Has Tragedy Tweeting Gone Too Far?

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In the wake of every national tragedy, from shootings to natural disasters, it happens like clockwork — celebrities and companies and everyday folk tweet their thoughts and prayers to the victims.

There’s an interesting debate over “tragedy tweeting” at Arik Hanson’s Communication Conversations blog, and I admit it amounts to somewhat of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma for brands.

On one hand, people complain when companies insensitively let their auto-tweets run amok in times of national crisis, broadcasting promotions and offers in the midst of tragedy. I know — I was one of these complainers.

But just as bad, I think, are the generic bromides that companies feel compelled to broadcast. As Hanson argues:

Who cares that brands care? Isn’t this akin to the corporate news release from the CEO with standard boilerplate language? Almost like a robot–instead of an actual human being–said it … I don’t see a compelling reason here for brands to participate in these tragedies–even if it is just to say “our sympathies.” Yeah, it shows your brand cares. But, when every other brand on the planet is doing it (as well as EVERYONE in your newsfeed), the message kinda gets lost, don’t you think?

As I commented, it reminds me of Ricky Gervais’s tweet in the aftermath of one of the Oklahoma tornados. In response to the usual “thoughts and prayers” tweets from celebrities, he said this:

Tragedy Tweeting

Of course, Gervais is a provocateur and militant atheist, so there’s a pretty sharp edge to what he’s saying. But the point, as he made in subsequent posts, is that if people are so concerned, they should donate to the Red Cross.

For brands, again, it’s that Catch-22. Everyone tells companies they need to be more “human” in their communications. But I think the predictability and generic nature of these tweets make them the opposite of human. They’re as bland and ordinary as every over-polished, over-vetted, over-committeed corporate message.

Or, as one commenter put it:

The rote response “Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the ____ in ______” is not remotely humanizing for a brand. It’s frequent use has robbed it of all its meaning …

So what can be done instead? They could offer substantive help of money or resources to the affected communities. They could encourage their followers to do the same. At minimum, they could find something unique, truly personal and meaningful to say that’s not being said by thousands of others.

Or they could just not tweet for a while.

Of course, as pointed out by Hanson and several commenters, these companies’ tragedy tweets certainly generated a lot of comments and likes and shares. So maybe they know their followers better than we do.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is a case of a few cranky elites out of step with the concerns and tastes of real Americans. For me, at least, it wouldn’t be the first time …