Communication on Social Media after a Major Event

According to research by Statista, 80% of the U.S. population that is age 12 and older has at least one social media account. Smart Insights reports a slightly lower figure (75%). The differences are driven by different methodologies. The takeaway is that a substantial number of people in the U.S. are active on social media platforms. If you’re one of these people, you may be wondering how you should respond (if at all) to major events like the two mass shootings in Atlanta and in Boulder, on your personal and professional social media accounts. Below, I’ve shared best practices, according to experts in the Communications industry.

Digital platforms that enable us to virtually connect with others, like Facebook and Twitter, can be a double-edged sword. Social platforms can foster a sense of connection and belonging by allowing people who feel marginalized to establish niche communities where they can share their experiences and provide meaningful guidance. However, social platforms can also create a hostile environment of harassment and serve as a conduit for the rapid spread of misinformation that leads to violence (e.g., the 2021 insurrection).

As users of these platforms, we can have a direct and indirect impact on what occurs in these digital spaces. That’s why it’s important to educate ourselves on how to be better stewards of the internet. If you’re not convinced on principal alone, then consider the fact that a growing number of people are facing social and economic consequences from their online conduct and their behavior can damage their employer’s reputation. For example, see the recent Alexi McCammond debacle at Condé Nast. Given the potential consequences of our online behavior, it’s worth exploring best practices around social media use after major events like a celebrity’s death, natural disasters, and mass shootings.

Approach 1: Don’t say anything

The combination of strong emotions and political polarization can make the digital world an extra tricky place to navigate and the best approach may be to say nothing at all for at least 24 hours, especially if the event does not directly involve you or affect you. This may be especially important if you own a small business because anything you post may come off insincere or be viewed as a marketing ploy. An example of this is the public backlash to Cinnabon’s tweet after Carrie Fisher passed away in 2016. On that note, if you use marketing software, make sure to turn off all automated posts as well.

Approach 2: Use your influence to honor the victims or fund-raise

If you would like to contribute to the discussion, rather than taking a side on a particular issue, you can use your position of influence to honor those who were impacted. For example, a local business that I work with called FIT & NU contacted a minister to join them in prayer after the Boulder and Atlanta shootings.

Another option is to use your influence to garner attention to organizations that are gathering and distributing resources. This is another example from FIT & NU, but you can take use approach for an individual account as well. The other option is to simply re-post content from a trusted source.

If an organization or crowdfunding campaign does not exist, consider setting one up. This is best done in partnership with an established and trusted organization. Make sure to research the organization that you promote or collaborate with to ensure that you do not unintentionally spread misinformation or misdirect resources.

Approach 3: Speak out, authentically and thoughtfully

When an event directly affects you and you want to speak out, it’s important to reflect on the incident before you speak out. Journal your thoughts and feelings around the issue and make sure that your public statement aligns with your values. Ask a few people that you trust to look over whatever you plan to post to get their opinion and make sure that they interpret the content in a way that you intended. Whatever it is, keep the message simple. The tone that you take will depend on the medium and your comfort with sharing how you have been impacted.

Here’s an example of Erika Mahoney’s heartbreaking tweet about losing her dad:

This is an example of an Instagram post that was shared by the city of Boulder.

Here’s another example of a tweet about AAPI violence that was shared by actress Olivia Munn:

For a longer and more intimate post, take a look at the newsletter that I published for HEAL•THY•HABITS.

In summary, there are three common courses of action when it comes to social media use after a major event.

  • The first is to demonstrate respect through silence. Turn off all automated posts, to ensure that you do not accidentally post content that is viewed as insensitive.
  • The second option is to keep the focus on those who were affected by finding a way to honor them or draw attention to organizations who can help. You can also try to set up a fund yourself if one does not exist.
  • The third option is weigh in thoughtfully. If you’ve been personally impacted in some way, you have every right to speak to the issue and you may touch the hearts of many by doing so. Just make sure that your message is not lost in the height of your emotions. Reflect on what you want to say and consult with others before sharing your thoughts with the world.

If you’re an active social media user, consider creating a system to guide your communication strategy. That way, you’ve thought through, ahead of time, what you want to say and when you want to say it, during a time of crisis. This will also keep you consistent.

If you own a business or you’re thinking through this for your organization, you should absolutely have a policy and communication strategy in place. This includes appointing a response team that consists of both internal and external specialists, from legal experts to company executives and PR staff. Together, you should develop protocols regarding the type of events your organization will respond to, how you will respond, and who will take a active versus passive role in each scenario.

More on this topic in a future post. In the meantime, subscribe to my newsletter to receive updates on future posts related to this topic.

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