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How Social Media and Brands react to a Tragedy4 min read

4 min read

Croud’s Emma, takes a look at the recent Boston Marathon tragedy and how Social Media and brands responded to the crisis. Should brands show recognition to a tragedy or carry on as normal?

I, like most people, was browsing Facebook last night when I noticed a post in my news feed mentioning ‘Boston’, and then I saw another and then another… A quick Google search to see what everyone was talking about and it all became clear. From that point on I was glued to social media. I wanted to find out more about what happened, get live updates, see what was being done, and how the world was reacting – and Social Media fed my need.

Twitter gave me live news updates and bystanders’ reactions; I opened another tab up for YouTube and watched as more videos of scenes of the explosions were uploaded. On Facebook an image of a victim with destroyed, mangled legs was doing the rounds. Even typing out it now is making me wince at the image of it. But what I saw was the reality of what happened. I like millions of others outside of Boston, felt connected to the event through Social Media.

Social Media not only brought the world closer to the harsh realities of what happened but was also used as hub for authorities to pass out information to people there. Due to down mobile networks, people were using sites like Twitter and Facebook to let people know that they were ok. And, as with the earthquake in Japan, Google set up a People Finder to help users connect with family and loved ones in the aftermath.

Yet there was a downside. Social media is, largely, unfiltered and unmediated. Twitter became subject to inaccurate or downright false reports as well as those trying to leech on the event to gain Retweets. One account, a fake called @_BostonMarathan claimed that for every Retweet a dollar would go towards helping victims of the bombings, a similar response was seen during the aftermath of the Newtown Shooting. Although gaining a large amount of Retweets, more people greeted it with scepticism and spam reports resulted in its suspension within about an hour of the time it began grabbing those ill-gotten Retweets.

So at first it seems there two sides to Social Media during a crisis, the advantages and the disadvantages but then again there’s also the part where it’s not being spoken about at all. Deciding whether to join a worldwide conversation can be quite tricky for brands.

We hear that social media is all about giving a voice to your company, showing your personality and showing you are human. But when I logged onto hootsuite this morning expecting to see more reactions, most of the brands I followed didn’t mention it at all. I must admit I felt a bit disconnected from these brands I love, who showed no recognition of what happened.

I wondered if other people felt the same, so I did a search for some big brands’ reactions. Here are some of the Tweets I found:



Interestingly I found reaction towards Burger King who didn’t comment on the event:

I’m not saying that brands should comment or jump onto every major news event. Like with Margaret Thatcher’s death, I don’t want to hear my favourite bookshop’s political opinion and how they feel about it. But sometimes I think I agree with beefsteakCharly, that recognition is called for. Otherwise I fear the feeling of a big, unpenetrable brand out soley to gain more customers rather than build relationships can be felt. Like I said it’s a tricky one, and one we’re all quite new to it. Social Media and how it fits in with our lives is still changing and developing.  I would love to hear your thoughts?

Regardless of what Mcdonald’s and Red bull are tweeting or not tweeting, the Boston Marathon showed how Social Media enables information to spread far beyond the affected area, building an online community around such events that can cross state and national borders.

Bill Braniff, Executive Director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism sums up the world’s reaction to social media well:

“If I’m here in Washington DC, and I’m on twitter and can demonstrate my empathy, it helps create this idea of resolve or community solidarity with people who are there on the ground in a way that uni-dimensional media doesn’t do. Online, I can express outrage or sympathy.

[…] I get a greater sense of unity—the we is a much bigger we,” 

The question is should brands be apart of that ‘we?’