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Tragic Events and the “Business” Of Social Media – What Constitutes Doing Your Job?

The events in Boston were horrible and sad and the instant it happened, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook became a stream of comment, concern and assistance for those in the midst of it all.

One minute things were normal and then my entire feed changed into one long scroll of Boston related tweets.

Well, most of my feed. Here and there there were people who I could tell hadn’t heard yet, or were tweeting news stories or whatever it is we all talk about as we blather away. However, as the minutes passed, I saw those same people come to the news and the feed evolved.

I wish I could explain how important that scroll was for me yesterday. My heart was breaking, my friends were afraid, people needed help, no one knew how bad it was, and we were all there together reading along — doing what small part we could do to share the news and share the pain in a way only social media allows.

I also decided, once the news broke, that any and all social media “work” I had planned for the day was going to have to wait. My job as Geek Girl Diva (the brand) was to shut up and get out of the way. My job as a person was to do what I could to be of assistance and do what I could to be part of the information flow to help others.

Others felt as I did. One, very specifically, was Janna O’Shea, who tweeted:

To reiterate an earlier tweet, don’t be “that” company today. Cancel your scheduled tweets/posts.
— Janna O’Shea (@dreamyeyed) April 15, 2013

And I, thinking it was totally on target and apropos retweeted and then sent a version of my own.

If you do social media & you’re trying to “work” right now, consider this…your tweets say a lot about you on a day like today. #nofeeds
— Geek Girl Diva (@geekgirldiva) April 15, 2013

Note, neither one of those tweets had any judgmental language. They were opinions and, given the NRA tweet that went out the morning after the Aurora shootings, there was thinking behind it.

We both got tweets suggesting we were out of line to suggest such a thing and that there was nothing wrong with scheduled tweets and doing regular social media.

So, allow me to clarify. Nothing about this is “right” or “wrong”. It’s my opinion based on my experience as a user and broadcaster on social media platforms. There I was in the middle of a tragic event, reading Twitter as a way to cope and support others and the incongruity of some obviously automated tweet (or tweet from a blog post feed – I count those as automated) felt like a shock and stood out like a sore thumb.

I’m also not the only one who thought it might be worth looking into. Social media heavyweights like Chris Pirillo and Chris Brogan did some asking around as well.

Most responding RE: the Boston tragedy are suggesting that we *STILL* do a live Surface Pro review today:… – yes? no?
— Chris Pirillo (@ChrisPirillo) April 15, 2013

Why tell companies to stop tweeting because of an American tragedy & not also ask them to stop for every country’s woes?
— Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) April 15, 2013

I’m guessing part of what precipitated both questions was the fact that people were suggesting that maybe yesterday wasn’t the day to do “business as usual”.

And my response, which may be the entire point of this post, was that it may come down to a calculation of “event magnitude vs. message amplitude”.

I think you have to ask yourself as a company, as a brand, and as a person, the following question. Is your doing business during something like yesterday is going to yield you more positive than negative results?

If you have, for example, 1.2 million followers and you just keep tweeting away as tragic events happen, that’s a lot of people who see you going on as if nothing is happening and, in my opinion, like you don’t care.

Loving how people with less than 1,500 followers are telling me how to tweet…
— Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki) April 15, 2013

Now, here’s the thing. I’m not 100% sure, but I’m betting people were suggesting that maybe Guy should tone down the automation and that he may have sounded callous in the wake of what was happening.

If that’s what he was tweeting in response to, well…that’s a lot of “amplitude” on just what you think of the people following you — and I’d be really interested to know. A quick search of tweets at him revealed a lot of irritated people.

And, just think would he could have accomplished if he’d used his powers for good? If he’d been tweeting from the beginning and helping spread the word? I mean, even if you’re callous about it, think about the RT’s and goodwill and general positives you would have gotten out of it.

Instead, because he didn’t take a moment to stop and ask himself about the “magnitude to amplitude” ratio. Instead, he pretty much amplified what a douchecanoe he can be.

In the end, maybe the takeaway is this — social media is social first and media second. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s any less noticeable when you look like the guy walking down the street during a tragic event passing out flyers for 5 bucks off a large pizza down the street.

You have a voice. Use it for good. The trick is knowing which “good” is best at the time.

Avoiding being a douchecanoe? Well, that’s just a bonus.

Peace and love.

Tweet Follow @geekgirldiva


  1. I think there’s no way to make a general ruling. I mean, ‘don’t mock people for being upset’ would be a good one, but as far as social media interaction… My job means I deal with a lot of overseas customers. Due to a problem with an overseas server yesterday, literally 98% of my feed and interaction was with people who are not US citizens. I was working while the bombing happened and continued working for hours afterward, and not one SINGLE person brought it up to the account I was working from. Not one. So should we have shut down the feed and stopped engaging with these hundreds of people who are used to our presence but either aren’t plugged into or don’t really care about foreign events? No, probably not. That’s different though than, say, live streaming an event or pushing advertising for something during a crisis. The INJUSTICE video game social media campaign was going to be showing the like final bracket battle between Batman and Supes as a big event last night, and they canceled it out of respect for the events of the day. They got a swarm of negative reactions on their Facebook page, mostly from teenage boys, lambasting them for not doing it, but they also got a lot of support from people who thought it was a classy move. I think they did the right thing.

    I think in my head it comes down to, just as there are levels of social media use- personal branding, interactive support and conversations from a brand to its consumers, corporate brand entities sending universal tweets to the masses- there has to be levels of responsibility and appropriateness during tragic moments, and it’s not going to be the same across the board.

  2. Love you too. :*

    And I think that’s all it comes down to, THINK. Think before you accuse, think before you post tweets etc. Just think, people.

  3. Jill,

    One of the things I appreciate most about you is your perspective.

    In the end, it’s a tough question and one I hope people will give thought to.

    Love you.

  4. Here’s my thing and you’re (as in everyone else’s) mileage may vary.

    I would prefer the distraction of “business as usual.” If your company/brand feels it’s appropriate, social media things you feel will help, do what you can, but then carry on. This is coming from someone who works in online media so I can’t just turn off the internet when tragedy happens and it’s tough having to see nothing but terror across my screen for hours.

    And I feel like it is a bit self-centered of us as Americans to halt everything at one tragedy but not others, as Brogan touched on.

    When posting tweets and facebook updates of stories yesterday, a handful of people told us to stop autoposting. But here’s the thing, we weren’t autoposts. We discussed what happened and decided it was best to send out the few links that seemed helpful then continue on. So we weren’t coming from a place of ignorance but one of reasoned decision. We did what we though as a company would could do and also considered that what some people might need in this particular instance was a bit of their normal routine.

    So I feel in this type of situation, it’s best not to judge a company for what they’re putting out during a crisis, but to send out reminder tweets to those that do have scheduled tweets. Not to tell them to stop tweeting but to have them check to make sure none of their scheduled posts might come across as insensitive. For example, you had a story going up about an explosion unrelated the the current incident.

    It’s almost a lose-lose situation because there will be folks who think companies should go dark entirely and others who want something else to look at but during a crisis like what happened in Boston, emotions are running high and people are quick to make snap judgements.

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