It’s been conventional wisdom for quite a while now that there are times brands should just stop Tweeting or pushing out any social updates. Usually these are during times of great national stress or in the midst of an unfolding tragedy. In my career I’ve hit the “Pause” button when news of a school shooting broke, during the hours and days following the Boston Marathon bombing and other times. The idea is that in the midst of real conversations about life-or-death topics, brands don’t need to be interrupting things with their marketing messages. Take a knee, let things calm down and then you can ramp back up.
But what happens when every damn day feels like one of great national crisis and hand-wringing?
That’s the situation we’re now in and one that lead to Twitter itself getting its hand-slapped a little bit last week. See #nationalrelaxationday wound up coinciding with the day Pres. Trump decided to double-down on not condemning the white nationalists and Nazis who were making their pasty presence known in Charlottesville, VA. Twitter posted about the hashtag holiday anyway, seemingly unaware that people were freaking out about the comments being made by our president. That was bad enough on its own but also opened the company back up to familiar (and legitimate) criticisms it wasn’t doing enough to combat just the kind of hate-filled vitriol that was on display in Charlottesville.
Should Twitter have held back on that Tweet? Was it right for any brand to be publishing in that moment? I’m not sure I agree with those saying social brand publishing should have been put on pause at that moment. That’s largely because the overall vibe of the world seems so different than it did even a year ago.
While I *do* think brands should be savvy enough to know not to publish as violent riots and protests are happening, “Trump says something outrageous” is too low a bar. There’s almost not a day that’s gone by in the last two years where that hasn’t happened, so that criteria would have shut most content marketing programs down the minute he descended on the elevator of Trump Tower and declared all Mexicans to be rapists and criminals.
We’re in a state of perpetual societal crisis, it seems. So the standard by which “appropriate for marketing to continue” is measured needs to be adjusted. Twitter was tone deaf with their #nationalrelaxationday Tweet, sure, but that’s not a massive issue, nor is any Tweet from any brand that went out that day.
If we’re going to put formal guidelines around what does or doesn’t rise to this level, it starts with needing to define what constitutes a crisis. Is it a Tweet from Trump that dog whistles to white nationalists? Is it a the high-profile loss of life? Is it any instance of notable and demonstrable social inequality? What makes the protest in Charlottesville different from the protests three years ago in Ferguson, MO, protests that didn’t seem to generate the same round of existential doubt among social media experts.
There are still clear instances where brand marketing should be put on hold out of respect for events in the real world. I continue to believe that, even if doing so entails me ignoring the double-standard social media is held to as traditional advertising still appears alongside stories about those tragedies online, on TV, on radio and elsewhere. It’s not as if all advertising is pulled, it’s just that social content marketing is expected to go silent, though the difference between seeing marketing within a Twitter timeline and auto-play video ads on the CNN story about a tragedy seems like the definition of hair-splitting.
All that means it comes down to what feels right in the moment. A program manager is the one who is responsible for making that call and is therefore accountable for whatever repercussions may result, though he/she can and should get input from others in as timely a manner as possible. So there isn’t one universal standard against which to hold people and the brands they manage. All they can do is make the best decision they can in the moment, adjusting standards to a new reality that seems lot more crisis-filled and surreal than it did just a couple years ago.