The social media response to Monday's tragic Boston Marathon bombings was, for the most part, one of tact, community, and cautiousness and shows the power that social media and online community can have in times of crisis. While there was the inevitable brand misstep, the majority of conversations happening around social media communities were positive ones.
Communities in Action
The Boston PD utilized the new broadcast channels that social media allows, tweeting their request for video from in and around the Boston Marathon area (Mashable). While law enforcement agencies have long sought witnesses and video evidence from crime scenes, the megaphone effect of social media and the large number of people who were likely to have been filming (either for later uploading to social platforms anyway or for their own personal memories) will result in an abundance of footage for investigators to work with.
Google implemented its Person Finder service (previously deployed after the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami) to assist friends and family reconnecting with each other after the explosions. An unknown Samaritan used Google Drive's Form tool to create a Need A Place to Stay database, connected stranded visitors with Bostonians willing to open their spare beds and couches for the night.
With cell phone service unavailable or overloaded for many, others (including Foursquare's Dennis Crowley) were still able to use their social networks to let worried friends and family know they were okay. An "I'm ok," tweet replaced hours of phone calls and missed calls and worry. While misinformation was being distributed, it was quickly fact-checked and debunked before spreading too far. Area hospitals also utilized social media to keep people apprised of the developing situation.
Jon Loomer, in Social Media Marketing in Times of Tragedy, revised a previous post, addressing what he feels is the proper response from brands post-tragedy. He emphasized the importance of not running your community as a one-person show lest you get caught unavailable when social feeds need to be paused:
Some brands left their auto-posting on. In many cases, I completely get it. Maybe they hadn’t heard the news yet. Or maybe they were not in a place where they could turn this off.
That’s why it’s important to have a backup who can turn this messaging off if necessary. It could be an employee, but it could also be a spouse or friend.
Stephanie Fusco shared When Tragedy Strikes: A Community Manager's Checklist, which included two steps I found especially resonant:
Ask: how will our fans be affected? Once you’ve paused all communication efforts, ask yourself how your fans will be affected by this tragedy and how, if at all, you can help. One of my favourite examples of putting this into action is trampoline company Springfree’s response to Hurricane Sandy. Knowing that their fans would be nervous about securing their trampolines, the company posted a helpful blog post with Hurricane Sandy Tips.
Call decision makers. When tragedy strikes, our first instinct is to help. For many, this includes reaching out to large corporations or local companies in hopes that they can provide funds or services to aid in recovery. Once you have your communication ducks in a row, call up key decision makers and ask how, if at all, they are able to help. For a company like Google, this meant creating a person finder tool for those in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Chris Brogan took to his podcast to voice a contrasting opinion, insisting that business as usual is not necessarily insensitive in times of tragedy and we should stop being judgmental about the choices businesses are making. Quote transcribed from podcast:
What got to me was this notion... that now this was something we should be thinking about and yet there were explosions and death that happened in Iraq... and Somalia that same day. And that doesn't take away from what happened in Boston... if we're gonna tell marketers and businesses to stop doing what they're doing because there's tragedy, well there's tragedy all the time. And you can say 'yes, but this is close to home,' but that's the very thought... you're not giving the same thought or level of respect to other countries. That nationalism... is frustrating to me.
At a time like this, an online community can be a place of comfort for many members. Running and fitness-centric communities especially may find that the attacks hit very close to home for them emotionally. Even if off-topic conversation is normally verboten in your community, you may want to designate a thread for people to share their thoughts, feelings, and stories related to this event. A quick reminder of the Code of Conduct or Community Guidelines that you've set in place might be necessary if the topic becomes inflammatory. Gauge what's right and appropriate for your community... they'll probably tell you what they need from you.