4 minute read

It seems that 2016 has seen its fair share of tragic events, both in the U.S. and abroad. It’s been a rough one so far for many parts of the world. In the wake of all the difficult news stories and disheartening events, you may have wondered: How should my nonprofit publicly respond? Social media provides an opportunity for brands to express everything from outrage to sympathy when innocent lives are lost and terrible things happen to good people—but the big question is, should you? Should you express anything, and if so, what?

There may be times when it seems wrong to stay silent, and yet you may also have moments when it feels wrong to post, tweet or share content after a life-altering event.

While there are no hard and fast rules, from a PR standpoint, there are some important things to think about before you respond to a tragedy. Here are a few questions to consider when crafting a message after a heartbreaking national or international event:

Do you have the facts straight?

Every media outlet wants to be the first to break important news, especially given the rate that information travels nowadays, which often leaves little time for fact checking. Sometimes just bits and pieces of the truth come in immediately following a tragic event, and it can be difficult to tell what’s right, what’s sensationalized and what’s hearsay. A good rule of thumb: Wait. Don’t jump the gun and comment on a story that’s still unfolding. You’re not a news organization, so be patient, let the facts roll in, perhaps wait for a formal press conference and then make a decision about how your organization will respond.

How will your post make your audience feel?

Strive to offer hope during tragedy—that’s a good goal when you don’t know exactly what to say. At the very least, be careful not to make matters worse. Posting graphic photos, insensitive or judgmental comments or incorrect information is only going to paint your organization in a negative light. If you feel like venting, do it from a personal account, not your nonprofit’s. If staying silent doesn’t feel right, you can simply extend a note of sympathy and acknowledge the victims’ pain—that’s often enough and almost always appropriate.

Does this tragedy affect your particular industry or community?

If your organization has a relationship with those affected by a current event or is connected in any way to the victims, it is absolutely okay to provide information and news updates on the event as it rolls in and you deem it reliable. For example, if your community experiences a natural disaster and you’re able to provide information about shelters, assistance, communication issues (cell service for contacting family members, etc.), do it. You’re adding value and bringing hope and healing to a difficult situation, which is exactly what people may be looking to you for.

If you do decide to comment following a tragedy, here are three important considerations:


  1. Closely examine your messaging for anything inappropriate or insensitive. Carefully consider word choices and references. Even if you’re trying to be empathetic and helpful, if you choose the wrong word or say something that makes you appear ignorant, you’ll hurt your brand. Now is not the time to step on toes, even inadvertently.
  2. Be sincere, not sensational. Your audience will be able to tell if you’re genuinely responding to a tragic event or if you’re just using it to garner attention. There’s no need to tweet out several messages of sympathy or post repeatedly about the same thing. The important thing is to be authentic. There’s no need to add to the drama.
  3. Consider a single expression of compassion and support. You really can’t go wrong with this approach. If you’d rather stay silent out of respect for the victims and their families, that’s okay too. But if you feel the need to speak out publicly and stand in solidarity with those affected, sometimes a single heartfelt expression is the most effective way to do so. In fact, you can post the same single expression on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn—all of your social media accounts. That’s perfectly acceptable. And then use your best judgment on when to proceed with your regularly-scheduled content.

At Firespring, our goal is to help you engage with your constituents and online audience in the most effective and helpful ways possible, regardless of what’s going on in the world. Whether you need social media marketing expertise or the latest website technology, we can help.​