Today's sad news out of Aurora, Colorado created the danger that someone clueless about the event could make a social media post inappropriate for the context of the world in which we live. In fact, this happened at least twice this morning. The @NRA_rifleman account, an account for the National Rifle Association, tweeted:
"Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?"The reaction was angry, the NRA apologized, and the account is now deleted. A spokesperson noted, "A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context."
"#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;) Shop: celebboutique.com/aurora-white-pleated-v-neck-strong-shoulder-dress-en.html"After angry responses (including TechCrunch unfairly accusing the retailer of "Epic Insensitivity"), the boutique apologized, noting, "We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora - Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic - we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets." The boutique has kept their account active and apologized to several customers who took offense.
Mistakes happen--but they should not happen to you on your account. There is a temptation to suggest that no tweets or posts occur without layers of approval, and for businesses of a certain size, this is certainly advisable (provided it doesn't impeded your social media agility or add unnecessarily to costs.)
For many smaller organizations and companies, however, there are not enough resources to have multiple sets of eyes on every account at every moment. The reputation of the enterprise often rests in the hands of community managers, who must exhibit good judgment, and this requires they be aware of what is happening in their and customers' worlds.
Of course, the context of newsworthy events can cut both ways, too. At times, events in the world allow brands to show what they care about.
On August 6 of last year, a NATO helicopter crashed, killing 30 US soldiers. At USAA, we felt compelled to say something--the association's customers serve in the US military, are veterans or have supported husbands, wives, sons and daughters as they deploy to dangerous corners of the world. Of course, there was great concern that the organization not be seen as exploiting the situation, but the association's members know that USAA hurts when they hurt and that USAA deeply appreciates the commitment of those who serve and the people who support them.
After careful but quick consideration, USAA posted to Facebook, "Today's sad news out of Afghanistan reminds us of the debt of gratitude we have for those who serve and the many family members who support them. We must never forget that freedom isn't free." The comments received demonstrated that USAA's fans appreciated the heartfelt sentiment and shared both our sorrow in the situation and gratitude for the people who protect us.
No amount of social media management tools or layers of review can replace good judgment and awareness of the context of the world. We can all be so brand focused that we forget that brands do not exist in a vacuum. You cannot know the right things to say in social media if you do not know what is on the minds of your customers, and that means CNN may be as important to your social media career as is Mashable.
Today's news struck an especially personal note because I was one of those crazy people sitting in a movie theater last night at midnight for the premiere of "Dark Knight Rises." The experience was very communal. Batman character costumes and tattoos were flaunted and praised, and strangers in long lines took time to share their favorite scenes and expectations of the movie. It was a wonderful and social experience, and it is unfathomable that someone just like me in a crowd just like mine lost their life to something so ugly and unimaginable. My thoughts are with people grieving around the world today.