When a tragic event takes place around the world, social media is one of the first places people go for news and information. Within seconds of a tragedy, people reach for their smartphones and tablets. Everyone’s news feeds quickly fill up with trending topics and all the latest updates. The majority of social media users jump on their networks to find useful information from reliable news sources. Many other users are looking for any word from those present in the area sharing firsthand experience of what is happening.

Managing a business’ reputation is a delicate act during difficult times. Many brands find themselves asking the question, “Should I post something?” There’s no universal right or wrong answer to this question. Every business will need to make its own decision based on what’s best for its brand during times of crisis.

Here at 435 Digital, it’s our stance to not post our regularly scheduled content while a tragedy is unfolding. We recommend immediately shutting off any scheduled tweets, Facebook updates, etc., as it looks insensitive. It has been our experience that many people find it disrespectful when brands post promotional content while everyone is concerned with the latest news on the event.

Your brand may have nothing to do with the incident, and sometimes it is best to be respectful and keep quiet until more information is released. If you’d rather not go completely quiet on social media during a tragedy, there are some posts that we find are more acceptable than pushing out the regular promotional info you usually share.

Two universal pieces of advice:

1. Make sure your post is well thought out and written clearly. This may seem obvious.

2. Whatever you write, keep it short. People mostly want to see the latest news, not a drawn out post by a business. You never want to make it look like you are taking away attention from the current happenings. You could offer your condolences or send well wishes, but be sure to keep things brief.

Examples of helpful brands who posted during last week’s tragedy in Boston:

American Red Cross: Offered comfort for those looking for loved ones, and assured everyone that many Red Cross volunteers and workers were there helping in any way they could.

Red-Cross Social Media Plan

McDonald’s: Acknowledged the pain with a considerate and simple message, and let their fans know things will be quiet out of respect.

McDonalds Social Media Plan

Here are some content suggestions to show respect instead of doing the typical promotion post during a tragic event:

  • Offer your condolences, but keep it brief.
  • Post information on ways for people to support the victims of the tragic event (ie., charitable giving opportunities, help line phone numbers for people to find their loved ones, etc.).
  • Show support for the community involved.

Some thoughts on things to stay away from during a tragedy:

  • Consider leaving off any hashtags. A tragic time is not an opportunity to spread a promotional message. A simple sentence showing support works best.
  • If you do choose to continue your scheduled, promotional posts, be ready for backlash. Some people will be very upset that your brand is going on with business as usual.


Most importantly, it’s up to your business to make the final call on what’s appropriate during a tragedy. Chris Boudreaux has compiled an extensive listing of social media policies – a great resource for researching what needs to be covered.

Every business should have a plan ready in case a terrible situation occurs and immediate actions are needed. Share the plan with all team members so that no one makes the mistake of posting something that differs from the company’s social media guidelines.

No one wants to have to think about tragic events before they happen, but it’s crucial that your business have a plan ready to provide clear guidance in the midst of any crisis.