about his viewers and their feelings before his own.
When dealing with any type of media following a tragedy, don’t use it as a marketing plea or tactic. Keep your audience in mind.
Be respectful, offer your condolences and your audience will respond well.