Branding in the Face of Tragedy
On Thursday July 23, a terrible tragedy befell our community when a lone gunman indiscriminately opened fire on a theater of moviegoers, killing two and injuring several. This horrific event has left our region reeling and has created a devastated, mournful climate across the state of Louisiana. But as proud, lifelong members of Acadiana, we’re so proud of our neighbors for demonstrating extraordinary compassion, bravery, and love for one another in the time of immeasurable sorrow. On behalf of our entire team, we would like to offer our sincerest condolences to the victims and their families. Our prayers are with you.
In the hours following the event, we collectively found ourselves glued to screens — awaiting answers and exchanging sentiments of grief. It was here [on TV and social media] that we witnessed in real time as genuine, gut reactions poured out from individuals and businesses struggling to cope with the catastrophic event. As professional brand managers, we found it impossible not to notice the way different people publicly responded to the tragic loss of innocent victims. Some of these reactions were honorable and heartfelt and others were disappointing missteps — the kind that make you shake your head and wish they hadn’t said anything at all.
There’s no one way to publicly react to tragedy in a setting like social media, but there are more than a million ways for a brand to irreversibly mar its reputation with careless posting and inappropriate management. So what can we learn from the cringe-inducing, thoughtless reactions?
Never Make It About You
If you are a business, and you feel the need to publicly respond to a national crisis, do not put yourself in the message. This isn’t about you. This is about victims and families. There’s no reason to brand the content you share with your logo, and there’s no reason to spin the tragedy to frame you within it. It’s in very poor taste to inject your business into a tragedy to gain exposure.
Speaking of which, always keep your intentions indisputable. In this particular instance, we saw a blatant effort of certain politicians to further campaigns with their disingenuous presence at the scene of the crime in the immediate moments following the incident. This might sound biting, but that’s exactly how it appeared to a lot of locals. Many of us believed that local law-enforcement and community public officials should have represented us in the time of tragedy. But what was meant to appear like the concerned gesture by politicians certainly came off as pandering for votes. Here, the lesson learned is to not use media attention during a national tragedy for personal gain. It could not be more repellent.
Never Engage In A Firefight
Anything that attracts major media attention is bound to attract opposing opinions from every direction. There will always be individuals who find a way to negatively localize a tragedy and there will always be dissenters with something nasty to say. But as a business, stay out of arguments and discussions that could invite hate-speech or angry dissenting opinions from lunatics. Rise above the anger and let the crazy people argue among themselves.
Post From The Heart
If your social media pages are using pre-written, scheduled posts, be sure to disable posting during times that require real attention. You always want to have current messaging and auto-posting will give the public the impression that you’re disengaged from what’s happening on the news. Offer your condolences, do something to help, and make sure your audience knows that you really care.
In the end, it all comes down to messaging. It all comes down to having a genuine, heartfelt, sincere message and sharing it with the people who look to you for support. As a brand, you have the opportunity to engage with your audience on an emotional level at all times. But in a moment of uncertainty and loss, you have the opportunity to really say something that sticks with people and inspires hope.
We hope we never have to write anything like this ever again.