Social Media Etiquette: 5 Questions to Ask Before Posting About the News When a disaster happens or as the anniversary of a catastrophe approaches, it may seem like commenting is the right thing to do. Sometimes, silence is best.

This story originally appeared on PR Daily

Paul Hackett/Reuters

We're approaching the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. With all the hype around real-time marketing and newsjacking, community managers may find themselves compelled—by a client or colleague—to contribute to this news-driven conversation in social media.

When brands do this, it can come across as forced, at best, or offensive, at worst. The line between appropriate and inappropriate is a thin one, best evidenced by recaps of brands trying to commemorate 9/11 this year.

Real-time marketing requires a deft hand, balancing the benefits of participating in conversations your customers are having with the potential damage done by content that's more concerned with the brand than with its audience.

More often than not, saying nothing is the best move. If you feel the need for your brand to say something about a news-driven event, ask yourself these five questions before you do:

1. Does the event directly affect your brand or its consumers?

An event that's a conversation of interest for your consumers—or one they're watching unfold through breaking news—isn't necessarily one for your brand. Whether it's relevant for you will depend on three factors:

People: Does the event directly affect the city where you're based, the people who work for you or a majority of your consumers? Then it's relevant and directly affects your brand.

Content: For example, if your brand always talks about issues relevant to disaster relief or weather, your commentary on Hurricane Sandy might be relevant. If the topic wouldn't show up on your usual content calendar, it probably doesn't belong there now.

Necessity: If you said nothing, would your customers be surprised, or would you come across as insensitive? A significant number of comments posed to you in social media might require a brand response.

2. Is this largely self-promotional?

This is not a chance for you to Photoshop your product into a related iconic image. Your brand's tagline wedged into a line from a famous speech might get you a lot of retweets, but they won't be the kind you're looking for.

The exception: corporate social good. Are you raising money for a related charity or volunteering for a cause and asking your consumers to join you in contributing? Forge onward.

3. Could anyone say it?

Statements like "Our thoughts and prayers are with …" are helpful when they're said from one person to another in the wake of a personal tragedy, but these same words rarely come across as sincere on a brand's Facebook page. Merely posting #NeverForget often sounds thoughtless instead of thoughtful.

If your commentary is generic, your brand will look desperate to be a part of a trending topic which opens it up to criticism that it's exploiting the issue for professional gain.

4. Have you reviewed your scheduled content for that day? More important, has anyone else?

The timing of your posts can turn a seemingly innocent branded statement into crass opportunism. Always double-check your scheduled content against current events to ensure context doesn't ruin your content.

Also, ask a neutral third-party to read and react to your planned posts for national days of remembrance. If they experience an "ick," so will your community.

5. Is your post really better than saying nothing at all?

It's unlikely your fans will get upset if you decide to "stay dark" for a day. If you post something anodyne, your commentary will probably get lost in the volume of conversation or you'll risk earning a spot in the inevitable roundups of embarrassing brand posts. When in doubt, leave it out.
Though this advice may seem straightforward, there are—and will continue to be—brand managers who view every current event as a marketing opportunity. Let's just hope they're ready for a test of their crisis communications plans, too.

Wavy Line
Scott Smith is vice president of content marketing at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago, and Jeana Anderson is account supervisor of social media for the agency. Follow them on Twitter@ourmaninchicago and @jeanaanderson.

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