Since the rise of social media, there have been more national and international tragedies than we know what to do with. Marketers in social media are torn: do you address a tragedy or should your company go completely dark? Should you put out content that specifically refers to the tragedy or should you go about your business as if it is any other day? It’s a tough call to make: acknowledgement could seem like you are taking advantage and lack of posting could imply a disregard. There’s no right call, making many feel like they are back in their college ethics class.

One thing we do know for sure is that social media is about speaking to your community. And in times of tragedy or national distress, community becomes more important than ever. People use social media as a medium to reflect, react, and respond to tragedy. And while there are no hard guidelines for social media posting during a tragedy here are some things to consider when the event arises.

What You Shouldn’t Do

The anniversary of 9/11 is still as somber an occasion as ever, as Americans come together to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on that tragic day. When tragedy strikes, the most important thing to keep in mind is not to capitalize on the moment, especially with a branded sentiment that may cast your brand as being self-promotional. Many brands were publicly shamed for tasteless 9/11 tributes, like AT&T’s blatant advertisement. The company’s “Never Forget” sentiment was met with a chorus of anger, shock and disappointment due to the brand’s exploitative imagery. It only takes one insensitive post to create a critical impact on a brand’s reputation.

What You Should Do

Consider a single expression of sympathy. Brands should be very conservative in any public reaction to national tragedies. If your company would like to commemorate occasions like September 11, stick to short, simple tributes. One expression of sympathy will not get in the way of your brand’s long-term message. Make sure that the message is broad and positive.

In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, many brands shared status updates that included a variation of the basic message: “our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Orlando” or “our hearts are with Orlando”. Although these may seem generic, millions of people saw these messages that offered comfort while reminding followers that there are indeed real-life people operating these social media business pages.

Marketers should also take this time to re-evaluate any marketing campaigns and social media for appropriateness amid the new context. Basic sensitivity in time of national distress is key, and if you aren’t sure what to do pause your scheduled social media and remember that silence is always a safe strategy.

We’ve seen social media be a help or hindrance in times of crisis and tragedy. What are your thoughts on how brands respond to tragedy on social media? Let us know in the comments below!