Times have changed. People want to know that behind all the advertising, tweets, posts and emails, that real, caring people are at the helms of brands. I think most brands are finally starting to recognize this and are trying to connect with people on the most basic levels, especially when it comes to sharing an overwhelmingly common sentiment toward a current event.

This is where it gets tricky.

Depending on what the sentiment and the current event are, brands can walk a fine line between humanizing and capitalizing. Recently, AT&T made a social media fail when the brand posted a picture that was supposed to be in recognition of the anniversary of September 11th. Instead, the image, which featured a cell phone taking a picture of the spot where the World Trade Center once stood, only seemed to be a tasteless attempt at product placement during a time of reflection on one of the most horrible national events in recent years.

When it comes to events that are disastrous and marked by turmoil or grief, it is my suggestion to do one of two things:

1) Have a heart. Forget about profits. Forget about margins. Forget about your products or services (unless you plan to donate them). Express a genuine thought or sentiment of acknowledgement or concern; and, if it’s in your capacity to do so, make a contribution of your time, influence and or resources to help the situation. AT&T wouldn’t have gotten any of the backlash it received had the company just posted the statement without the picture or if it had made a generous donation of free phones or money to some sort of 9/11 relief fund. Even then, when addressing the situation, there should be no product placement or specific product mentions.

2) Don’t say anything. While it would be my first suggestion to acknowledge events that affect the masses, especially those of your main audience, if you’re not sure what to say or how to say it, then just don’t say anything. And when I say “don’t say anything,” I mean it. If you don’t have someone on your team who can get a kind, thoughtful statement together, that’s fine (I guess); but, you shouldn’t carry on with business as usual on your social media channels – especially if it is something that has JUST happened.

So while AT&T’s social media post was a fail, it’s a learning lesson that even especially in marketing, TACT is crucial.

Be genuine. Be thoughtful. Be tactful.

CEO and Lead Consultant of RedGal's Marketing.
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